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Tackling Pattern Magic

I went on a journey with this one, yall. For the record, “went on a journey” is my euphemism for “worked on a project that was so challenging it made me want to beat my head against a wall while cry-laughing.” Sometimes the difficult journey a project takes me on is due to a tricky fabric or fit issues or confusing construction techniques, but the challenges this book brought me were brand new!

I’m sure most adventurous sewists are familiar with the Pattern Magic books, but if not, here is a brief rundown: written by acclaimed seamster and fabric manipulation sorcerer Tomoko Nakamichi, the series (Pattern Magic Volumes 1-3 and Pattern Magic: Stretch Fabrics) has now been translated to English and includes information on how to alter a simple Bunka bodice block by slashing and spreading, adding length/width and distorting the pattern block’s shape to create intriguing 3-D wearable art from fabric. The photographs in the book, created at half size for mini dressforms, are remarkable, and once I got three of the books for Christmas a couple of years ago, I spent a substantial amount of my holiday pouring over the pages multiple times, my mouth hanging open. I had simply never seen anything like the shapes Nakamichi was creating, never even knew most of the designs were possible. After glancing through the pages and trying to get an understanding of what was required to actualize the designs, I knew it was going to take a lot of brain power to stumble through the confusing diagrams, so I kept putting it off. But recently, after suffering through a couple of horrendous pants makes and feeling depleted and frustrated, I found myself in between projects and decided to slow down and dedicate my weekend to figuring out how to be a pattern magician.

 

Unfortunately this book does not come with a PDF file or paper print out for the bodice block that all the patterns are based on. There is a page at the end of the book with the bodice printed at half scale (which you can use to create the projects at half size) and it is suggested that you photocopy that sheet of paper at 200% to get the full scale size of the pattern. I happened to be devoted to not leaving my house the weekend that I worked on this, so instead of taking the easy route and driving 5 minutes to a copy shop with the book, I sat down in my craft room with a ruler, my math bracelet (for all you non-instagrammers, math bracelet is what Claire has started calling my measuring tape for some reason), and some gridded pattern paper. OK, so, truth be told, I wan’t committing myself to this task out of sheer stubbornness. After perusing the pages of this book for two years, I realized that, even though it was in English, it still felt like it was written in another language. As someone who struggled with complicated mathematical concepts in school, I knew it was going to take a while to fully grasp some of the images and equations shown in the diagrams. English is my jam, I have always loved literature and reading and expressing myself through words, and math has always seemed a bit antithetical to that. If I made myself sit down and blunder through the trickiest parts from the start, then maybe that would make all the steps to follow a little bit easier. Right?

These are the diagrams given to sketch out your Bunka bodice block. In addition to the images above, there were like two sentences of instructions beneath them which basically said “Use these diagrams to make the bodice block” LOL. there are virtually NO instructions in the whole book, and the few words provided that are meant to instruct made absolutely no sense to me. It’s as if Yoda was the ghost writer for this thing- as few words as possible! The instructions say specifically to work through steps 1-14 in order to graph out the preliminary lines of the bodice. Step 1 asks for the length of the bodice (I assumed my neck to waist measurement) which seemed simple enough. But once I drew that line and looked for a number 2 with a circle around it? Well, it’s nowhere to be found. The numbers on the diagram skip around and then it appears that letters are thrown in for good measure, so I didn’t have a linear guideline to follow. I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but I did not find this explanation in the actual book. And then out of the blue I see this symbol that looks like the planet Saturn, and I have NO IDEA what that symbol is supposed to represent. There is no key on the page. What does Saturn equal?! I am still not sure if this was so difficult for me because of something that got lost in the translation of the book or because I comprehend language better than numbers and symbols, but somehow I eventually figured it out by substituting some arbitrary number; the Saturn symbol looked like it was supposed to represent some part of the shoulder length, so I threw in an approximate measurement and figured that I could adjust it once I made my muslin.

It took me over two hours to complete, 30 minutes of which I spent looking for my compass tool, and once I found it I realized that what I meant to be looking for was a protractor because it’s been 80 years since I needed to use either of those things and I had mislabeled them in my brain. My shoulder lengths (aka my “Saturns”) were off of course, and once I sewed the bodice muslin I had to adjust the bust dart a bit, but…it worked! I FIGURED IT OUT! The muslin fit, which felt like such a massive victory, and I was very proud of myself!

I was excited to move on to the manipulation of the bodice for the Knot Dress because I figured that creating the bodice out of these wacky symbols and numbers would indeed be the toughest part but….no. The next part actually had me near tears in bafflement. The only thing that kept me going was googling “pattern magic knot dress” and seeing that at least three sewing bloggers had figured out the pattern manipulation and none of them had used the words “difficult”, “frustrating”, “confusing” or “fuck”. In fact, one of them described creating the pattern as “simple”. Flames may or may not have shot out of my head when I read this, I’m not sure because I think I had a rage blackout immediately after I saw that word in relation to this pattern, but once I came to, I decided to use it as a motivator. If they could figure it out, then I was determined that I could, too, damnit! I had already gotten so far!

In one last desperate cry for help, I brought the book to Claire, hopelessness etched deep into my brow. “This doesn’t make sense, honey! It doesn’t! Help me see how it makes sense, cause all I see right now is a lie!” Bless her heart, Claire, who is not a sewist and gets as frustrated as I do with confusing diagrams, very calmly looked at the picture and basically said “it looks like you need to add a piece here.”

That was it, yall. I just needed to add a piece here.

It turns out that after you draft your Bunka bodice, you have to make some slash and spread adjustments to it, then you draft the skirt onto the pattern piece, and then you have to slash and spread the bodice again, then you have to add the bow piece onto it, and then you have your final pattern piece from which to cut out your fabric.

Y’all.

Y’all.

Were they attempting to create a cheaper book by providing fewer pages? Was that why the book seemed so in favor of pictures over words? Do diagrams cost less money to print than paragraphs? (These questions are rhetorical). Drafting the sloper and then adjusting the pattern for the Knot Dress took me two days to complete, and I know for a fact that if they had given me just 6 more sentences, I could have been spared so much frustration and headache. Initially I thought that the “magic” in the title was referring to how beautiful all the garments looked- like, oh wow, these things are so magically beautiful! But after stumbling through every aspect of bringing this pattern to life, I realized that nope, the magic is in reference to WHAT YOU NEED TO HAVE SPRINKLED ON TOP OF YOU BY A TINY FAIRY IN ORDER TO COMPLETE ANY OF THE PROJECTS. But guess what.

I AM AN OFFICIAL MAGICIAN, NOW, BOYYYYYYYYYYY!

I was resigned to thinking that my finished muslin was going to be ill-fitting and wonky, and the fact that I had gotten that far would have been all the success I needed after the whole ordeal, so you can imagine my surprise when I tried my muslin on and saw that it fit me PERFECTLY. There are two tucks in the back which give some gentle shaping to the waist and bust area, but aside from the darts at the front bust and the drafting of the skirt, which creates a subtle flare at the hips, there isn’t much to this dress in the ways of fit. And yet it works! All based on a simple bodice sloper! I love how it skims my figure without feeling like a tent and it has a bit of swing to the lower half. It looks feminine and structured at the same time. Seeing how well it fit from the start definitely felt like magic!

Apologies for the photos that follow- I didn’t have time to iron the dress, which had been tightly stuffed inside my closet, before we took these pictures! 

Essentially the pattern of this dress has the shape of a simple shift, and to add in that magic, you slash and spread the dress out at the center bust, adding enough fabric to create two tubes which make up the ties of the bow. In theory it’s simple, but without any explanation or real instructions it took a while for my brain to grasp the concept. But as soon as I started sewing the pieces of my muslin together, it all made sense and was constructed in a tiny fraction of the time it took me to draft everything out.

As soon as I got the muslin right and made a couple of adjustments for fit, I went to cut out my fabric and I realized that what I had purchased was much too flowy and drapey. This dress requires a certain amount of stability in it’s fabric so that the integrity of the silhouette and bow are not lost, and my graphic printed rayon, while lovely, was not going to lend itself to the best version of this pattern. I rifled through my tiny stash and came across this cupro with a sandwashed effect that I purchased from Blackbird Fabrics. I had purchased three cuts in different colorways, 2 yards of black, 2 yards of blue and 3 yards of olive. I knew I needed at least 3 yards for this dress (it’s a real fabric eater because of the bow ties) but I didn’t like the idea of the dress in olive. I was beside myself with frustration, determined not to have to buy MORE fabric for this dress after just having gone to The Fabric Store, but at a loss as to how to remedy the situation (as mentioned before, my stash is pretty tiny). And then, with both piles of black and blue cupro on my cutting table, I wondered if I could use both by color blocking the dress, which just so happens to be drafted with a center seam. The black and blue looked really good together on my table, and I liked the idea of having the bow tied so that the opposite color was displayed on each side. It felt like a bit of a bold move but I had nothing to lose except fabric, and I am a bit of a risk-taker with my making, so I went for it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Be9HG9qgB8_/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

Everything went smoothly until I realized that I had cut one front out on the wrong side of the fabric. It was SO HARD to keep the sides straight because the cupro looks the same on both sides at a glance, but as soon as you hold each side up vertically, the difference is super obvious (meaning I couldn’t get away with just using the wrong side of one of the pattern pieces because it would bug the HELL out of me). I didn’t quite have enough fabric to cut a new piece out of, and I didn’t want to rearrange my entire idea so that the color blocking was different than I had envisioned. I was married to the look I had created in my head and refused to compromise. My only alternative was to puzzle the remaining fabric I did have into the shape of the pattern piece. It took what felt like forever, but I managed to get it done with just one seam that I was able to hide behind the bow.

I had to figure out the finishings and construction method as I went along, since of course the book wasn’t offering me any help. I french seamed everything I could on the inside, and I covered the raw edges in the front center where the ties are formed in bias tape- it was too tricky to sew that part into a french seam. My cupro was relatively easy to sew with- slippery like a silky rayon, yet manageable- but the edges looked like they would fray over time so whatever was exposed got bound, frenched or, in the case of the back center edges where it zips, serged. The area where the bow ties emerge from the dress form a little tuck in the front which is really pretty and gives the dress some visual depth, but it’s hard to keep in place. Unfortunately there is no way to tack down the area on the inside without it showing through to the front, but as long as the bow is tied tightly and securely, the tucks don’t seem to move too much. I might make a line of stitching right down the creases to help make it more stable.

For the neck and armholes, I used self-made bias binding out of the cupro and applied it to the openings, and for the hem I simply ironed, folded twice, then sewed down. The drape and silkiness of the cupro made the hem pretty wavy and I ended up having to take it out and redo it to get it even (the dress is not a cut on the bias but I still let it hang for a while on my dress form before tackling this part). It’s still not perfect, but I don’t think it’s too visible.

anybody watch Squidbillies? don’t my ties look like the grandma’s boobs??? LOLOL

 

Although I put in a substantial amount of work to bring this dress to life, it still took less time than some other projects I have under my belt and it was worth every second! I love the effect of the finished dress- it’s fun and feminine but the muted colors keep it from going over the top so it doesn’t look too costumey (something I worried about when looking at all the images in the book as a whole).

it took me 5 years to tie this bow the right way and in my haste to get these pics taken I untied it and tried to redo it AND IT LOOKS WRINKLY AND PITIFUL. I swear it looks better than this when it’s ironed.

I would absolutely make this dress again, but I am also interested in tackling something else cool from the book. When I finally finished this dress I immediately pulled the books out again to choose what I wanted to make next, assuming that since I had successfully completed one project, the rest would be a breeze. Turns out, not so much,! Each design is so unique and the techniques that work for some have nothing to do with the others. Looking at the pattern instructions was like starting over from scratch! The good news that I already have the bodice block completed and adjusted for my shape, so whatever I tackle next will go straight to the manipulation phase. I might need a bit more recuperation time for my brain to heal from all the hard work it exerted during this project, but I must admit, I am already getting antsy for that cool neck-tie-that-blends-into-the-shirt project. Wish me luck!

Velvet, Gold and Pussy Bowed

When I randomly saw this dress on Beate J’Adore’s blog sometime last winter, I was more than a little obsessed. The rusty chocolate silk velvet she used was so luxurious and stunning, and I loved the easy shape of the garment: fitted and flirty and feminine without looking too buttoned up. But of course, most of all, I just loooooved that long bow at the neck! So GORGEOUS! I was so obsessed that I even started perusing the silk velvet she used from Mood Fabrics, and y’all know I can’t STAND Mood- the only way I ever use fabrics from that place is if someone buys some for me as a gift! Anyways, I pinned the image onto my Clothing Inspiration board on Pinterest and kept drooling over it periodically, even when the weather in LA turned hell-fire hot and the mere thought of wearing velvet could make you break out into a sweat. And then, as the seasons began changing around the rest of the country, velvet started popping up in all my favorite fabric stores- I’ve always loved velvet but I haven’t had the easiest time hunting it down. Thankfully it was a huge trend this season and I was able to snag a few beautiful cuts of it.

I went back to the blog post and read the notes on the dress. They were very scant, which I am not judging because I do the same thing on my blog- when I make pattern hacks, I am not very forthcoming with all the minute details, only because when I’m in the middle of the process, I rarely take notes since I’m not interested in doing tutorials. Of course, now I have experienced firsthand the frustration of reading about a beautiful garment on a blog and not knowing exactly how they got to their end result! But this is the beauty of sewing and pattern hacking in general- sometimes you have to figure out how to make it your own, and that’s what I did. I even took notes! It’s still not a tutorial mind you, and definitely not as detailed as they could be, but it should be enough to put you on the right track if you want to recreate the lovely garment that J’Adore inspired!

She used an older Vogue pattern that I think is out of print, so I got my hands on a cheap copy of Vogue 8829 from etsy. I laughed when I saw the pattern envelope- the image art looks pretty dated and I just don’t think I would ever have seen this pattern and thought to myself, “this would make a stunning garment,” which is one the reasons I love following sewing bloggers- some people can find diamonds in the rough where you see nothing but a pile of dirt. First issue I ran into: which version of the dress did she use?? This is one of those patterns with a lot different variations- long sleeves, short sleeves, knee length, maxi, regular collar, pussy bow, etc. I could figure out the top half the dress, but I wasn’t sure which skirt shape she used, the slightly flared skirt or the one with pleats. Ultimately I chose Version A which most closely matched the photos of her dress, and then I dove into making all the tweaks she mentioned in her blog post: cutting the front bodice and front skirt pieces on the fold instead of as drafted with button bands down the front, adding some width and length to the bow (if I make this again I might add even MORE length!), and making room for a side zip (since the front opening is omitted).

I was a bit confused on the back piece- she wrote that she added darts to the back bodice, but there were no photos of her in the dress with a view of the back so I had no idea where they were placed or if she had eliminated the pleat at the top of the back bodice where it meets the yoke. In hindsight, I should have redrafted the entire pattern piece because it’s actually huge, but I didn’t realize how big it would be at the time so I constructed it according to the directions, creating two pleats at the top middle of the back bodice piece. I tried it on and it had a poofy, bloused effect at the back waist- way too much fabric back there, which ended up looking really heavy in my velvet fabric. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough velvet to redraft the back bodice piece so I decided to do a moderate adjustment and take out some of the length at the back bodice where it met the waistband of the skirt. Then I sewed the extra fabric poofiness down into darts on either side of the center back. It’s not the most glamorous adjustment you’ve ever seen- pleats at the top and darts at the bottom of a back bodice is not exactly a design choice that you see too often with good reason- it looks so busy! But I would rather my silhouette look nice and smooth with some weird darts thrown in than have a clean looking bodice that is poofy and too big for my frame. I also shortened the shoulder seams which I often do on Big 4 patterns, and I ended up taking the waist of both the bodice and the skirt in over an inch on each side.

At this point I made an accidental discovery that actually worked in my favor for once. For some reason I had entirely forgotten to leave enough room at the skirt and bodice seams for a side zip since there were no other openings to get in and out of the dress with the omission of the front button bands. And then I realized that J’Adore’s silk velvet must not have been a stretch knit, which is why she had to put in the side zip. I’m not sure why it took me so long for this realization- I had been happily serging all my seams together from the very beginning, which I prefer when working with velvet because for me, it’s so much easier to serge fabrics with pile than it is to sew them on a regular machine, even with a walking foot. So, now with all my side seams completely serged together, it was time for a moment of truth- would this dress fit over my head easily or would I have to unpick all my stitching and figure out a way to squeeze a zip in? I suddenly remembered one of the adjustments J’Adore made that didn’t make sense to me at the time. She said she added two inch panels to either side of the dress underneath the sleeves. The panels, which are barely visible in the photos, don’t seem to offer much in the way of a design choice, so maybe she had an issue with fit, or maybe she forgot to put in a side zip to get in and out of the dress just like I did, and then added panels to make it a bit easier to stick the zip in at the last minute? I don’t know exactly what her process was, but thankfully, with my serged seams and stretchy velvet fabric, the dress fit over my body through the neck hole with ease- no need to add a zip- hallelujah!

After fixing the back bodice to hug my body better, the rest of the dress was a breeze. I lowered the neckline as directed by her blog post, enough so that my head could squeeze through, but I took out less than she did (I think about 3/4″, since I had more flexibility with my stretch knit). I attached the band of the bow at the neck and hand sewed it close to the edges of the neckline.

This area was a little tricky since I was sewing a rectangular pattern piece to a circle, whose edges had to simply end front and center instead of being attached to a left and right button band as the pattern was initially drafted for.  I sewed the edges of the bow as close together as possible at the center front neck and it looks fine on the outside, but a little more visible on the inside. I don’t anticipate that the neckline edge will stretch out much since my stretch fabric has a lot of resiliency, but on a less stable knit, this would be something to be aware of.

The last adjustment came with the sleeves. I had to take out additional length from them even though I cut the lines for the “petite” option on all portions of the garment- I think they might be drafted as very baggy and drapey over the hands, which is not a design element I like at all. I don’t like stuff flowing around my hands or getting in their way, it takes all I can muster to wear a bracelet for longer than 10 minutes. Here I took a cue from J’Adore’s post where she wrote that she put pleats in the sleeves and used elastic at the hems. Another thing I don’t like about sleeves? Elasticized hems, lol. Not sure why, but I just prefer either a regular folded hem or a cuff. Thankfully I was able to use the stretchiness of my fabric to my advantage once again, so I attached a self drafted cuff at the bottom of the sleeves and I didn’t need to use elastic at all (the original cuff was as weirdly long as the sleeves).

And voila! Although I wasn’t using a beautiful silk velvet like J’Adore was, I think the dress still came out really nice- I love the way it shimmers and shines in the light and the fit is spot on! It’s a very luxe looking dress to me and I think it will serve me well if I ever go on a trip to a place that’s cold as it’s still SEVENTY DEGREES IN LA RIGHT NOW. Sorry, I shouldn’t complain when the east coast is suffering through a snow bomb or whatever they are calling it, but a little bit of breezy weather would be such a treat considering all these nice fall/winter makes I have in my closet! Even if it does get cooler I’m not sure if I can pull off the dress-over-jeans-look like J’Adore did in her photos, which looks stunning, but who knows- I was inspired enough to do a mad pattern hack based on her style choices make so maybe I will be brave enough to test out her layered look, too!

 

P.S. Sorry, I don’t remember where I got my hat from, and also, THANK YOU FOR THE PICTURES, CLAIRE!

Turtleneck Hack in Mustard

So far my fall/winter makes list has been coming together fairly nicely, but I have hit a few roadblocks along the way. One was the infamous pair of peg leg pants that I made from a rich butternut corduroy in the Style Arc Tully pattern. After all was said and done I ended up looking like an ensemble member from Oliver! and we had a real good laugh at my #sewingfail on instagram (prompting me to consider starting a submissions only IG account posting all of our worst/most hilarious/most educational sewing fails, because EVERYONE seems to get a good kick out of those!) Another roadblock was the drop sleeved hoodie made of a coffee colored raw silk. It came out fine for the most part, it just didn’t really wow me all that much. The drab design paired with the muted neutral color made the whole garment feel sort of blah, and I learned that I don’t like drop sleeves very much. I thought the hoodie would be a nice staple to use for layers this season, but so far I never really reach for it because it’s just about my least favorite thing in my closet.

The most recent roadblock I faced was figuring out how to recreate this turtleneck dress I have had pinned on my pinterest board for over a year. I was enamored by it’s simplicity- clean lines, no sleeves, and a big thick turtleneck to top it off. So simple, yet so incredibly chic, and I hadn’t really seen a pattern or piece of clothing in a store that looked quite like it (though admittedly I haven’t shopped for RTW in a long time). This seemed like a fairly easy hack to pull off, so I pulled out some muslin knit material and tried to draft it myself, something I very rarely do. A little while later I had a pattern from my draped fabric and it was not terrible- I might even say it was pretty good! But it turns out that it simply wasn’t what I was looking for.

The silhouette of the original dress that I was copying (shown above) had a very loose fit- it seemed to just barely skim the curves of the bust of the form underneath it. But, given my personal experience with shapeless sack dresses, I was too afraid to commit to that design because it never looks as good on me as I want it to. So instead I draped a design that was a little looser than a normal body-con dress but that still fit my curves. This was wrong both in theory and practice: loose body-con dress is an oxymoron, and on top of that, once the dress was constructed it just looked…sad. Part of this was the fact that my fabric, a glorious navy blue ribbed knit from The Fabric Store (I bought it online but I have recently seen it in the LA store) was not the right textile for what I was using it for. It didn’t have a ton of stretch, but rather a drapier quality than most knits, so using it to “hug” my curves was a lost cause- instead, it hung limply from my body, not quite clingy, but not loose enough to let the fabric flow the way it wanted to. On a body bigger than mine that could really stretch out the loose shape of this dress, it just might work great, but not so much for me (if I can modify the armholes a bit to make them larger, I might be able to gift this dress to my mom).

So! Back to the drawing board! I am not sure why or when, but as some point, after sitting in my disappointment for failing at this garment, I went back to the original dress and wondered if I should try again using the intended silhouette as the design. This time perhaps I could fully embrace the “sack” like quality of the dress instead of fighting so hard against it! Immediately the Tessutti Frankie dress popped into my head. It has a design similar to the Ebony Tee by Closet Case patterns, a bit of an A-line shape which could either be ramped up or toned down depending on the fabric used. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I bought a couple of yards of this really fantastic, luxurious ribbed knit fabric in gold from Blackbird Fabrics. I had recently been in Vancouver for work and was able to stop by their studio to record an episode of Helen and Caroline’s podcast Love to Sew (mentioned in this blog post), and while in the space, I ran my fingers over several bolts of fabric and was able to personally experience how amazing they were. Everything was so soft, beautifully colored, rich feeling, and I knew exactly what I wanted to buy once I got myself to a computer to place an order. This gold ribbed knit is similar in structure to the blue ribbed knit I got from The Fabric Store, but a little drapier, with a slightly smoother hand, and with better recovery. I imagined this gold textile would be a better pairing for the dress I was going to make from the Tessuti pattern, which was already in my stash and easily hackable.

The hack was pretty simple- I omitted the facings and brought the neckline in on both the front and back pieces, since the original Frankie pattern has a slight boatneck design and I wanted a more standard neckline to accommodate a turtleneck. I think I eye-balled my neckline, but you could also use a favorite tee shirt pattern and trace that neckline onto your pattern pieces.

I kept the 3/4 sleeve length as-is but added thick cuffs to the hems (pretty much my go-to these days) which brought the sleeves closer to my wrists for more coverage, and I lengthened the front and back dress pieces nearly 10 inches because, since I kept the sleeves long, I figured I should make the whole dress wearable for cooler weather. Somehow, probably because of eyeballing the curve of the bottom of the pattern pieces instead of being precise with rulers, I cut my dress pieces out with a very subtle hi-lo hem. It’s not quite noticeable, but it dips deeper in the back than in the front, and I noticed this after I sewed the pieces together at the shoulder seams, but I didn’t even the hems out. I thought it made the dress a bit more interesting, and it mirrors the hemline of the Tessutti Anna dress that I made a couple years back, which I also love.

This is a very quick dress to make, especially without the facings, so it came together in no time. After the sleeves and front and back pieces were serged together, I tried it on and HALLELUJAH I loved it! I’m not really sure how technically close it is to the pinterest dress I obsessed over, but it works really well on me. It doesn’t cling to any parts of my body underneath the bust, but surprisingly, I don’t feel like I am swimming in it- there is enough fabric to create pretty folds as it falls from the bust, but not so much that it looks like a tent, and my fabric choice helped a lot with that. If it were in a stiffer fabric (like the embossed ponte knit that I originally made this dress in last year), it wouldn’t work with this hack at all, so I love that I stumbled upon this perfect ribbed fabric after my trials and errors.

Ahh, the turtleneck- it’s the only part of this hack that gave me problems, and all of it is my fault! The first time I attempted to make this pinterest dress, I used a ribbed knit fabric that had two identical/usable sides on the front and back. I didn’t take into account that my gold ribbed knit had a smooth back side with ribs on the front, so when I tried to make a turtleneck out of one piece of folded rectangular fabric, as I had with my first attempt- well, you can fill in the blanks, lol.

I was cursing myself something awful when I realized that my neck folded to the wrong side, but it was fairly simple to fix- unfortunately I was running out of fabric and had to be very inventive with how I cut my next pieces. The easiest fix would have been to sew two rectangles together so that both the outside and inside folded with it’s right sides out, but I didn’t want to have quadruple layers of fabric at my neck and I didn’t want to have a seam at the top of the fold either. So instead I cut the top of the inside of the neck off about midway up, then I sewed my rectangle to the edge of the shortened neck so that the outside rib shows when it is folded over. If you lift the turtleneck all the way up you can see the underside of the fabric, but it doesn’t matter because the seam is far enough up the neck that you don’t see it when it’s folded over. I love this fix and it’s very comfortable! My only other issue is that I wish I had made the neck a TINY bit wider to accommodate a slightly larger turtleneck- it’s a very tight squeeze to get my head through the hole (one of those do your hair and makeup AFTER it’s already on dresses)! But I actually do like the slim look of the neck, and it doesn’t feel too tight at all when it’s on.

I am SO GLAD that I went back to the drawing board with this dress because it really is everything I imagined that it would be, and it’s even more wearable with the changes I made to it than what I initially envisioned. I am so glad that I have been actively looking for fabrics in oranges, yellows and golds for my fall/winter makes because let me tell you something- I get MORE COMPLIMENTS ON THESE GARMENTS THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN MY CLOSET. Like, from strangers. And strangers don’t normally come and talk to me cause I have a bit of resting bitch face if I’m stressed or busy or running late (I’m not ashamed- most people are not happy and approachable ALL the time, nor should we be!) Anyways, it has been surprising how often these colors spark kind comments from people on the street, and I am ALL FOR IT. Also, this dress is insanely cozy and fun to style. Since the fabric is so supple and the shape isn’t clingy, it flows well without accentuating bumps and lines and folds that body parts and undergarments tend to create under clothing. I personally don’t mind having faint panty lines because, guess what, I wear panties! But I don’t particularly like when they are distracting, so I appreciate that this dress looks really chic on the outside while allowing me to live that granny-panty lifestyle underneath.

Autumnal colors for the WIN, y’all!

Bra Turned Bodice in Golden Green and Ombre

This make is not perfect, but I am really proud of it, because I went on a REALLY long journey with it before I ended up where I did, and even though it’s so different than what I initially envisioned, it came out much better than I anticipated.

I got the gorgeous gold and white lightweight silk fabric at The Fabric Store many moons ago, and it has been sitting in my stash for the longest. I think I got three yards of it, but I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. The silk is a bit transparent and very delicate, but the print, as you can see, is very bold. It’s an ombre print in gold that, up close, kind of looks like scribbles that get darker and darker. “Scribble” probably isn’t the best way to describe this graphic because I feel like the connotation of that word is “careless” and “messy”, and nothing about this fabric looks like that, but as a doodler myself, I like the idea of a scribble being the jumping off point for this print.

Anyways, a few months ago I came across a cool inspiration photo that Tessuti had posted on their instagram (the garment on the right) of a dress from a designer’s fashion show. I really loved the silhouette of the dress with the big print and the full flowy skirt that looked so lightweight that it was practically floating around her body. I also loved the simplicity of the design. A very simple, almost boxy long sleeved bodice with a high waist that connects to a gathered skirt. It didn’t take me long to imagine my gold and white ombre fabric paired with this design, because it checked all my boxes: I wanted something long to show off the full transition of the ombre, a lightweight, drapey fabric that would flow around the body, and something simple that would let the dynamic print shine.

I spent a few weeks trying to hunt down a pattern comparable to this dress and when I had no luck, I decided that it couldn’t be that hard to draft or hack my own pattern, right? FAMOUS. LAST. WORDS.

It's soooo delicate!!!

A post shared by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

I could easily have draped a bodice pattern for the dress myself- I’m not an amazing draper but I learned a little about it in college and from books and have done it successfully on super simple garments. I knew that the task wouldn’t be too challenging…except for when it came to the sleeves. Sleeves require math and a bit (ok, a lot!) more pattern drafting know-how than I have. I decided against giving it the old college try and instead I went back to my pattern stash and chose a dress pattern from which I thought I could utilize a bodice that also came with sleeves. I was surprised that I had nothing in my stash with as simple a bodice pattern as I was looking for; everything that had the right shape had lots of extra darts and tucks and design elements included, which I did not want.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BXwAjEIBn15/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

I won’t bore you with the details of how my process went for the hacking of Butterick 5919, so let’s just say that I didn’t make it didn’t work. I made a muslin of just the bodice which came out great (or so I thought), so then I moved to cutting and constructing my fashion fabric and added the long panels for the gathered skirt to the bodice’s bottom. The incomplete dress looked okay enough on my dress form to continue with it, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself, but as soon as I tried it on for fit, it was a disaster. There wasn’t enough room in the bodice for…well, my body! I don’t know exactly why- the sleeves, which were a perfect fit in my muslin, were surprisingly tight in the silk, but they weren’t the main problem- it was the actual bodice that made me feel claustrophobic. I could barely get it closed in the back, and on top of that, I wasn’t able to lift my arms very high or take a deep breath without the dress riding up or constraining my breathing, and this of course was without a zipper installed. There were just too many things wrong and uncomfortable about the bodice for me to even stress about trying to fix them, and I didn’t have enough fashion fabric to start over with a new one or make a separate top in the same fabric to turn it into a two piece, so I walked away from it. Put down my seam ripper, turned off the lights, closed the door. I kept the dress in my thoughts all night, which I usually do when I feel overwhelmed by how to make something work, and it almost always puts me back on the right track within a day or two. The next morning, re-inspired, I decided that instead of figuring out how to keep the garment as a dress, I would just salvage the skirt and make a totally different kind of top to pair with it.

 

 

I had this tiny cut of a goldish/greenish brocade fabric that I had purchased at Michael Levine’s like, 2 years prior, and never used, and it kept calling my name from the corner of my craft room. It was a totally different kind of weight and feel of fabric, but I held it next to the white and gold ombre anyways. It was like magic. The colors matched each other in the gold of the silk and the sheen of the brocade, and the brocade also had this imprint of an oval, leaf-like shape on it that mirrored the scribbles in the silk. It seemed like such a bizarre pairing, but when put together, the two fabrics were kind of a perfect, unexpected match. I didn’t have much of that brocade though (maybe 1/2 yard of a narrow yard?), and I couldn’t imagine what kind of top I could make with it. I thought that something tight and figure flattering would look cool when juxtaposed with the simple gathered skirt, but I had no patterns in my stash like that. Then I wondered about how a bustier would look. I have no idea why this garment popped into my head, and I also didn’t really have a pattern for this style either, but I did have a strapless push-up bra pattern that I had made once before. It had amazed me how beautiful that make had looked, and when I tried that bra on after completing it, my first thought was wondering how I could possibly get away with wearing it not as intimate apparel but as an outer garment (you can see here that I did figure out a way to make it sportswear appropriate!) Could I use the Esplanade Bra pattern with this brocade fabric? Was that a reasonable hack? Was this something even in my wheelhouse?

The answer to all of these things, I found out, was YES! But I doubted myself practically the WHOLE way through. I did a quick google search to see if anyone else had hacked the Esplanade into a proper bodice garment, and I found one post by a well-known maker who had successfully made it happen. My biggest concern was wondering whether or not I would need to size up in the bra. I was thinking that I would not, since the bra pattern can be made with either knit or woven fabric (I used a Tailormadeshoppe kit to make mine and the bra fabric was comprised of non-stretch satin); the only reason it looks like the bra has negative ease is because of the elastic sewn onto the top and bottom edges, and also the back panels are made of powernet. But the business part, where the cups are, can be totally be constructed from woven. However, the blog I read said that she sized up because of the difference in the pattern calling for a knit material and her final garment being made of woven. I was really stuck here on what to do- do I size up as she suggests or do I just construct it in my normal size and simply modify the back piece that is made of powernet by making it longer in my woven fabric? After double checking the pattern details to ensure that it didn’t require a knit fabric, I decided to trust my intuition and make the same size in my brocade as the one I made for my original bra. Thankfully it was the right decision!

The hack was actually not too terrible to accomplish, and although some things could certainly look a lot better, I think it’s a pretty fine garment considering I did not make a muslin first. First off I added a few inches to the length of the pattern pieces because the bra as drafted ends above my belly button and I knew I wanted more coverage than that to match up with the waistband of my skirt (btw, in these photos there is a substantial gap between the top of my skirt and the bottom of my bustier, and I have since tightened the waistband a bit to bring it a little higher up my waist). Because I was not using elastic on the edges, I added a bit more room for seam allowances on the tops and bottoms of the pattern pieces so that I could enclose the raw seams. I also lined the entire bra with self fabric to give it more structure (I knew that for this thing to work it needed to be fitted very close to my body, especially since I wouldn’t have elastic or powernet to help me out in this department). Pretty much everything else was constructed according to the instructions and it came together nicely.

The biggest issue I had was deciding how I wanted to close the garment. Obviously a bra closure would work best on this type of design but I didn’t have any closures that were the right color match with the brocade (and I don’t really enjoy dyeing). Grommets seemed like a pretty cool idea that would make it look a bit more like a corset, but ultimately I decided to use another Orange Lingerie pattern and just make my own bra closure out of the brocade fabric. I had seen this pattern, the Leverett Hook and Eye Closure, when it came out, intrigued by the offering but sure that I would never actually need to to use it… little did I know it would ultimately save the day (and thanks to IG for reminding me of this pattern)!

The closure pattern is very labor intensive because you have to hand sew all those hooks and eyes onto the fabric, but it was still really fun to do and well worth it in the end. Most importantly, it is easy to adjust the length of the closure pattern depending on what you’re attaching it to, which is ironic for me to type out now because I totally miscalculated the length I needed and made it too short (I am so used to sewing bra closures with raw edges that I forgot to include a seam allowance once I lengthened the piece to match!) So I had to add an additional piece of fabric to the closure since I didn’t have enough fashion fabric to cut out a whole new piece. Like, I said, it’s not perfect! But I made it work and it’s not super noticeable.

 

The one thing that does bother me about the completed bodice is the little bubble of fabric in the front middle of the piece in between the cups. I actually have that same bubble on my original bra as well, so I know this isn’t a side effect of forgoing elastic and changing the fabric weight from satin to brocade.

When I posted the issue on instagram, lots of commenters said that 1. they didn’t notice the bubble/it didn’t detract from the overall look of the garment and 2. that they had RTW bodices/bras of a similar style that had the exact same bubble. So that made me feel a lot better. And then, bless her, the designer of Orange Lingerie patterns chimed in to say that adding an additional piece of boning right up the middle of the bra would get rid of that pesky gaping once and for all. By this time I had mostly made my peace with the bubble and decided not to stress out about it (read: take it apart to insert more boning), but I will most definitely try it on my next version of this pattern to see if it works.

So, to recap:

  • I made the same size in this bodice as I did when I made it as a bra, because the pattern does not explicitly call for stretch fabrics (except for the powernet in the side back panels)
  • I omitted the use of bra channeling to cover the boning and instead I added a lining of self fabric to the inside of all the panel pieces of the bra (not the cups) which covered the boning and also gave the bodice a bit more structure.
  • to accommodate the loss of stretch in the side back panels, I lengthened that pattern piece by several inches and and then tried it on towards the end of construction to see where I should cut off the excess before I added the bra closure.
  • I added seam allowances to the top and bottom edges of all the bra panel pieces to make up for the elastic that would normally cover those raw edges.
  • Because there is boning sewn into the front and lining pieces of the bra, I needed to turn it right side out, enclosing all my seams. So I sewed the top seams right sides together across the bra edges first before turning the bra right side out, created my boning channeling through the lining and outer fabric, and then when I was ready to close it, I trimmed the inside seam allowance flush to the just beneath the edge of the boning straight across, then folded my outer seam allowance to the inside twice so the raw edge was covered and sewed it down, creating something close to a flat felled seam on the inside of the garment. I’m sure there was a better way to do this but it’s what was available to me at the time, lol.

The skirt was much less intensive than the bodice, obviously. It’s just a dirndle skirt that I drafted a waistband for once I decided it would no longer be part of a dress. Because the silk is transparent (and also because this is now my preferred method when working with silk) I chose to baste white organza to the waistband instead of interfacing it. I used a narrow hem to get the full effect of the heavier gold on the bottom of the print, inserted a zipper, and voila! I will need to wear some kind of slip underneath it since the skirt is a bit see-through, so I plan to make one using some lightweight white silk in the near future.

I love the full effect of these pieces together, but I also love the idea of pairing this skirt with a knit sweater- I have no idea if that’s my actual style or if I’ve just seen that look in a magazine before, but I would most definitely give it a shot. The juxtaposition of the light, airy skirt with a chunky, grounding garment on top seems really interesting to me, and something I can get away with any time of year because I LIVE IN LOS ANGELES (I haven’t found tons of things to brag about LA in the few years I have lived here, but a less bundled up winter season always makes the cut). Anyways, for me, the coolest thing about this ensemble is that I don’t fancy myself creative enough to have just come up with the silhouette on my own, but after trial and error and problem solving, this is where I landed, and it’s pretty awesome. More proof that luxuriating in the process of sewing provides some of the most exciting results!

Turia Dungarees in Yellow Linen

I made these overalls once before in a shorter version, and they have been a warm weather staple for me ever since. On a whim I decided to make another pair,  full length this time, and in a really fun color. Initially I was going for pink or mauve twill, but after I hopped into The Fabric Store a couple months ago, I became fixated on making them in one of the gorgeous linens they have in stock, which I imagined would be comfortable and relatively cool to wear even on hot LA days. A bolt of bright yellow mid weight immediately called to me from the wall of linens- more sunny day yellow than butter yellow if you’re wondering, since pics don’t really do this color justice.

 

I’ve never had my ‘colors done’ per se, but, now after 37 years of living in this skin, I know exactly what hues make it SING. Yellow, chartreuse, rusty orange, any shade of brown- they all tend to look great on my skin, which has yellow undertones and pops when draped in these colors. This used to bum me out when I was younger because I would always be drawn to the bright purples and pinks and reds in stores. Few high schoolers, at least in my day, gravitate towards a neutral + orange + yellow palette, which are colors that more often than not look kind of ‘meh’ on the rack. But as soon as I would try those colors on (always urged to give it a try by my mother, who already knew the transformation that would happen), the result was undeniable. Brown was my color! Olive green made me radiant! Paprika made my eyes pop! In contrast, bright reds, hot pinks and brilliant purples just washed me out, made the bags under my eyes look a bazillion times heavier, made my skin look gray and sallow (yes, I had awful bags under my eyes, even in grade school- I had terrible allergies and stayed up too late reading most nights). Now this certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t wear colors I love even if they don’t “go” with my skin (although red has remained a no-no for me since it doesn’t elevate my skin OR my mood), but as I have gotten older and started paying attention to different facets of what I like and dislike, I’ve noticed that I rather enjoy stomping around in colors that you don’t see people wear as often. This skin I’m in, it BUCKS TRENDS! Funny how it takes decades to appreciate the littlest things…

BACK TO THESE OVERALLS. There isn’t really much else to share, since not only did I make these overalls once before, but I even made the EXACT SAME MISTAKE in sewing them that I did the first time. And guess what! I didn’t forget that I made a weird mistake in the construction process when I first made them, I just forgot what the problem was specifically and was too lazy to read my previous blog post about it (which literally would have taken me only 60 seconds, I know, I know- I’m rolling my eyes at my own self). I think I assumed that once I came to my wonky misstep, I would totally remember what the initial problem was and I would be able to fix it easily. And that did happen, but about 2 steps too late. The issue is in the way that the back upper pattern piece is nested on the pattern sheet (and this is no fault of the designer- I should have been paying closer attention! Although it’s interesting to note that I did make the same mistake twice!) Most of the pattern pieces are nested in a similar way with the largest size on the outside and the smaller sizes graded smaller and smaller inside those lines, but on this particular pattern piece, the largest size is on the outter-most side on one half of the piece, but on the other side it’s on the inner-most side. Does that make sense? Lot’s of patterns are formatted this way and haven’t been a problem for me, but I guess I usually see patterns drafted as all one way or the other, so the switch that happened on the pattern paper didn’t register in my brain, and I ended up cutting the correct size on one half of the pattern piece and a smaller size on the other. Essentially this means that the back pattern piece that connects the straps is too narrow to accommodate them, so (two times, now) I have had to add an additional slice of fabric to the back side seams to make up for the smaller size I cut out. Bah humbug. One of those things no one else will notice, or will think is a design feature. BUT I KNOW. I KNOW FOR TWO PAIR!

Aside from that snafu, everything came together beautifully. Because linen likes to fray so easily I tried to finish and/or bind all of my seams, and for some spots that didn’t get special treatment in the construction of the overalls (instructions suggest you use flat felled seams on many of the pieces, but some are left raw) I made some self fabric bias tape and used it to cover the raw seams, specifically in the bib area and the back straps. As with the overall shorts I made, I only used one zipper because two were unnecessary, and I graded to a size larger in the pants at the hips (38) and kept the top a straight size 36. I also used my Ginger jeans pockets for these overalls (the pockets drafted for this pattern are really tiny), ignored the pocket placement stated on the pattern pieces, and instead tried the almost-completed garment on and positioned the pockets on my butt where they would look best. This should be standard procedure for all pants making that comes with back pockets, since everyone’s booty is different and pocket placement can really make or break the way a butt looks.

When I first finished sewing them up, the overalls fit pretty snugly in the thighs, but, as I had hoped, literally within minutes the linen had relaxed significantly and the legs were very comfortable and loose-fitting without looking too big. When I make this pattern again in a sturdier fabric than linen, I might go up one more size in the pants so that I can ensure that they don’t fit too tightly in the hip and thigh area.

I am in love with the color of these overalls and other people seem to be, too- I don’t think I have worn them once without a stranger coming up to me and complimenting them. But linen is a tricky fabric to pair with this kind of garment. Overalls are designed to get a lot of wear and tear and as such they are usually made with a very stable fabric, most commonly denim. After a few weeks of moderate wear, mine are already starting to pill in the seat and the thighs, and of course they are always wrinkly when I first put them on, as linen tends to be. This of course will not keep me from wearing them into the ground, but they might not last as long as, say, the first version of this pattern I made a couple of years ago, which are comprised of a heavy twill and are still going VERY strong.

Whatever I decide to do for my next pair, I am really happy with how these yellow linen ones turned out and I am glad to be reminded of how NOT to cut out that back pattern piece out next time. Third time’s a charm, right?

 

Suits Me, the Refashioners 2017 Challenge!

Well, bless it! The sewing community has come through again with a rush of encouragement, appreciation, and smoke blown up my bum, this time in the form of an invitation to join the illustrious Refashioners Blog Tour! For those unfamiliar, the refashioners take on an annual challenge of refashioning some specific type of garment into something new and (hopefully) improved. My introduction to the group was maybe a year or so ago when the theme of the refashion was ” jeans”, which obviously conjures up all kinds of possibilities, and the sewing bloggers who participated did NOT disappoint! This year’s theme is “Suits Me” and you can only imagine my amazement when coordinators Portia and Elisalex asked me to join their talented group of contributors. Although I have certainly re-worked an old garment or two in my past with some mending or re-hemming, I don’t actually have any experience with completely revising a garment from top to bottom, and I wondered briefly if my skillset would translate at this level of talent. Fortunately, the thought was quickly replaced with “You’re trycurious, damnit!”, and I quickly wrote Portia back to thank her for the consideration and to tell her to please count me in!

First up? Finding my suit! This was the most time consuming part of the challenge for me, since I don’t buy much clothing at all other than shoes and am out of the loop with the good consignment and vintage shops in LA. My only parameters for the suit were for it to be inexpensive (which can be a real feat in price-jacked Los Angeles) and I wanted it to be made of a quality material, namely NO POLYESTER, which has a tendency to absorb funky smells easily and makes me sweat like a Trump supporter reading Black Twitter. I spent days reading Yelp reviews of vintage shops around the city and jotting down their addresses when, on a whim, I decided to drive to Out of the Closet, a well-known chain of thrift stores in the city whose proceeds go to supporting LGBTQ and AIDS affected communities. It’s clean and well-stocked and I walked straight to their rack of suits and rifled through the thirty or so they had on display; within 10 minutes I had found my match- a black and white birdseye 100% wool two-piece that was several sizes too big for me, leaving me what I hoped would be plenty of room to play around with. The suit cost only $25 and if memory serves correct, one of the tags said the suit was made in Malaysia with Italian wool. The designer tag said “Andre Vachon”.

I didn’t think long and hard about what was to become of this suit before I pulled out my seam ripper, I just sat down on the couch and began taking it apart while watching season 2 of Last Chance U. At the end of a few episodes I had a pile of fabric puzzle pieces at my feet and a smaller discard pile consisting of things like lining and pockets. I decided straight away not to salvage the lining because, although the suit itself was made of what seemed like a good quality wool, the lining was a cheap acetate that I wanted no part of. I saved the buttons, too, though they were also cheap. I was amazed at how complicated the innards of the jacket looked once the lining was removed. I had seen and worked on certain elements of tailoring a jacket like this from books and websites, but I had never seen the handiwork up close and personal before. So many interfacings and pad stitched hair canvas, my goodness! I got rid of what I could but kept the interfacing on the front pieces because I figured they would offer whatever I ended up making a bit more structure.

As I took the suit apart, a solid image of the suit’s potential began to take shape. Thanks to the awesome suit-inspired pinterest board that the Refashioners had set up, I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, but I also wanted to keep in line with how the suit originated. As I mentioned, I had never taken on this kind of project before, so maintaining some simplicity and honoring the original architecture of the garment seemed like a good vibe to follow.

What if I just slightly altered the concept of The Suit, which has a tendency to feel a little stuffy and buttoned up? What if I took The Suit and made it a little more casual, a little more comfortable, a little more current and applicable to the needs of my life and career (which, as a professional actor, has virtually no dress code whatsoever)? If you follow my blog at all then you know that this concept is not out of the ordinary for me, as I just recently finished making a Jacket + Shorts outfit that upends the classic idea of a tailored two piece. I wanted this new refashioned suit to do the same thing, but I had to adhere to certain rules, namely sticking with the traditional suiting fabric it was made of, and incorporating some of the original design details in the suit that would prove impossible to work around.

The idea of a kimono jacket suddenly popped into my head, which I heartily latched onto. Maybe because it was one of the most recent patterns I had added to my stash? Or because the kimono silhouette, relaxed and so easy to wear, seems to be everywhere right now? (Although kimonos have certainly been fashionable and culturally relevant for far longer than when us westerners got hip to them)! A kimono provided an interesting twist to the idea of a classic suit jacket but the two still felt connected to me- both garments look structured and traditional, and they both feel like cultural identifiers. Kimono robes, at least the ones I have worn, are so comfortable, yet something about those wide sleeves that jut out from the body look very presentational to me. Couple that with the elegance of the band that flows around the neck and down the fronts of the jacket- a band that has the same visual impact of a necktie, but of course, looser, and perhaps more inviting. The more I thought about it, the more I loved the beauty and symbolism of subbing a kimono for a suit jacket, but who is paying attention to symbolism when you’re trying to refashion a garment into something wearable?

I am, damnit!

Once I settled on the kimono jacket, it made sense to make myself another pair of pants out of the suit bottoms, but obviously a pair that would fit me well and look good with the larger frame of the top- perhaps something high waisted with a slim leg. So that was it- I had my design! Now I just had to implement it.

With all my fabric pieces separated from their siblings and the seam allowances ironed out, I cut out the paper pattern for my jacket (I used McCalls 7200) and tried to figure out how to use them with the meager amount of fabric I had. It really was like trying to solve a puzzle! Looking at the suit on the hanger in Out of the Closet, I thought I was going to have yards upon yards of fabric to work with, but once the suit was deconstructed, I had much less to play with. I pulled out a couple of yards of black tencel from my stash that LA Finch Fabrics had kindly gifted me over the summer and planned to use it to supplement what I couldn’t create with the wool.

 

It took a while, but eventually I came up with a plan for the pattern pieces. I didn’t have enough fabric to make a full sleeved kimono as I had intended, but I didn’t mind; instead, I would use suit scraps to apply binding to the edges of my short sleeves, giving it a more finished look. I used the fronts of the original suit jacket for the fronts of my kimono, and because I didn’t have much room to play with, I kept the front welt pockets and darts intact. The pockets are functional, though very thin (actually perfect for glasses!) and although I tried to fight the inclusion of those details at first, I quite like them now. I love that echoes of the original suit are still peeking their way into the refashion in unexpected ways, like the breast pocket/handkerchief slot at the top of the suit jacket- when sewn up into my kimono the breast pocket ends up as a shoulder pocket on me, but you know what? That’s kind of a cool design detail! I feel like it’s something Rachel Comey might utilize, haha. And of course I chose to highlight this detail by sticking a little matching handkerchief inside it, lest it go unnoticed!

I had to do a lot of hacking to make the back pattern pieces and yoke for the jacket work- I didn’t have any original suit pieces large enough to accommodate them so I halved the pattern pieces on the fabric I had left, added seam allowances, and worked with them as if the jacket had a center back seam. Easy peasy. I used my black tencel for the band since I didn’t have enough suiting fabric, and I really like how it softens the stiffness of the jacket, and, as mentioned earlier, gives a bit of a symbolic nod to a more traditional necktie which is usually paired with a suit jacket. I used french seams for all exposed jacket seams and serged the hem before turning it up and hand stitching it down.

The jacket came together relatively quickly and I’m not gonna lie, I was really feeling myself at this stage of the refashion! I was like ‘oh, girl- you GOT this! You have SKILLS and you are SLAYING this challenge!’

But then it was time to work on the pants.

Cue horror music ending with a blood curdling scream.

I have had some great success making pants this year! The Palmer Pletsch method of tissue fitting was super helpful to me once I moved on from stretch jeans to slacks, and, having successfully nailed down the fit more than once of my most hated pattern brand, BUUUURDA, I felt confident that I could tackle a suit refashion with no problems! Unfortunately I made the mistake of using a pattern I had not tested out before. The pattern I chose, Burda #118 01/2015, has pleats with a plain waistband in the front, and in the back, an elastic waistband gathers the excess material instead of darts, which is a look I have loved for a while but never attempted to create myself. I tissue fit the pattern pieces for the pants, hoping to achieve a slim fit in the leg, and once I was happy with them, I proceeded to cut out my suit fabric

Here is the tragic retelling rundown of everything that went wrong how I Tim Gunned my pants:

  1. The fit of the original suit pants was gigantic on me, but when I deconstructed them I had much less fabric to work with than I thought I would,  meaning there was little to no room for error.
  2. I eliminated the pleats in the front of the pants thinking that the wool fabric from my suit wasn’t drape-y enough to keep them looking right.
  3. The suit pants had back welt pockets that were impossible to work with because of their placement- I tried hard to integrate the pockets as-is into my refashion, but because I intended to have a gathered, elasticized waistband in the back, the bulky welt pocket openings wouldn’t lay flat on my body and looked ridiculous.
  4. I decided to get rid of the welt pockets and openings to accommodate my back elasticized waistband. Of course that meant I would have huge gashes in the fabric right on my butt, so I planned to construct large patch pockets to cover the cut fabric (I also interfaced the pocket openings and used my machine’s darning stitch to cover them and keep them from stretching out/ripping further).
  5. With pockets omitted, I constructed the waistband for the pants using the original waistband. I removed the belt loops and used my tencel as a facing for the waistband. I sewed one edge of the elastic to the side seam of one side of the waistband, then tried the pants on so that I could cut my elastic to fit my waist. One look in the mirror and I realized that the decision to gather the back waistband was bad bad bad. I should have known the fabric would look way too bulky when pushed onto elastic, given that I omitted the front pleats for the same reason. But sometimes you have to see it to believe it!
  6. I changed the design of the pants, ditching the elastic back waistband idea for a more streamlined look with darts in the back. Which meant that I now needed a closure for the pants (the previously planned elastic waist meant I could just pull them up- in theory anyways, but when I tested them out I could barely squeeze them over my hips)!
  7. Enter: two darts on either side of the center back seam, and I also opened a side seam so that I could apply a zipper (I didn’t use the original zipper that came with the suit pants as it was just a cheap, regular plastic dress zipper and I prefer metal zippers for pants).
  8. The addition of these design elements requires a second a third a fourth an outlandish number of fit alterations of the pants, so I end up removing the waistband several times to do things like raise the rise of the pants, make way for a side zipper, change the curve of the waistband, take the side seams in (over and over again), cut up the waistband to accommodate all the changes, etc. This is where my waistband starts looking like frankenstein.
  9. I notice, not for the first time, that the waistbands of men’s pants have a center back seam, while literally NONE of the women’s pants I have worn/bought in recent memory comes equipped with the same. I can’t imagine why they don’t- a center back seam at the waistband means that if you want to give yourself or take away room in the waist area of your pants, all you have to do is open the center back seam and remove/add fabric to the seam without having to fuss with cutting the waistband up or opening the side seams. What gives? I am determined to remember this detail and cut all my future waistbands with a center back seam!
  10. I should have taken out some length at the hip line of the pants during my tissue fit phase, but it’s too late to do that now, so I keep bringing the crotch in more more more so I don’t look like I have a diaper on.
  11. Where am I? What day is it? Am I still working on these pants? What are pants??? What…is…life???
  12. WHAT ARE PANTS, I ASK YOU???
  13. The fit at this point is about as good as it’s gonna get, so I can now start focusing on how to cover up the horrendous slashes from the welt pockets in the back. I had decided that big patch pockets would cover them up nicely, but of course, because of the weird positioning of the welts which are very high and close to the side seams, this is easier said than done. On one side of the pants I am able to cover the welt completely with the large pocket, but I can’t seem to get it even on the other side without the slash from the welt peeking through on the side.

    And here is where I achieve my proudest moment in this make. I spy the black designer tag from the inside of the jacket chillin’ on the edge of my cutting table- I saved it because I thought it would have been fun to position the Andre Vachon tag and my own TryCurious tag together somewhere inside of the garment, but now it looks like the perfect way to conceal the cut from the welt pocket. I fold the tag and place it inside of the pocket so that just the AV emblem is peeking out of the side, which perfectly covers up the cut and looks like a design element I have seen on a million RTW garments before.

    Because the tag is black, it matches the wool fabric and looks intentional. I sew the edges down onto the wool to ensure that it won’t flip up and reveal the cut underneath, and for extra good measure, I sew a button through the pant leg to the top of the pockets, holding the open edge down. Because the cuts are so close to the top of the pocket edge, they have a tendency to slide into view and I want to make sure that they stay covered. This makes the pockets less functional, but I don’t mind, as I’m not a big back pocket user. Besides, the pockets were only added to cover up the cuts in the first place.
  14. I reattach all the belt loops around the waistband thinking they will help cover up some of the mad piecing together of this pattern piece, which has so many seams in it at this point that I could just refer to it as a quilt. Pants are tried on to scrutinize my handiwork. Belt loops are immediately removed because they look too distracting.
  15. I tack down the zipper tape, hand stitch a blind hem in the pants legs, and…I’m done? My pants saga is over? Could it be???

As a final result the pants are… not terrible! Ha! But of course there is room for improvement. The zipper on the side of the pants is wavy, which, in my experience, means the seams need to be stabilized with stay or twill tape. The big patch pockets on the back of the pants don’t look as bad as I thought they would (they remind me of the 70’s when all pants seemed to be extremely high waisted and pockets were positioned halfway up the wearer’s back!), but I am not crazy about the way that they peek out underneath the kimono jacket. This could have been avoided if the jacket was the length that I initially wanted it to be (a few inches longer), but of course I was constrained by the amount of fabric that the suit gave me to work with and I couldn’t squeeze any more length out. I ironed out the creases that were originally in the suit pants because I don’t like the way creases on pants fronts look on me when they don’t disappear into a waist dart, and I omitted the darts to keep the front looking crisp and clean. However I think they look fine without the creases, and I love the slightly tapered ankle length.

My last and final decision for this make was to add a belt for the kimono jacket, because the silhouette just looks way better to me when the waist is cinched in. Thankfully I was able to use most of the jacket collar for this piece (and it was already interfaced!); my pile of suit pattern pieces dwindled quickly- pretty much everything I had left was small or curved and I really didn’t want to have to make a belt comprised of 32 seams to rival my waistband, LOL.

As for the styling of this outfit, I have no idea what initially sparked me to pair it with this Esplanade Bra from Orange Lingerie, but once the main pieces of the jacket were completed and I was ready to try it on, it was the very first thing I grabbed from my closet (the strapless bra is gorgeous and since I have made it twice now, I am planning on blogging about it, but til then, know that this one was made with a kit from the wonderful TailorMadeShoppe’s etsy store) ! I’m sure it has a little something to do with the fact that I had just recently finished making the bra in a different fabric as a bustier to pair with a skirt (coming to the blog soon!), so the look was fresh in my mind. Either way, I tried it on and it immediately conjured up images of a 90’s Madonna, with her baggy suit pants and torpedo bra. The bra shows a fair amount of skin, so pairing it with this suit feels unexpected, but I still really like it. The lines of the front of the jacket do a great job of revealing just a tiny bit of the surprise that’s underneath, and it also ties in well with this Budoir For the Streets theme I have going on. For me, the idea of a kimono robe draped over a stately, beautifully shaped bra in pinks and reds is totally incongruous to the look of a black and white wool birdseye men’s suit, but surprisingly, the two together really work.

And that’s it, folks! I finished this project in record time, mostly because I was obsessed with getting it done as soon as I started working on it- I didn’t want to procrastinate and then be stressed out trying to problem solve at the last minute. I like my sewing to be fun and pressure-free! Plus, my job can take me out of town with little more than a day’s notice, and I hated the thought of being in the middle of this refashion with a deadline looming and then having to hop on a plane. As a whole, I am so happy with how this make turned out- I tried really to hard to create something that I would actually wear at some point in the future, not just something that would suffice for this challenge, and with that, I think I have succeeded. There are definitely some little things about the make that bug me, like, as I mentioned before, the pants pockets not being totally covered up by the jacket, and how there are lots of teeny tiny tears and holes throughout the wool fabric, which couldn’t be avoided- most of them came from the holes that were leftover after I carefully removed buttons, seams, welt pockets, etc. It’s just par for the course when you’re working with fabric that has already been manipulated into a garment. Fortunately, this just adds even more character to an ensemble that already has a pretty remarkable story. I feel so grateful to have been able to participate in this challenge, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and proving that I have both the creative chops and skillset to compete with the rest of The Refashioners, so here is a big thank you to Portia and Elisalex for believing in my abilities and inviting me into the fold- this has been such a blast and I feel very proud 🙂

Click here to stay up to date with The Refashioners 2017, see all the other inspiring refashions AND find out how you could win an amazing prize!

That Rachel Comey Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Take 2!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Embrace Octopus Sweater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famous last words.

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

still tiny as shit 🙁

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rib the neck weave the ends and fin #prettyguts

A post shared by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Happy making, y’all!