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Floral Maxi Stella Dress

I made this dress back in October but it’s only just now making it to the blog. I know I will wear this dress and overall I think it looks nice, but this is not my favorite make. It’s the Stella Shirt/Dress by Named patterns, and if you hunt deep enough into this blog you will see that I have a fairly complicated relationship with this pattern  brand. I LOVE the ideas, looks, and styling of all their pieces, but I have found that their sizing is always off on me, their construction methods can be questionable, and their finishes are not always super clean and professional looking. For me, this is one of those brands where I have to read through all the directions first so that I can alter or embellish the details they do (or don’t) include; I just don’t trust that the final project will look as finessed as I prefer. This, of course, is just my personal opinion- lot’s of people love this brand and make beautiful garments from the patterns, and I don’t dislike them enough to not to ever give them another try, but nevertheless, whenever I finish one of their garments I’m usually disappointed about some part of the process.

My hands-down absolute favorite thing about this dress is the silk I used from The Fabric Store. I LOVE the colors, the pretty floral design, and the large print. The silk is transparent, so I used a dark navy opaque lining for the dress underneath at the bodice and the skirt, and thankfully it doesn’t distort the print or colors. This fabric was packed along with my sewing machine, a few patterns and a couple other cuts of material on one of my last trips to Vancouver in 2017 where I knew I would be sequestered for 2 weeks without much to do outside of work. I had a blast with my traveling sewing station, filling up my off days with making in my hotel room, but this dress was unfortunately the only completed project that was worth a damn. I burned The Pennywise Paperbag Waist Clown Pants after I snapped some hilarious pictures of them for instagram, and the raw silk hoodie I made from a McCalls pattern is being gifted to one of my sisters-in-law as I type this (it just didn’t come out nearly as cute as I had hoped). The lesson I learned here was that I needed to spend more time planning what projects would accompany me for future trips instead of throwing a bunch of patterns I had never sewn before into my suitcase and hoping for the best. Nothing but TNTs for my foreseeable #sewnawayfromhomes!

Construction for the dress was pretty straightforward. Initially I didn’t plan on sewing the lining into the dress and instead planned to just wear it as a fully transparent shell with a slip underneath, but once I read through the directions and realized that the elastic casing at the waist would look very visible and sloppy in my see-through fabric, I changed my mind. I took a trip to a small indie fabric store in downtown Vancouver (whose name escapes me at the moment) and hunted for some proper lining fabric. Thankfully I found some, but not before feeling very annoyed that the person manning the shop barely even made eye contact with me, much less gave me a hello after I walked through the door and spent at least 10 minutes perusing the bolts in the shop. And no, the store wasn’t crowded; during this trip I was the only person in the shop for the majority of my time there, and it’s a very tiny space, a fraction of the size of Dress Sew (whose very busy employees still find time to give me a quick hello even when the store is at its most crowded). Honestly I wasn’t too surprised by the shade- Vancouver might be the most unfriendly city I have ever lived in, but I figured that the ties to the sewing community would lend this small shop to at least extend a quick greeting or some kind of acknowledgement- and by the way, this happened each time I went into the store over the span of a couple months- but no such luck. Anyways, I found what I needed even though it was of pretty poor quality, one of those super stiff linings that feels like it’s made of paper- I would have much preferred to purchase from Dress Sew but they were closed and this place was right across the street.

As for the design of the dress….I’m on the fence about it. When I initially completed this dress in Vancouver with nothing but a poorly lit yellow-hued bathroom to view my handiwork, I thought it looked great, but I think I was mostly responding to the pretty fabric. Once I got back to LA with a mirror with better visibility, the whole thing just looked off. Initially I picked this design because I knew it would be simple to lengthen the dress to a maxi, and I had been wanting one of those easy-to-wear-Boho-inspired dresses that I could pair with some heeled boots and a cute hat. But standing in front of my mirror, nothing about it looked relaxed or easy. The stiff lining underneath gives the silk more body than the dress I was going for needs, so it tented out a bit at the bottom and came off looking much more formal than I anticipated.

But the worst part was the bodice. I just…really am not crazy about it at all. I loved the idea of the raglan sleeves but these are drafted with so much ease that I feel like I am swimming in them. Maybe they wouldn’t look so weird to me if the rest of the bodice was a bit more fitted, but unfortunately it isn’t, so the whole bodice piece feels much too big and billowy on me. Ultimately I felt like this dress could fit a body several sizes larger than mine as long as the length of elastic at the waist was altered, and this matters because maxi dresses don’t quite work on me if they aren’t well-fitted; an overly blousy dress with a floor length skirt can make me look like a kid playing dress up in her mom’s closet if I’m not careful.

 

The only thing I could think of to save this dress was to chop it off at the knee (which is closer to the length of the original dress’ design- perhaps shame on me for attempting to hack it into something it wasn’t meant to be?…but also, you never know til you try!) Once it was re-hemmed it looked MUCH better, the blousy effect on top now balanced by the shorter skirt on the bottom. Proportions, amirite??? I still think the armscye is way too big, I don’t like the elastic casing finish on the hems of the sleeves, and the neckbow is awful! When tied, it won’t lay properly against my collar bone, instead it droops down (and my silk is very lightweight so it’s not the culprit) and the area where the bodice pieces meet directly underneath the bow gapes open, which I hate. Thankfully the bow mostly covers that peekaboo area up, but I still find myself fiddling with it to keep it in place. It’s just another reason that this dress feels like it’s drafted for several sizes larger than my own.

This isn’t the dress that I was envisioning in my head, but as I said, I still like it and I know I will get some good wear out of it. The colors and the print are so fun and it feels very feminine while also feeling comfortable (that elastic waistband basically makes this outfit nightclothes with heels). I want to try the look that I have inside my head again, but perhaps with a button down dress with a full flowy skirt, and regular sleeves? Not sure if I have anything like that in my pattern arenal or if I should just hack it, but I was gifted some beautiful rayon from Workroom Social for Christmas and I think it might be a match made in heaven.

Jackie Dress in Floral Velvet

I bought this Jackie Dress by Victory Patterns as soon as it came out- didn’t even let the pattern marinate on my brain! I loved the seaming of the dress, made of princess seams, coupled with the additional panels in the skirt, and I loved the subtle flare the dress has at the hips- it looks chic and classic, but also comfortable since it doesn’t hug every single curve of the body. Maybe it’s because of the styling in the pattern photos, but it has a decidedly 70’s vibe to me- and I have been GAGA FOR SEVENTIES for the past year or so after having never paid much attention to that era in the past. What can I say, my tastes are evolving! This pattern calls for a knit fabric with stretch, and a while ago I bought some cheap, slinky crap for it on a whim when I was purchasing fabric for other projects. I didn’t put a lot of thought into what I was buying because I was in a hurry, and my inattention really showed when I got it home and realized that the fabric was of super poor quality and I didn’t even like it that much. It was thin and showed every lump and bump underneath it, and it also looked like it would pill and snag very easily when worn. All was not lost- that cheap fabric ended up being a terrific muslin for some other projects I worked on that called for stretch knits, but the Jackie Dress got put on the back burner indefinitely since I didn’t have anything to make it with.

Then fall rolled around and I was sorting through my pattern stash and I realized that this design would be a terrific garment to add to my arsenal of fall/winter makes. It’s got a shortened turtleneck (providing a little bit of warmth, not that much is needed in LA anyways), an option for long sleeves, and, depending on the length you make, the skirt of the dress could be short, tea length or maxified, which works great for the silhouettes I was looking for at the time (in this post right here I talked about focusing on specific garments for fall/winter since my cooler weather wardrobe has been seriously lacking for forever). The floral velvet fabric that I ultimately used for this pattern was a total happy accident. I have only recently been exploring the fabric district in DTLA outside of Michael Levine’s, thanks to SewDIY’s blog post about her favorite LA fabric/notions spots. I’m not exactly sure why I’m not in the habit of exploring the smaller shops around the strip, but I think it has something to do with time– I rarely go fabric shopping to meander, I just want to get in and out, and knowing the layout of a place and what to expect from it works well for my goal-oriented sensibilities (my one exception is The Fabric Store- I love the shop, I love the staff, I could hang out there all day…and I have! lol) and also I don’t like to haggle. I have this idea that all hole-in-the-wall places don’t have set prices and want you to do the work to settle on a price and I don’t like that at all. Just tell me how much it is- if it’s too expensive then I won’t buy it, no back-and-forth price jumping necessary.

ANYWAYS, on one of my exploring trips to the fabric district I passed by a bolt of floral velvet placed on the sidewalk in front of a store (I’m sorry but I have no idea what the store was called and I don’t remember where it was, except that it was on a corner). I inquired about it and the guy inside stated a fair price. HOWEVER, when we went to cut it, I told him I wanted 1 and 1/2 yards, and he very quickly blabbered something about “3 yards cut, discount, only, special, you want?” and I was super flustered because like I said, I DON’T LIKE HAGGLING!!! and my brain shuts down sometimes when I am having a social interaction that is going a different way than I anticipated, so I just mumbled “umm, yes, ok? sure? ok…” and I walked out spending something like $50 cash for 1.5 more yards of fabric than I needed, so my whole trip home was spent wondering what the hell I was gonna make with all three of those yards… I envisioned an entire velvet suit comprised of an overcoat and long bell bottom pants and a matching purse, because 3 yards is way more fabric than I normally buy if I am not sure what I am going to use it for, and of course I felt I needed to use every bit of it because I didn’t want to waste anything. And then lo and behold, a few days later after feeling bad about how the whole exchange went and berating myself for not being able to ask for what I needed in my haze of anxiety, I pulled out the fabric to admire it and I realized that it was EXACTLY enough to squeeze the Jackie Dress out of. Whew! What a journey, right?

With that 3 yards I eeked out a size 2/bust graded to a size 4/waist and hip with sleeves and the longest skirt version. I find that Victory Patterns tend to be too small on me but I figured that since this was a knit dress that was supposed to be very fitted and would stretch out a bit on my body, I could get away with it. Turns out I was ALMOST right, but not quite. Construction of the main part of the dress was straightforward and fast- I serged all the dress panels together (definitely my preference when working with velvet) and the bulk of it was constructed in less than 10 minutes. The more time consuming part came when piecing together the facings for the back bodice, which creates a modest but beautiful slit for a peekaboo glimpse of skin of the upper back, closed at the neck with three fabric loops + buttons. I used some knit interfacing for these pieces, which in my experience doesn’t work well with all knit fabrics, but it worked a treat on the velvet, stabilizing the pieces without bubbling and gaping anywhere.

This pattern is labeled as Intermediate probably because of the back facing and loop closures, which require some careful sewing, clipping to the seam allowance, and understitching, but the construction wasn’t difficult at all- I think that a beginning sewer could figure it out if going slowly and carefully. Once I finished my facing pieces and had everything constructed and laying perfectly flat, I sewed the short turtleneck collar onto the dress and tried it on. I was NOT impressed. As per the instructions, I sewed the neck seam with a zig zag stitch instead of serging it so that it wouldn’t be too bulky, and I under stitched to keep the top of the neck from rolling out, but it just wasn’t behaving at all. It looked messy and awkward, but even more importantly, IT WAS TOO TIGHT! I didn’t adhere to my go-up-a-size-with-this-company’s-patterns rule and I thought I was going to get away with it, but NOPE, turns out I was wrong. I hoped that I could squeeze out a bit of extra room since the back of the neck isn’t closed by a seam, but with a button, which provides a tiny bit of wiggle space. Maybe if I moved the button to the verrrry edge of the seam I could get a bit more breathing room? I tried it out by safety pinning the button loop to the furthest edge of the opposite seam, but it didn’t work- it was just too uncomfortable, and I knew that I would get no joy out of wearing the garment if I was constantly fidgeting with the fabric around my neck. But the ill fit didn’t end there- the back slit wasn’t behaving properly either; instead of laying flat, it was gaping slightly open into a subtle diamond shape and the inside edges were rolling out. The bodice did not feel or look too tight at all front the front or the sides, but the slit was splaying open as if it were too tight. UGH.

As per usual when I am stumped and frustrated by a project, I put the dress away for the day. I don’t remember if I dreamed the solution to my problem with this dress or not, but that happens often- when I am deep in a sewing project that isn’t working, I have anxiety dreams about it. When I waited tables back in the day, after particularly busy shifts I used to dream about being at work all night, and I would wake up in the morning so pissed because I wasn’t getting paid for the “work” I was doing in my dreams! My sewing dreams are similar- I replay the sewing issue I am having on a loop, trying out different possibilities until I figure out what will work. More than once I have woken up in the morning and remembered the solution to my problem after dreaming about it. But I have also woken up before, excited that I had the perfect fix, and then, after recalling what I was supposed to do, become completely disheartened that the fix made absolutely no sense at all (once it went something like  wake up: “Oh, It think I know how to fix this blouse now! Okay, what was it again?…I have to….glue…glue something….glue a….plastic…wait, I’m supposed to glue a plastic tube into the threads of my fabric?? what the hell??”). Anyways, I can’t remember if I actually dreamed about this Jackie dress or not, but regardless, I woke up knowing exactly what I needed to do to fix the super tight neck and hopefully the gaping peekaboo slit in the back.

I unpicked the turtleneck and it’s facing (which was bulky underneath the dress and never wanted to lay down properly anyways), and I added a simple neck binding in it’s place, folding the ends on either side under since the neck wasn’t a closed seam. This obviously lowered the neckline of the dress, which in turn affected the placement of the buttons, and that mostly fixed my issue with the gaping back- with lower buttons, the pieces were closed further down the back so there wasn’t as much room for it to splay open. It still doesn’t lay down as flat as I would like, and in hindsight I should have used some stay tape at those seams to keep them more stable, but I don’t think it’s that noticeable…and if it is, I simply don’t care at this point- the rest of the dress is too pretty to get stuck on that small detail.

I really did like the look of this dress with the turtleneck, but I am super happy with my regular neckline now. For one thing, it is WAY more comfortable, and for another, I’m not entirely sure that the turtleneck looked that good on me in the first place. I love turtlenecks, but I sometimes feel a bit swallowed up by them, like I just have a big, round, floating head on top of a mass of fabric. The garment still looks dressy and feminine with the more casual neckline, in part because I was able to keep the back of the dress as is with the button closures and slit. I love the length of the dress and the width of the swingy skirt paired with the long sleeves, and I have already worn the dress a lot this season. But most of all I am REALLY into this beautiful velvet! I have seen other floral velvets on the bolt that look so dated and tired that I half expected them to smell like mothballs, but the design of this fabric is so great! The size of the print and the bright colors against the black work really well together, and coupled with this pattern, it’s got the perfect 70’s vibe that I keep finding myself drawn to. Unfortunately I had a really hard time photographing this dress- I’m not sure why! But after two separate photoshoot attempts with sub par results, I decided to just stick with the 3 or 4 photos that looked decent enough to share here and call it a day. Thanks for your help with the photos, 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!

Fit For A Costa Rican Wedding

Recently released, the summery Vogue 9253 immediately caught my eye (and the eyes of a whole bunch of other sewists)! I love the sexy slit down the front of the dress paired with the fairly modest coverage everywhere else. With billow-y kimono style sleeves and a paneled skirt that gently flares out, ending at the shins, I knew it was right up my alley- a garment that allowed for a flash of skin without making me feel too naked. It’s helmed as a ‘Very Easy Vogue’ pattern which I would agree with- the instructions were straight forward and the techniques understandable and easy to complete. I love it when a dress looks a little bit more complicated than it actually it is to construct; although there isn’t anything about the line drawing that looks super intense to sew, it still has a bit of a wow factor.

A few months prior to this make I had picked out a bolt of this soft rayon from The Fabric Store. Claire was toying with the idea of wearing a caftan to a wedding we were attending in Costa Rica over the summer (read: toying with the idea of asking me to MAKE her a caftan), and because this fabric was super lightweight and a bit sheer, I thought it would be perfect for such a garment, seeing as how caftans usually require so many yards of fabric and can get bulky with the wrong weight of material. Well it turned out that Claire wasn’t as into the fabric as I was, and there were only a couple of yards left on the bolt anyways (not enough for the caftan pattern she was interested in), so obviously I snagged it for myself. It is so rare to find a bold, striped-type print that runs all the way down the length of the bolt- I thought this would match well with the panels of the skirt- and I also loved the colors and abstracted leopard-ish design. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would make with it, but I imagined it would be a breezy summer maxi dress.

Several times I pulled out the fabric and draped it over my dressform, wondering what it wanted to be, but I never felt quite inspired. I was a bit stuck on the fact that the fabric was so sheer and I didn’t have very much of it, so I wasn’t quite sure how to best utilize it. And then, lo and behold, this pattern fell into my lap and I thought that the two together would make the perfect dress for a destination wedding in hot-as-hell Costa Rica. I figured that I could get away with the plunging neckline since this wouldn’t be a traditional church wedding (and I did, although I checked in with the brides first, lol).

To handle the sheerness of the fabric, I underlined each pattern piece (except for the belt) with sheer white cotton voile, and it worked well, allowing the dress to retain the drape and lightness of the rayon. I didn’t make any drastic alterations to the pattern for size as I usually do with Big 4 since it was drafted as XS-XL, and instead I just made a size XS and took in the extra ease throughout the bodice and waist when I inserted my zipper. It worked beautifully and I ended up with a garment that fit well but was also very comfortable (I can use the belt to tighten the waist a bit more if I am ever having a day where it feels looser than normal.

Favorite things about the dress? The pockets! I don’t remember exactly what I did to accommodate the attached voile lining when constructing this part of the garment, but whatever it I did, it worked beautifully and doesn’t provide too much bulk in the pocket area. I also love the ease of wear of the kimono sleeves, which are not set-in to the bodice, allowing a lot of freedom of movement at the shoulders. I was worried that it would be so humid/sweaty at the wedding that the fashion tape I was using to keep the deep neck of the V in place between my breasts would slide off, but surprisingly that did not happen and the bodice stayed in place for as long as I wore the dress (which was throughout the ceremony and to the end of dinner, but when it came time to start dancing, I had to have an outfit change to fully live my best dancefloor life. For the record, the little knit jumper I wore for dancing was LITERALLY soaked with sweat in about 7 minutes, and wore it/continued to dance in it for the next three hours. I was obviously a disgusting mess by the end of the night, my hair completely plastered to my head and a big blister on my foot from trying to dance in Birkenstocks- DON’T ASK!- but then we all jumped in the pool and had a midnight swim to cool off, so it was worth it! Pura Vida!!!)

As far as appropriateness for the wedding, the design and print of the dress worked great, but I ignored the fact that rayon makes me SWEEEEAAAAAAAAT so much, so my armpits were basically raining down my sides during the ceremony. I have no idea why. I have 3 or 4 rayon dresses in my closet, and although they are some of the silkiest, softest garments I own, they all have gigantic pit stains in them when I take them off. The only other fabric that behaves like that on my body is polyester, but rayon is derived from plant material as opposed to plastic, so I would have imagined it would behave differently in practice. Aside from wearing a too-hot fabric in a hot climate, I was really happy with this dress and I’m really excited to wear it again, perhaps for a red carpet event before the weather turns cool.

Although I would normally style this dress with heels, I knew I didn’t want to be burdened with that kind of shoe for this wedding, which was held on the very lush, grassy grounds of the hotel we were staying at. The thought of three inch heels digging into grass and dirt was just about as horrifying as trying to walk in those same shoes on sand, so I quickly (like, the morning of the day we left for CR) whipped up a pair of strappy leather sandals that I thought would match the tropical vibe of the wedding and go well with my dress. I normally give myself a lot more time to make sandals, but this was around the time when my brother was in the ICU and very, very sick, and I was kind of just running on auto-pilot and hoping to get everything done that needed to get done, while also feeling guilty for going on the trip in the first place. Sigh. That’s a story for another day. The good news is that my brother has recovered and is doing great and I finished these shoes in time for our trip! I really love how they turned out. Even though I love wild and funky shoes of all kinds, I am a real stickler for simple, neutral-colored designs, so this pair fit right in line with my tastes and let the dress shine.

The wedding of course was BEAUTIFUL – it would be impossible for it not to be, as the brides are two of the loveliest people I know and they were intent on throwing a fun, non-fussy ceremony/party from the start. And obviously Costa Rica was gorgeous (even though the bugs FEASTED on me, no matter how much spray I slathered myself with!) Claire took me to visit a chocolate farm where we got to see cocoa transform from fruit to nib to candy, we saw beautiful beaches, spent hours watching hummingbirds at war on the porch of our airbnb in the Cloud Forest, and I had more arroz con pollo than my heart (and stomach) could handle. And then two days before we left, my brother’s health took a dramatic turn for the better! It was an emotional trip to say the least, but I am really happy I was able to go and witness my friend’s lovely union and get out of the country with Claire for the first time in too long!

Everyone’s Favorite Dress

pattern: McCalls 7387

fabric: Liberty twill cotton from The Fabric Store

I’m not normally one to hop on a bandwagon when the general public seems to become a fanatic of one particular thing, be it a movie, a musician, a book, or in this case, a pattern. Example: everyone I know, including my wife, has talked on and on (and on and on and on!) about what a phenom Zadie Smith is, but I just haven’t been able to make it through any of her books. I’ve started a couple of them, never imagining for one second that White Teeth wouldn’t make it’s way into my Top 20 novels before I even started reading the first page, but it turns out it just wasn’t for me. This of course doesn’t mean that it’s not an incredible book or that my wife and all those other people raving about Smith’s work don’t have excellent taste (I’m sure it is and I know that they do), but timing matters, and perhaps more importantly, nothing can be everything to everyone. I try and remember this when I get criticism for projects I have been a part of, both large and small- more often than not, someone’s disinterest in a work of art isn’t personal, it’s just subjective, and that rings true for the sewing community as well. Which is why I bring this up- I don’t want to offend anyone who loves this pattern I am about to blog about (and according to the internet, many of you do)!

I came to Pattern Review pretty late, and I still don’t use it as a resource as often as I could. It is one of the first online spaces to begin cultivating an enthusiastic sewing community, so not only are their archives pretty massive, it is also one of the largest online forums dedicated to sewcialists in existence today, and from what I can tell, it has been beneficial to hundreds of thousands of people, both technically and socially, for years. Now that so many people have blogs, I do a simple google search when I am looking for details about a specific pattern that I want to make, and usually several entries will pop up, frequently from people whose blogs I already follow. But back in the day before so many people had access to creating their own blogs and writing about personal projects, PR was the place where you could easily share information about your makes- what worked, what didn’t, how the sizing was, what mods you made, and what the final project looked like. What has interested me most lately on PR has been rifling through the annual BEST OF posts, where they determine which patterns get sewn most often with the highest reviews/success rates. A lot of the same patterns seem to make the list every year, which has it’s pros and cons- it’s cool to know which patterns have “staying power” and are TNTs for the sewing community at large, but it would also be great to see a bit more variety in what people are trying and loving.

Anyways, two patterns caught my eye when I skimmed through the lists from the past few years. McCalls 7387, a loose fitting button-up shirt dress and M6886, a fitted knit dress, drafted to be a little looser than a body-con dress. Both were very simple silhouettes that didn’t look as if they needed a lot of tinkering. As such, I decided to make a size 10/12 in the button up shirt dress with no adjustments other than grading from the bust to the waist. It has such a loose, body skimming fit and interesting details that I couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t fit great as-is.

But.

I.

Was.

Wrong.

First of all, this pattern is REALLLLLY FUSSY. I have no idea why they drafted the button band the way they did. I understand wanting to have a concealed placket for the band, and I like that detail (or at least I did before I had to construct it) but this one was just ridiculously complicated and messy looking. On top of that, the instructions are quite lacking for this part of the pattern, so I ended up having to make the band twice, cutting new pieces from my fabric and interfacing. I haven’t made a lot of concealed plackets in my life so maybe part of my distaste for the method demonstrated in this pattern is just based on inexperience, but the last one I DID make was for the Hannah dress, and it was a dream to put together compared to this one. This dress has you cut out several placket and band pieces, a couple of which are interfaced, but the instructions don’t do a good job of letting you know which pieces go together and there is no labeling on them other than what the general name of the pieces are (I would have found it helpful if they were labeled right/left/top/bottom etc.- the illustration in the instructions do a poor job of showing which pieces are which and which directions they should be facing). Because there are so many pieces required for the button band, not only was it needlessly complicated to construct, it also looks very bulky when finished, even though I graded my seams, understitched whenever I could, and chose a fabric that was not particularly bulky (it is on the lighter side of a mid-weight fabric). My outside placket doesn’t lay down properly and instead just kind of floats open in the air, so the hidden placket doesn’t even effectively hide the buttons it’s supposed to be concealing.

Aside from the construction method of the button band, I also dislike that it isn’t applied to the length of the front openings. The band starts a few inches down from the collar of the dress and ends at some point around the knees although there is still several inches of dress left beneath it. When I was making it I had no idea it would bother me as much as it does but for some reason I think it’s really unflattering. The placket ending where it does at the bottom doesn’t bother me so much, but I think the neckline looks just awful on me. I would prefer to have a button band going all the way up to the collar as it would on a traditional button up shirt with the option to leave a few buttons undone at the neck if you want that open collar look. As drafted, the dress splays open at my chest and just…I dunno, it just doesn’t look right to me, for whatever reason.

 

A few other details on this dress missed the mark for me. I love the high-low hem of the version I made, but it seems much more dramatic than necessary, and I didn’t realize how long the back was until it was finished- it’s so long that I can’t wear the dress without heels (or in my case, clogs), which cuts down on the different ways I can wear it. I also don’t like that the sides have a split at each seam; I think it looks too busy. It could have benefited from one or the other design element- a high/low hem or slits up the seams- but not both. Wasn’t it Coco Chanel, that fashionable but irredeemable (IMO) Nazi spy, who said that before leaving the house you should always remove one accessory so you don’t look overdone? I feel like that’s what this pattern needed- some major detail editing. Too bad I didn’t realize it until the entire dress was complete!

My final, but most frustrating complaint about the dress is the back pattern piece. The construction of the yoke is what I originally loved best about the dress from the technical design because the folded over pieces made me think of the Hannah Dress, but unfortunately it doesn’t wear very well. Or, rather, it doesn’t wear well on my body type (more booty!) The back piece is drafted VERY wide since it is folded on top of itself to create a sort of pleated effect. But as that extra fabric falls toward the hips, the folded pleat disappears and the fabric ends up pooling around the top of my butt in this really weird way. I

It’s hard to describe, but I think it’s because the excess fabric from the top of the pattern piece isn’t graded out at the hips, it just collects in one area, and I think it’s so noticeable on me because of my butt-to-waist ratio. The way the fabric falls in the back is very unflattering, and I even tried belting it in a million different ways as a last ditch attempt to “save” this dress. FYI, cinching a wide dress that has no seamed waist has always been a look that I am decidedly NOT into, but I would do it if it made this dress work better. Unfortunately it did not. So when I wear it (and yes, as much as I am complaining about this dress, I will wear it because I love the fabric!), it will just be worn baggy with a pool of collected fabric congregating at my lower back. Unless I find some time to unpick the yoke stitching at the back and gather the extra fabric at that seam instead of leaving it pleated as drafted. We are going to Costa Rica this summer and I imagine that this dress, with a few adjustments, will be a nice, easy garment to wear on warm, windy beaches with a bathing suit underneath. But I am most likely going to have to chop that weirdly long back hem down quite a bit so that I can wear the dress with sandals. And I will sew up those unnecessary side slits too while I’m at it.

Speaking of fabric, this spring-y floral print is made from a lightweight, opaque twill by Liberty of London, which came from none other than The Fabric Store. I love the color combination and the fabric’s softness- it feels like a fabric that has already been laundered 20 times. It’s light weight lends itself very well to this style of dress, which makes it look as breezy and easy to wear as it feels (aside from that blasted button band, of course!). So far, the fabric choice is my favorite thing about this dress, but perhaps once I adjust the hem it will look a little bit better to me. The only other things I really like about the dress are the sleeves, which are not set-in. They are drafted in a kimono style, but with a more subtle effect, and the cuffs tie them in with the tabs on the pockets- speaking of, could you tell this dress has pockets, one on each breast? The busy fabric kind of turns the whole thing into a seeing-eye puzzle!

I was so excited about this dress when I was working on it and I am really bummed that it came out the way it did. But this has been a good reminder for me to maintain a critical eye when shopping for sewing patterns, even when everyone else seems to be raving about them. I have mentioned a certain indie pattern brand on the blog several times before that has exquisite styling, design details and branding for their company, but the patterns look horrid on me. I made several patterns of theirs in my first couple of years sewing which were almost immediately relegated to the Butthole Bin™ before I faced the harsh reality that these patterns simply weren’t suitable for my body type. I wanted so badly to hop on the band wagon with everyone else in the sewing community and stay there, but I got to a point where I couldn’t bear to spend any more time and fabric sewing a garment that I knew was most likely going to look unflattering on me. Although I usually have much better luck with Big 4 patterns, I still need to keep my eye discerning and focused, because it usually doesn’t steer me wrong (unless we are talking about that disaster that was that Vena Cava for Vogue dress I tried my hand at a couple of weeks ago! hahahaha! But I digress…)

I will be sure to share some photos of the “new” version of this button down dress with the hem and side slits fixed and hopefully the back piece adjusted as well when I get around to it. Stay tuned 🙂

Holidays in Velvet

I have never made myself a dress for Christmas before, but since this was our year to spend with Claire’s family and they had a ‘Progressive Dinner’ planned (which entails starting dinner at one house with drinks and apps, moving on to another home for the Christmas meal and then a final house for dessert and presents), I figured this was as good a time as any to whip up some festive attire. Truth be told, the Christmas dress only came into being after I walked into The Fabric Store  last December and saw a roll of the most luxurious black velvet laying on one of the tables. It was so soft, the fabric had a gorgeous drape, and the velvet had so many dimensions. Black is my least favorite color to wear so I pretty much never ever sew it unless it has a print, but this velvet was too special to not make an exception- when the light hit it you could see all the texture of the cloth while the deep black color seemed to emit golden hues at certain angles. What made me more in love with the fabric was that I immediately knew what I wanted to make with it, which is pretty rare for me. I had bought a Big Four pattern when there was a massive sale on them at Joanns. My Dad had come down to visit me in Savannah for the weekend and since I didn’t have a car, he happily drove me to the grocery store, Target, and Joanns so that I could grab some notions that my local fabric store down the street didn’t carry (f I hadn’t mentioned it before, my Dad is exceptionally sweet and I wish I had a photo of him patiently sitting next to me holding my basket of thread and zippers as I thumbed through the $1 bin of patterns).

Anyways, one of the patterns I nabbed was this Simplicity 1585 Project Runway dress with raglan sleeves. The Project Runway patterns are great because they give you lots of options for adding details and design elements to what is otherwise a simple garment, and this one had some really cool options for adding piping and ribbon. The style lines of the dress seemed like they would suit my black velvet beautifully. My fabric wasn’t super heavy or thick, but I still thought it would best suit a pattern without a lot of bulk and gathers, and because of the way the lines of the skirt flowed, velvet seemed like a match made in heaven. Turns out, nothing is heavenly when you are sewing with velvet :/

I re-upholstered an armchair in velvet last year and had to do a fair amount of machine sewing for the piping and seat cushion but I didn’t have any trouble with it at all- maybe because it was a heavy weight fabric and backed by sturdy cloth, it behaved like any other upholstery fabric I had worked with before. My precious, supple black velvet on the other hand? Totally different story. I found a little bit of helpful information about sewing with velvet on the Threads Magazine website, but nothing could have quite prepared me for how frustrating it would actually be! I imagine that sewing with velvet knits is a little less complicated because you can just power through most all the seams with a serger and be done with it, but my velvet required a lot more attention than that.

my dressform after a very brief encounter with this velvet dress- all seams were sewn, this was just the leftover dander clinging to the inside!

The biggest thing I learned about velvet during this project is that it is MESSY; I was constantly wiping teeny tiny little threads of black off my sewing machine and work space. I guess this is because the threads in velvet fabric are short and piled as opposed to long and woven, so when you cut it, the hairs are no longer attached to anything and they just fall all over the place. My velvet also behaved a little bit like silk when I was cutting out the pattern pieces, but because I was on a tight timeline with a little less than three days to make this dress before we left town, I didn’t want to spend too much time cutting it out. So. I cut it on the fold. I would NOT recommend this! Cut your slinky velvet out in a single layer like a responsible seamster!

 

The next biggest thing I learned about sewing with velvet is that it doesn’t want to be sewn!  You think I’m kidding? It’s as if the fabric had a life of it’s own. When sewing two pieces of velvet together, they just don’t want to stay in place and have a tendency to slip and slide out from under the needle. I tried pinning my layers all kinds of different ways but it still wouldn’t behave, so then I tried a tip from Threads Mag that suggests you use a fabric adhesive on the seam allowances of your pieces, press them together, and then sew. This worked about 80% of the time, but it took a lot of extra work and patience and it of course made things even more messy. To keep the glue from spraying all over my cutting table, I would place paper underneath the edge of the piece of fabric I was spraying, but soon enough that paper would become tacky with glue and wind up transferring itself onto my hands or other parts of the fabric. Add to this all the tiny hairs of stray velvet that was covering my workspace already and you can imagine what a sticky mess it was. I was surprised that the glue didn’t really ruin any of my fabric, though- there are a few places where there is still glue within the seam, but mostly it wiped off pretty easily, and the glue itself tended to lose it’s bond after several minutes, so if you mistakenly glued any pieces together, you could pull them apart without too much trouble.

One of my mistakes in making this dress (and oh boy, there were many!) was thinking I could add all those cute details (like the piping around the arm seams and the keyhole at the neck) using a satin contrast fabric on top of the velvet. I gave it the old college try, but working with the glue and the piping and two finicky fabrics was more than my poor little maker psyche could handle. The nail in the coffin was finally completing one side of piping and realizing that, aside from being uneven and wonky looking, the velvet combined with the satin piping looked an awful like a velour Adidas track suit from the 70s. And obviously that was NOT the look I was going for. Ultimately I abandoned the piping and the final result of the dress is better for it, but I will most definitely be making this dress again in the future with a less finicky fabric and using the piping as intended.

I made a quick muslin of the bodice of this dress sans sleeves since most Big 4 patterns don’t fit me right out the box, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was an exception, save for taking in the seam allowances in the back (I have a ‘small back’ in pattern adjustment lingo and have had to take in fabric at the back zipper on every dress I have ever made). The only real issue I had with the pattern were the sleeves, so of course I was kicking myself that I didn’t include these pieces in my muslin from the very beginning. It’s hard to tell if the sleeves were wonky because of my fabric or because of the design; as drafted the short raglan sleeve version has two pleats at the cuff in addition to gathers on either side of them, and they are connected to a band in contrast fabric (mine was the cream colored satin). For the life of me I could not get these sleeves to work. My velvet fabric seemed too bulky to accommodate both the pleat and the gathers, and because the sleeve is so small, it was also hard to get fabric adhesive on the seam allowance properly, so I had to resort to using pins again to keep the pieces together under the needle. As a result, the fabric slid around so much that I couldn’t successfully sew a consistent seam allowance along the edge and the sleeve ended up looking pathetic- it hung down lower in some places than others, it was weirdly puffy around the shoulder, and it was also too tight around my arm. I spent HOURS on these sleeves before realizing that the only way to save the dress would be to omit the satin sleeve cuff and the pleats, loosen the gathers, and use a cuff made out of velvet instead; the velvet tended to work better with self fabric than satin. When I finished the sleeves and tried the dress on, it was ten times better than before- the sleeve lay smoothly off the shoulder and didn’t look too billowy.

Finally, I had a bit of trouble with my invisible zipper- I could not manage to get it to lay smoothly at the very bottom where the two back pieces of the skirt connect together again. I am pretty good with invisible zip insertion so I am just gonna blame this on the fabric, too. I don’t think it’s bad enough to notice unless you’re looking for flaws, and nobody does that on Christmas day! If I were ever to wear this dress to a red carpet event though, I would definitely try to figure out how to make it lay flat.

All in all, this make was pretty successful considering that I had never worked with this kind of velvet before and it was brand new pattern to me and I had time constraints. I feel very elegant in this, because for one, velvet is an extraordinary fabric to wear, and two, this pattern works well on me. The skirt is flowy and I love the way the high bodice looks and feels. I also love the design of the collar and the keyhole at the chest, which gave just enough of a peekaboo to be interesting without making me feel self conscious. The finished garment has a vintage A Doll’s House vibe to it, which was probably due to my color and fabric choices, and I really love how it turned out. I will absolutely make this dress again (but not in velvet!) and I will absolutely sew with velvet again (but not in this pattern)! I am super interested to try out some different types of velvet next. I have a couple of yards of a beautiful, sturdier purple velvet from The Fabric Store that I think would make a great pair of cigarette pants, and I am also interested in getting my hands on some stretch velvet and using a super simple pattern which will let the velvet take centerstage. But not anytime soon; it’s been almost a month and I am still recuperating from this dress!

Janome Jem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lemon Print Jaquard Dress:

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

Pink Wool Kelly Anorak:

Bleached Denim High-Waist Morgan Jeans:

Alamada Kimono Robe:

Striped Organza Party Dress:

Brillant Bouquet Dress:

Kimono Tee by Named Patterns (unblogged):

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

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

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

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

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

my first pair of knitted socks (unblogged):

Obligatory Sock Finishment Photo ™

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

Sallie Maxi Dress (unblogged):

 

 

 

 

 

Candy Stripes and Wood Grain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Inner Debbie Allen

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

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJLWiVkBx1C/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Love for The Fabric Store with a Liberty Make

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After Claire and I moved to LA from Vancouver a few years ago, my sewing habit accelerated tremendously. There were plenty of reasons for this, but a big one was The Fabric Store. Based out of Australia, their LA store opening coincided with our arrival to the city, and walking through it’s doors was a revelation.

My past fabric shopping experiences had been limited to gigantic storefronts like Joann’s, a national chain, and Dress-Sew, a Vancouver staple. I liked being able to buy so many tools and notions at these places, but when it came to fabric, shopping was a chore. These stores try to pack so much into it’s walls that the fabric displays always seemed to be sloppy and disorganized, which wasn’t conducive to walking through the aisles and waiting to see “what grabbed you”, (one of my personal favorite methods of shopping). And even if I did walk into these stores with a specific type of fabric in mind, it took a while to hunt down the section I needed and even longer to sort through all the cheap, poor quality fabrics to find something suitable for my project. It didn’t help that I was still learning about textiles and had lots of questions to ask that no one ever seemed to be available to answer. At this point I had had so many poor customer service experiences with MOOD that I vowed never to shop there again, so big box stores and online retailers seemed to be my only resort.

The Fabric Store changed everything for me. I had been in lots of cute neighborhood fabric stores with beautifully arranged bolts lining the walls, but these shops almost exclusively sold quilting cottons- great for when I started out, but limiting when I wanted to expand my wardrobe beyond the cutesy prints that quilting cottons offer. The Fabric Store had everything great about these smaller independent stores (helpful employees, easy to navigate aisles, fabric that was reachable and viewable, clean and tidy space) but it also had a huge range of fabric! And not just fabric, GLORIOUS fabric! High quality silks, laces, apparel cottons, jewel colored merino wools from NZ, selvage denim, knits, brocades, charmeuse- literally everything you could think of, The Fabric Store had it. The store was wonderfully curated, as if your designer friend with impeccable taste pulled all her favorite fabrics into one room and invited you to worship her textile palate. As soon as I entered the store for the first time, my heart sank a little as I whispered to Claire “Oh, no…this place is going to be way too expensive for me.” I had assumed that a store this clean, this classy, this light-filled (what, no flourescents??) would be way out of my price range, so you can imagine my shock when I glanced at a few price tags and realized that they had a healthy range of prices, with some cottons starting as low as $8, higher prices for designer prints, and everything else falling in mid-range.

My makes immediately improved once I started buying fabric from a store that provided such high quality and inspiring textiles, and this in turn encouraged me to create even more, so it is a genuine pleasure to team up with them as an official ambassador for their brand and share some new makes with you- after all, I’ve been doing it for years!

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I was really excited to get my hands on some Liberty of London prints since The Fabric Store started carrying them in stores a couple of months ago. In person, these fabrics did not disappoint, and I was surprised to see so many different designs within their brand- I had no idea that they made prints outside of the floral genre! So many stunning pieces, so little time! Thankfully I had Claire around to help me narrow down my selection, and one of the winners was this incredible Liberty silk which features an abstracted cityscape in shades of pink and mint green on a black background. The fabric is truly luxurious, one of those supple, smooth, glide-y silks that you want to live against your skin. I’m still not a fan of working with silks, but with a fabric this great you kind of have to get past your personal issues and just vow to work carefully and slowly.

After a quick, completely un-scientific poll on instagram, I decided to make the Anna dress by By Hand London. In the past, I have had trouble getting their designs to fit my buxom bottom, but because this dress features a high waistline with a flared skirt, I took a chance that it would suit my shape well without a ton of adjustments, and I was totally right!

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I made a muslin in a size 6 for the bust and 8 for the waist and hips, and it fit pretty great after I took in the back bodice pieces slightly. Because this is such a high quality fabric and because this garment will be added to my #redcarpetDIY trove, I wanted to make sure the finishing inside was very neat, pretty and professional looking. I, like Renee (my new sewing friend- whom you all might know as Miss Celie’s Pants – that I got to hang out with in real life a couple of weeks ago!!!!!) am a real big fan of quick and dirty serging to finish seams, but I pulled it together, took my time, and did this dress justice.

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All inside skirt seams are french seamed, except for the back seam with the zipper (which is a Hong Kong seam) and the seam with the thigh slit, which is just turned under itself twice and sewn down. The bodice is finished with Hong Kong seams as well, and umm…does anyone have a good tip for finishing a clipped curved seam?? I usually just sew the bias binding onto it with all these gaps going through it and it doesn’t look very good but I don’t know what else to do!

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The Anna Dress, like all By Hand London patterns, was very easy to follow and construction was a breeze, even with all the french and Hong Kong seams. From starting the muslin to finishing the final garment, it took a total of about 3 days, and that’s with extra careful, very slow sewing with the slippery silk I had to contend with. I must be getting better at sewing with finicky fabrics because this garment didn’t give me much trouble at all and I didn’t feel like burning it in a fire when it was all done.

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I am in absolute love with the dress and I cannot WAIT to wear it to a function. I love the bold print and the unique color combination and I love how well the pattern is suited to the Liberty print- it really lets the drama of the textile design take center stage, while still feeling sexy and comfortable. I definitely want to make this Anna in a see-through lace like in one of the pattern samples on By Hand London’s site, so of course I will be keeping my eye out for a perfect match at The Fabric Store 🙂

(photos by the lovely and talented Claire J. Savage!)