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Suits Me, the Refashioners 2017 Challenge!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, damnit!

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

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

 

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

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

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

But then it was time to work on the pants.

Cue horror music ending with a blood curdling scream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Inner Debbie Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Desmond Rolltop Backpack vs. Retro Rucksack

I took a break from the endless fitting and adjusting of Ginger jeans-making to work on a relatively quick and satisfying project for some instant gratification: behold the Retro Rucksack!

1.3_blogIn my last post I talked about how this is a pattern I would never have made without seeing this version of the bag first. I love the fabric choices Cut Cut Sew used- the colors are simple and sophisticated, the waxed canvas is super cool looking, and the Pendleton wool gives the bag a dose of sturdiness and a nice texture. I was inspired to make a near-exact replica of her lovely version, but thick wool isn’t a smart material to use in Los Angeles with the weather here generally being on the warmer side of mild. So instead, I copied her use of waxed canvas, a material I had not worked with before, and traded the Pendleton wool for a grid-designed medium weight canvas from Miss Matabi. I absolutely love the way the waxed canvas feels, looks and operates- it has the visual effect of well-worn leather without being finicky to sew with (although I do think this bag would look amazing in leather, too- maybe next time!)

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The whole reason I was inspired to make this bag is because I made THREE of the Desmond Rolltop Backpacks for gifts this past Christmas, and I was all too pleased with how they came out. But although I love the design, the finished product is a bit bigger than the everyday-use/over-the-shoulder bag I was looking to add to my own wardrobe. The Retro Rucksack pattern seemed to blend a lot of the elements I liked about the Desmond with something a little…well, daintier, for lack of a better word. After having made both of these bags (numerous times, even), I have to say that I am more impressed overall with the Desmond Pack because of it’s excellent instructions (and accompanying sew-along posted on Taylor Tailor’s blog) and its’ super-smart design. Sewing together square edges for boxes while using thick fabric is  known to be a tricky maneuver, but the Desmond uses a design that is easy to sew and makes the seams on the bottom of the bag look crisp and clean. Not so much with the Retro Rucksack though- you basically have to sew a rectangle onto a curved edge once you get to constructing the exterior of the pack, and because there are so many thick layers, there isn’t a good way to ease the fabric into the seam. It took me about 30 minutes to get the seams for the bottom of the bag sewn relatively straight and wrinkle free, and they are still far from perfect. I am sure there are all kind of tricks to sewing sharp seams with curved edges, but I personally prefer patterns that take these matters into account with the design.

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I also like how the Desmond pattern stresses the importance of sewing multiple lines of stitching over areas of heavy use. I ended up using a lot of the techniques I learned for the Desmond pack in making the Retro Rucksack, but despite some of the less-than-clear instructions, I am super happy with how the rucksack turned out and I think it’s a good pattern. I wanted my bag to be lightweight, small and portable, like the canvas grocery store tote I had been carrying around with me for months, and that has most definitely been achieved.

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I decided to nix the zipper for better accessibility to the inside of the bag (and also to eliminate a bit of weight and bulk), but I wish I had added a looped strap in the top of the bag to hang it on a hook. The side pockets successfully accommodate an iPhone and there are good sized pockets on the inside of the bag, too (although I accidentally put my lining in backwards so the zipper pocket touches the front of the bag instead of the back of it- NBD, but I will be sure NOT do that next time).

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I used some random (stained) linen in my stash for the lining that had been given to me years ago, and the tea-colored stains give the inside of the bag an aged, vintage look, although I hope that the old fabric holds up to consistent use. Thankfully, replacing the lining in the future wont be too much of a hassle because the lining and exterior are only connected at the top seam of the bag (and then I can re-insert the lining with the zipper pocket on the correct side!)

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The Desmond Rolltop Backpack construction was a little more involved than the Retro Rucksack, but it is absolutely worth all the extra work that goes into it. I love the detail of the webbing sewn onto the straps, the use of the hooks and D-rings (I used some of the same ones I bought from Taylor Tailor’s shop on my Rucksack), and the extended outer zipper pocket on the front of the bag.

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For Claire’s bag (shown in this post), I used a herringbone upholstery fabric for the exterior and a plain un-dyed canvas for the lining. The first time I made the Desmond bag I made a crucial mistake in the placement of the band on the top of the bag that holds all the straps in- somehow, some way (I swear I wasn’t drinking), I sewed that whole section like, four inches below its’ intended placement. So when I tried the bag on to admire my work, you can imagine my horror when I saw how short it was and realized I had messed up the placement and I needed to redo everything. And there is A LOT OF STITCHING there because that’s where most of the weight for the bag is held, so the straps need to be sewn down with many rows of stitching in several different places. It took me forever to rip all the stitches out. FOREVER, I tell you! But you better believe I never made that mistake again! Each of the three Desmond bags I have made have been well received- this will definitely be a staple in my pattern stash- I think the design is pretty flawless and there are so many cool ways you can personalize the design elements, with color blocking, using denim topstitching thread, and even incorporating leather.

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Thanks to Claire for these awesome pictures! You make my work look so good 🙂

Below are a couple of snapshots of the Desmonds in the wild:

@bishilarious gets gifted #desmondbackpack number 2!!! And it's looks great on her! Merry Xmas, Binty!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

Brittani with her Desmond pack made of duck canvas fabric for the exterior and steel grey webbing!

https://www.instagram.com/p/-fWqdVxF_S/?taken-by=trycuriousblog

This cute blue version was gifted to my friend Lawrence- I don’t have any pics of the bag except for this one close up. It was modeled after Taylor Tailor’s bag on his blog- made of extra denim I had in my stash and used with the reverse as the right side.

Claire used this bag as a carry-on when we were traveling over the Christmas holidays and it was STUFFED TO THE BRIM. I was so nervous that the seams were gonna rip, but this bag is much sturdier than I even gave it credit for.

Happy bag making, friends!

 

Side Boob DON’T into a Maxi DO

I don’t want to bore anyone with my tales of woe regarding Burda Patterns, because I know it’s not a solitary camp of one. I’ve read your blog posts about your love/hate relationship with them; I relate to how easily you fell for their dazzle and glam and gorgeous designs, and how disappointed you were when you read the instructions and realized that they were severely lacking…that they were missing some steps…that they might have even been missing some pattern pieces (true story). I have vowed off and on over the past few years to never buy another Burda pattern again, yet I have a collection of at least 20 unmade Burda PDFs in a folder on my computer, just waiting for me to feel weak and desperate enough to take another plunge into that dark abyss. Despite my issues with Burda, I find them to be a source of endless inspiration, and I have seen far too many beautiful makes by seamsters way more patient than I to write them off completely. But they get a lot of side-eye from me. So. Much. Side. Eye.

A few years ago when I was getting into sewing a lot and I hadn’t yet discovered that Burda patterns were an accurate depiction of my own personal hell, I  chose a gorgeous long dress pattern with a beautiful open back and lovely cap sleeves called the Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111.

Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111

The look was feminine and flirty and romantic, or at least that’s how the styling for the model was on the accompanying photo. When I pieced together my 100 sheets of printed paper and finally got to cutting the pattern out, I noticed that the skirt pattern required about half a mile of material at the waistline which was supposed to be gathered. I was worried that all this fabric would create unnecessary bulk at my waist and swallow me up, so I cut the skirt pattern down to half  it’s size in a gradual A-Line, and I felt proud of myself for catching this design flaw. This should have been a red flag right here, but instead of examining all the other parts of the dress to make sure they would work for me, I just kept going.

Finished dress. Note the angle of the camera so you DON'T see the side boobage.

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Construction was a nightmare: when I finally sewed all the bodice pieces together and tried it on, it gaped at the sides, but also needed way more coverage for all the side boob that I was showing (and I don’t even have that much boob in the first place). The front of the bodice seemed to float away from my body instead of laying down properly against my bust and I thought that carefully sewing bra cups into it would give it some shape but it didn’t at all- it just made it feel bulky.

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The bodice was so ill fitting that it pulled the skirt up in the back at the waist, so the bottom of my skirt drifted up higher behind me than in front. I was so excited about actually finishing this garment that I was in denial about how poor the fit was, and I even wore it out a few times. It was quite an ordeal though- in order to get the bodice to stay put I had to line my whole torso with stay tape so that the dress wouldn’t shift around and expose anything.

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I guess the design of the dress was dramatic enough that no one really noticed how wrong it was on me (I still got plenty of compliments) but I was never comfortable in it, and once summer was over, it went into storage and I forgot about it…until this year, when I begrudgingly hung it back up in my closet when it got warm again. I don’t know anyone else with my exact body size and shape, otherwise I would have given it away. My other options were to trash it or donate it, and I didn’t want to do either. Even though the fit left much to be desired, I really loved the fabric. I wanted a large print to balance out the length, and I found this sort of interesting cotton floral fabric at The Fabric Store that met my criteria, but it wasn’t bowling me over…until I turned the fabric over and saw that it had this hazy, worn, vintage look to the underside of it. This was one of the first times I thought outside of the box in terms of design choices on a garment, so saying goodbye to it felt weirdly sad.

fabric detailJust a few days ago, as I pushed this dress to the side of my closet for the umpteenth time and cursed it for taking up so much space, I had a thought- the bodice was awful, yes, but the skirt? The skirt was actually pretty great- it was the perfect maxi length to wear with flats, it was easy to wear and comfortable, and the fabric, as I said, was really cool. I decided that I would NOT throw the dress into my goodwill pile where it would most likely get sent to the dump anyways, and instead I would lop off the bodice and add a waistband and a button.

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Perfection!

Speaking of dumps, the bodice of this dress has NOT been thrown in the garbage yet, because I have not given up on this Burda design. I am keeping it in hopes of redrafting the bodice pattern into something that will actually work on my frame. All it needs is for the front piece to be extended on the sides to cover up that side boob and for the back bottom pieces of the bodice to be cut longer so that they follow the natural waistline instead of riding up. By the way, I am not a stark opponent of the side boob; like most design elements, side boob has it’s time and place. Like at a red carpet event with styled hair and lipstick and heels. But side boob does not (for me at least), belong on a dress meant to be worn to picnics and flea markets.

 

2.3For all my criticism of the fashion industry, I know am not blameless in the act of being wasteful and greedy for fashion’s sake. I still spend time and money on making things that are virtually unwearable, and if I can’t gift those end results to anyone, into the garbage they will go. This happens less often the better I get at sewing, but some things are simply un-salvageable, and I REALLY hate throwing yards of fabric into the garbage. It felt really great to take this dress, a garment that I was sure I would eventually throw away, and instead recycle it into another wearable version of itself. I would love to be able to do this with every single one of my failed makes, but that’s not realistic. I can at least attempt to salvage my disasters, though; if only a handful of them turn out as successfully as this one did, I could count myself lucky.

Viva la refashion!

New year, new rack.

COAT rack, that is! (ba dum ching)

When we first moved to LA, my wife and I rented a really cute house across from a beautiful, hilly cemetery and started to try and build up our pitiful collection of furniture. We had lived in furnished spaces for our previous four years in Vancouver, and everything we had kept in storage in NYC was cheap and ugly and falling apart. It was the need for a nice, big, solid dining room table and my disgust at how expensive furniture can be that inspired me to try and learn how to build it in the first place. Anyways, as you can imagine, in our first few weeks in Los Angeles making our new home, there were tons of trips to Home Depot, and just as many to the Rose Bowl flea and Ikea and World Market and Target and vintage home goods stores, where we could fill in all the holes of what we needed but could not make for ourselves. Our unfurnished rental had a large living room with a fireplace and a tall, arched ceiling, but no foyer or entryway space, so on a whim, I purchased a ridiculously (and unsurprisingly) overpriced iron coat rack from World Market. expensive ass coat rack

Full disclosure, I love/hate World Market. Their aesthetic is awesome, but their quality is shitty. Sometimes I just go in there for a little inspiration and a root beer, but I complain the whole time about how we shouldn’t buy anything cause it’s just gonna break unexpectedly.
So anyways, a few months after moving to LA, we bought a house and had to move again, with all the furniture we had made work for our rental space. Most everything translated well in our new home, including the the cute antiqued coat rack, which has provided an excellent space for us to put all our leaving-the-house shit for the past couple of years. However, this year when we got our Christmas tree, we had to move the coat rack out of the way and into the office to make room for it. And holy shit, what a difference the absence of a coat rack made! Our house is bigger in square feet than our old rental, but the living room/dining room is much smaller, and the ceilings are normal height. It was only through living a few weeks without the coat rack that we realized how awkward it had been in the room and how much space it took up.

photo 1The above photo doesn’t really do it justice, so you will just have to take my word for it- it crowded the area and ruined sight lines to the big window we have in front. So we got rid of the thing, kept it in the office for the holidays, where it continued to be in the way and take up too much space, but was less obvious. I needed a solution, something to house our bags and scarves and jackets, but something that didn’t involve having to use that bulky (expensive) coat rack. You see behind the rack to the wall next to the chalkboard? All the empty space on the left side? I hated that about as much as our huge rack (!). It was only apparent when you closed the door, but that space was usable and felt weirdly empty with nothing there. So, problem solved: get rid of the coat rack in the house and make a wooden something-or-other to hang on the wall in that empty space.

The next part was pretty easy; assembling some hooks and proper screws and finding a nice old piece of wood to reuse (this was from a shelf that had mostly fallen apart in the backyard when it flooded/ rained for the first time in a year). photo 2Claire sanded the board down but kept most of it as is cause the color and distress in it looked nice, and I screwed in some hooks on the front, and a few smaller ones on the bottom side of the board). photo 3

Positioned her on the wall, screwed her into the stud (!!)) and voila! Bye, bye, iron coat rack. The hooks used don’t all match each other, cause I couldn’t find four of the same ones, but I kind of like the mishmash look of them all together- plus, you can’t really see the hooks when they are covered in chilly weather accoutrement.

Final look: photo 5

Cleaner, opens the space and makes it much brighter, and provides a better spot for our armchair (not seen in the pic) which used to be shoved up next to the coat rack. The room looks so much bigger and less cramped, and I love being reminded of how important it is to rearrange furniture every once in while. Sometimes it just takes new eyes to recognize old problems. And speaking of old problems, I have a bulky expensive coat rack to give away if anyone wants it.

DIYing It Up

Thanks to a blog post I read in November of 2012, I was introduced to a new book that had just come out, called The Handbuilt Home, by Ana White. It was purported to  be a book that gave easy, comprehensive instructions to make furniture, no matter your experience level. On a whim I put the book on my Christmas list, and on the plane ride from Florida, where we spent the holidays with my family, back to Los Angeles where me and my partner had just moved, I read the book cover to cover and was penning a list of all the things we needed to buy at Home Depot on a drink napkin. Since putting all our stuff in storage in New York and spending 4 years in furnished rentals in Vancouver, we had no furniture to speak of, and more than anything, we needed a table and some places to sit; our first days in our LA rental found us in one primary spot in the house: a mattress in the middle of the living room floor, where we slept, ate, watched tv, read and cuddled. It took hardly any time at all for the coziness factor to wear off.

Anyways, my logic was this: we could either spend over a thousand dollars on a finished beautiful dining room table, or we could spend half that money on tools and materials and build one ourselves. Then, if we found the process to be fun and worthwhile, we could KEEP building furniture, making the investment of tools more cost effective with each project. Unfortunately, after our first two projects (a Farmhouse style dining room table and a matching bench), Claire’s interest had waned, but mine grew, and over the past year and some change I have continued to build furniture by myself, becoming more competent and taking on more challenging tasks. So far we have built the aforementioned dining room table and bench together, and I have worked solo on a coffee table, bookcase, printer console, upholstered vanity stool, and a rolling kitchen island, along with a slew of other smaller woodworking projects.

I wanted to share my latest furniture DIY creation here on my blog, because it is my most ambitious project to date. We recently got a master bathroom renovation to turn our tiny, barely functional hallway bath into an en suite with much more space and efficiency. In trying to make the most of our budget, I decided to take on the task of building our vanity, which, if purchased in the style and materials we wanted, would run us no less than $1500. With some free plans from Ana White’s website and a bit of advice from our contractor, I built the tile topped vanity from scratch and tiled the surrounding backsplash for $490, and it was custom built to fit the exact measurements inside our new bathroom. The project took about 11 days from start to finish, and the most difficult part of the whole project was the tiling. I had never tiled before and it was WAY more intense than I anticipated- I sprouted stress-induced fever blisters within hours after all the grouting was complete. I don’t think you can put a price on fever blisters, but all in all, the project came out beautifully and I am very very proud of it!

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I built the wood part of the vanity in my garage and when it was ready for the next steps, our reno crew moved it to the inside of the bathroom.

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I had to space out the tiles to get an idea of placement and figure out which ones I needed to cut.

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I had no idea that tiling was such an intricate process and that there were so many PIECES involved! Edge tiles, corner tiles, border tiles…the list went on and on! Thankfully we used a simple subway style tile for our vanity so our local hardware stores always had what I needed.

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After adhering the tiles to the surface and edge of the vanity, they need to be taped so that gravity doesn’t pull them down and the edge pieces fall off.

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It took a while to find the perfect knobs and hinge hardware for these cabinet doors, but we eventually found some pretty crystal knobs that elevated the Tiffany blue color of the vanity (which was spray painted for a smoother finish).

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Tiling is complete here and the sink was installed by the reno crew. The sink was purchased at the Habitat Rehab store for only $20, and it was like brand new!

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Finished vanity with tiling, and you can spy the gorgeous black and white penny tile underneath (a tiling project that I did NOT undertake- I left that to the professionals!)