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A Vintage Dress Covered in Bugs

It has not gone unnoticed that I have made at least 3 garments in the past year featuring ladybugs. I have never considered myself particularly drawn to bugs, but every single time I see a pretty fabric adorned with them, I am instantly smitten, and I can’t get the fabric out of my head until I purchase it. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants!

So, onto the make! I have known my friends Kristy and George for years. I met them before they were a couple, when we were all single in NYC and floating around in the same online and real-life social circles. And then, scandal of all scandals, they started dating each other! It was right around the time that I met Claire, so all four of us double dated and threw all-day dinner parties for each other at our places in BK. A few years into their coupledom (on Claire’s birthday, no less!) Kristy gave birth to a sweet baby named Eli. When Claire and I left Brooklyn that next summer for greener pastures in Vancouver, they too left Brooklyn to make a new life for their family back in Kristy’s hometown of Atlanta. I have hated being so far away from them, but over the years we have had visits and skype sessions and letter exchanges and mile-long text convos to make up for the distance. On one recent Christmas, I sent them a care package of homemade soaps and cookies and body butters, and one of the lotions worked so well for Eli’s eczema that K & G put in a standing order for it (apparently it has worked better than any over the counter or prescribed ointment they have tried- behold the butter of shea!). Every few months I whip up a batch of “Eli’s Special Skin Cream”, and in exchange, they started sending me surprise boxes filled with stickers and magazines and flea shop finds and…vintage sewing patterns! BE STILL MY HEART!

vintage pattern

This is a pattern that looks like it came from the deep, deep 80’s, and it’s one that I would never ever have suspected would come out looking so amazing if I hadn’t actually made it myself. This was a fantastic lesson to learn- sometimes you have to put your trust in the details of a design instead of in the drawing/styling on the pattern envelope- although this pattern gets major bonus points for having a woman of color in the illustration. I could count the number of vintage sewing patterns I’ve seen featuring POC on one hand, and honestly, modern patterns aren’t that much better. And to find a POC and a plus size person on the same pattern envelope?? That is like sewing pattern gold!

Anyways, K & G picked this pattern out because they loved the back cut-outs (who knows, they probably  loved the brown woman on the front, too!) and the lovely button closure all the way down the dress. The fabric that we thought would look best for this garment was all sold out, so the mint green lady bugs were my second choice, but I think the fabric is perfect for this silhouette!

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you must must MUST excuse this weird look I have on my face. we snapped this photo at the gym before Claire’s basketball game and I hate taking photos with other people around and as a result I make weird faces so that I don’t look like I take myself too seriously. Even though WHO CARES WHAT STRANGERS THINK. Except I care. I care.

Because the fabric (purchased from Hart’s Fabric– one of my fav online sources) is a cotton voile and pretty see-through, I omitted the facings and made a lining for the bodice out of a white organza (I didn’t want to face the bodice with the self fabric since you would have seen soft, non-distinct blobs of black ladybugs showing through on the right side of the dress). I didn’t need to line the skirt- since it was a dirndl with a lot of gathering at the waist, I knew there would be enough volume to keep the important parts opaque.

I wanted to do something cool with the buttons but I was stumped as to what- I thought of choosing buttons in an unexpected color, like red or yellow, but I ran the risk of making the dress look too juvenile (ladybugs on mint green fabric is already toeing the line for me). I didn’t want to do black buttons either because I didn’t want them to compete with the black ladybug print.

button auditions.

button auditions; was thinking all red or all back or all tortoise shell and was testing out how each looked.

My friend Sarah suggested I get all of my crafty friends to send me a cool button and have a variety of types and colors and styles on the dress. I liked this idea, but I am impatient and wanted to wear this dress immediately. So I kind of morphed her suggestion into another cool idea; using a variety of different types of buttons in the same green color as the dress.

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JoAnn’s has a bazillion options for buttons, but I settled on buying an inexpensive package of same-hued buttons in different sizes. I chose buttons that all had the same diameter, but different details on them. I like how the buttons are all over-sized and add interest to the dress without taking away from the already dynamic fabric and color.

The bodice back requires one button to close the flaps together but I added another small button on the underside of the outside flap near the edge- it keeps the end of the flap from flipping open.

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I love this dress! I love that it is comfortable! I love that it looks pretty and dressy but it feels breezy in this hot ass desert! Which is funny, because in the middle of making this dress I started to doubt every single thing about it- I thought the way that the sleeves winged out was going to make it look dated and I was worried that the color of the dress looked too much like hospital-scrubs-green. It really wasn’t until I tried the dress on the in the mirror, right before the hemming and the button sewing, that I saw what a lovely and unique design it was. I’m so accustomed to putting darts in my dresses made out of woven fabric that I assume anything without that design feature will look frumpy or basic, but it’s (fortunately) not true at all.  I keep finding more fabric that I want to make this dress out of, but I’m gonna hold off on buying any; rumor has it that I am due for another surprise box from Kristy and George soon 🙂

Brumby Skirt in Ladybugs

ladybug skirt full view

Oh, nevermind the phone and record player cords piled up on the floor to the left of me, ok?

The Brumby Skirt is Megan Nielsen’s latest pattern, and um…it’s SO OBVIOUSLY my kind of skirt. It’s feminine and sweet, and Megan Nielsen’s version takes a pretty standard silhouette (dirndle skirt) and adds a couple of lovely details, like the wide, deep pocket option, and the double stitching on the front seam. Brumby was pinned on my “Patterns To Sew” board for a while, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across this FANTASTIC silk at The Fabric Store ladybug fabric that I actually bought the pattern and decided to make it. Funny thing, that silk- I had fallen in love with it the first time I saw it at the store, but I didn’t buy it since I didn’t have a plan for it (still trying to get out of the habit of making impulse fabric purchases, blah blah blah). I kept thinking about the fabric for the next several days (dreaming about it really), and then The Fabric Store had a big seasonal sale a week or so later, so my plan was to pick up a couple of yards of it when I went to buy other stuff. I arrived at the store the morning the sale began, and guess what- NO MORE LADYBUG SILK PRINT! I looked everywhere for it in between picking out my other pieces, but to no avail. I finally asked Brooke, who is manager of the LA store (who, by the way, is always incredibly helpful and thoughtful and an excellent ambassador for great customer service) what had happened to the ladybug print. She said it had all gotten snatched up pretty quickly…but then she reached under the cutting table and pulled out a folded pile of ladybug goodness. She said “it’s only a yard and a half, though- will it be enough?” and of course I, without a second thought, said “I will MAKE it be enough!”

Cut to a couple of weeks later, where I am literally squeezing all the pattern pieces onto the fabric to try and make it fit. One and half yards would have been plenty of fabric if it weren’t for the fact that the silk was paneled, so every yard or so it had this column of flowery design pasted across from top to bottom, separate from the ladybug print, which I had to work around. To make things even more difficult, it was a really slippery silk so I had to sandwich it between paper to be able to cut it out efficiently. The paper and silk trick works like a dream, but it can get really messy once you start cutting, with slivers of paper and silk just piling up all over the cutting table- it’s hard to tell what’s what, and I don’t know how I successfully got all my pieces cut, but I did (praise be to the sewing goddesses).

Because this is a delicate silk and I used a matching thread color, you can't really see the detail of the stitching on either side of the front seam, but I put it there anyways.

Because this is a delicate silk and I used a matching thread color, you can’t really see the detail of the stitching on either side of the front seam, but I put it there anyways.

Because the silk was see-through, I bought some bemberg rayon to line the skirt with, but in my haste to finish the project, I didn’t walk through the steps beforehand. As a result, I cut out the lining pieces weird- I should have put the pocket facing pattern piece onto the skirt front and cut it out as a whole, but instead I cut out the regular skirt front pieces with the pocket chunk missing, so I basically had a gaping hole on the inside of the lining. Does that make sense? But whatever, it was an easy fix- I just hand sewed the open pocket area of the lining to the actual pocket of the skirt to close the gap, and voila!

Can you see where the pocket of the lining was cut out (it has a pinked edge)? I had to handsew it to the pocket piece beneath it so there wouldn't be a huge hole.

Can you see where the pocket of the lining was cut out (it has a pinked edge)? I had to handsew it to the pocket piece beneath it so there wouldn’t be a huge hole.

And THEN guess what happened! I totally sewed the waistband onto the skirt upside down! Call it one of those brain glitches where you stop making logical decisions when you have been sewing for too many hours straight. Whatever it was, it was ridiculous and also hilarious. I remember staring at the waistband and then staring at the drawing in the instructions…and then staring at the waistband again…and then back to the instructions…I could not for the life of me figure out if the waistband curve should tilt up or down. I was ready to blame the instructions for not being clearer, but honestly, it’s something that I should have been able to figure out myself since I have made so many skirts in my lifetime. Once I realized my mistake, I pouted and cussed. Then I ripped out all my stitches and re-attached the waistband the right way; the longer I spend being annoyed at myself, the longer it takes to actually finish the skirt in the first place.

ladybug skirt back viewIn general, I hate sewing with silk, because I am not very competent at it. It’s so damn fickle- it snags easily, slides around when you’re trying to sew layers together, stretches out if your fingers tug at it the wrong way, puckers up all the time- it’s kind of a nightmare for me. But silks feel SO good against your skin, they are shiny and fancy and glamorous, and since I am trying to add more red carpet-ready items to my wardrobe, I know I need to get better at working with them. So! This was my third project in a row of working with silk, and I could definitely see my progress with each one. All in all I consider this pretty little skirt an absolute win! My plan is to make a Nettie Body Suit (ClosetCaseFiles pattern) in a nice soft navy knit to go with it. Stay tuned…

Praise for the Archer Pattern

Button downs are a staple in my wife’s wardrobe, and several years ago I tried to sew one for her from a Colette pattern called Negroni. The Negroni pattern is meant for a (typical) man’s frame, and although the sizing was way off, I thought I would be able to fudge the shape a bit to make it work for Claire’s figure. It was super fun to construct a button down shirt for the first time, so in that sense the project was a success-

clearly so huge in the shoulders, even with some adjustments.

clearly so huge in the shoulders, even with some adjustments.

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The shirt is fine but Claire’s beautiful face kind of upstages everything else in the photo.

 

I now had firsthand experience with all the little doo dads that made this type of garment come to life. But as a wearable shirt, it was kind of a disaster. It was just way too big for her, and since I didn’t know much about grading pattern pieces, my only fitting “trick” was to make some darts in the shirt, which gave her several inches of extra material bunched inside of the shirt to swim around in. And it STILL didn’t fit well. Thankfully, Claire is very sweet and appreciative, and she still wore the shirt a few times and told me how much she loved it before quietly tucking it into the bottom back of her drawer. On a trip to Birmingham to see my family a few months later, we ended up gifting the shirt to my dad, whom it fit almost perfectly, so I was happy that the whole garment wasn’t a wash. But I was still interested in finding a more flattering cut of this shirt that would fit a woman’s body without being so fitted that it sucked things in and pushed things up (think androgynous button down for a curvy female figure). At the time, Colette patterns were the only indie brand I was familiar with, and there were not as many competitive brands offering other patterns and designs as there are today, so I didn’t really think my dream button down pattern was going to be realized.

And then, several months ago, I got sucked into the sewing blog rabbit hole. I was introduced to SO many indie pattern designers who were offering PDF downloads and printed versions of their patterns for sale online, and it was as if a whole new world had opened up to me. Now big company pattern brands (McCalls, Vogue, Butterick) were not the only options available for a home seamster, and the indie designers were creating things that were a lot more interesting/fashionable/unique than most of what the big companies were offering (don’t get me wrong, I love a classic Vogue pattern as much as the next person, but I also love versatility and detailed pattern instructions and also, NOTHING BEATS A BLOGGER SEW-ALONG)! Indie designers seemed to have such fresh perspectives on sewing and pattern making, so you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across indie company Grainline Studio’s Archer pattern, a simple button down (or button up, depending on your personality type, I guess?) pattern fit for a (typical) woman’s body. Claire’s measurements fit into a straight size with no extra grading required, and once she picked out some fabric (pink ladybugs on a white lightweight cotton), I whipped it up for her in time to wear to my brother’s wedding in late summer, with an unintentionally gigantic matching bow tie and handkerchief.

the dapperest.

the dapperest.

The fit was absolutely perfect, and she felt comfortable in it. Compared to the men’s Negroni pattern, the fit was slimmer in the shoulders and chest while still allowing room for boobs, and there was a slight curve in the waist to make room for hips. In general, the shirt just kind of skims over her figure without providing so much room that it overwhelms her frame. After the success of the first Archer, Claire immediately wanted to pick out lots more fabric so that she could have a closet full of them, but so far I have only gotten around to making one more version of the shirt, this time long sleeved, which she received on her birthday last year. IMG_1733I love this pattern, and I actually plan on making one for myself…someday. Aside from the fit being so flattering, the pattern instructions were good enough that I didn’t need to follow the accompanying sew-along…well, up until it was time to sew the sleeve cuffs and pleats. That part was brand new to me and I needed extra visual help to figure it out, but the sew-along provided all the info I needed to finish those details. Highly recommended pattern, A++, two thumbs and two big toes up, yay, team, etc. etc.