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Green Silk and Velvet

Hi hi hi hi hiiiiii! It’s been foreverrrrr since I posted here, but not forever since I made anything, hahaha. Here are some excuses: I got a beautiful camera of my own for Christmas last year to replace Claire’s DSLR that I usually used to take blog photos and make audition tapes. Her camera is great, but it’s bulky and a little too professional for someone like me who takes pics and video out of necessity rather than for the fun of it. Claire got me the Sony a6000 mirrorless, which feels a little like using a point-n-shoot (way more my speed) but it took a long time to figure out the best accessories to use with it. We spent months doing research to get the lenses for her Nikon DSLR to work with my new camera, but ultimately there were too many incompatibility issues so we just bought the lens that was originally designed for it and now, at long last, I am finally able to take some great photos for the blog (and by “I”, I mean Claire, lol). Aside from waiting to figure out my picture-taking situation, I spent a lot of time over the past month making things for other people (button up shirts for my Dad for Father’s Day, pants and shirts for Claire) and getting ready for a temporary 6 month relocation to Vancouver. Ah, yes, Vancouver, my old stomping grounds!

Although I am so excited for this new adventure, it’s really hard for me to disrupt my life without my partner in crime, so the relocation feels bittersweet (we just celebrated our thirteenth anniversary this month and I’m feeling sooo emo). Anyways, Claire will hold down the fort in LA while I fly back and forth, so not only did I have to pack a lot of clothes and shoes and all my hair products and my body therapy tools, but I also had to get my travel sewing situation together. I didn’t bring a ton of sewing stuff with me, just fabric, my travel sewing machine, a magnetic pin holder and some scissors- I usually pack a small bag of essentials when I sew away from home but now it makes more sense to just buy a second set of the essentials and keep them up here.

All this is to say that for my flight to Vancouver yesterday, I fought the i’mgonnamisshome blues by wearing something that would feel like a big warm embrace: my recently completed green silk velvet jacket!

Woo doggie, I know I say it all the time but…this thing took me on a journey! The silk velvet is from The Fabric Store and it is ABSOLUTELY. EXQUISITE. The hand feel of this velvet, the drape, the buttery shimmer it gives off when the light hits it just right-my gosh, it is unreal! And for every positive descriptor I can think of to define how gorgeous this fabric feels and looks, I can think of just as many negative ones to describe what it’s like to sew with, haha. But this is not to scare you off! Some people love sewing with velvet because they love a good challenge! I am not one of them!  I’ve sewn with velvet to mixed results a few times in the past (1. 2. 3), and I certainly have gotten better at my technique, but it still requires very careful maneuvering and extra time and patience.

Because velvet is piled, it shifts very easily when the fibers crush into each other (especially if it doesn’t have a stable backing to it), so it can be very hard to keep the edges aligned. I always use a walking foot, but sometimes, like if sewing on the right side of the fabric, the feet can crush the velvet as it rolls over it, and ironing velvet is really tricky for the same reason- it can ruin the pile by flattening it and then it’s seemingly possible to revive. Add to that that this fabric has the additional shiftiness of silk? Like I said, woo doggie!

But look, it wasn’t impossible! Maybe it did take me two tries! But that doesn’t matter- I am in love with this jacket now! And every single fiber of velvet that gave me trouble was well worth what it took for me to get here.

First off, I couldn’t decide between two jacket patterns, this vintage belted one above, or the Artemis jacket from  I Am Artemis Patterns.

I AM ARTEMIS SEWING PATTERN WOMAN JACKET

Both were cute, one with a looser, more boxy look to it and one with a decidedly vintage flare. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I opted for the more fitted vintage one; it seemed right to pair a deep green silk velvet like this with a 70’s silhouette. Welp, guess what, folks? It was the wrong choice! The wrongest wrongly wrong choice. I didn’t take photos of the disaster that was jacket attempt number one so you will just have to trust me on how bad it was (but if you follow me on instagram, you know exactly what a Georgia O’Keef -inspied travesty it ended up being!)

Let’s start off with the pockets on the sides of the vintage jacket. Drapey velvet fabric such as this doesn’t wanna be top stitched. It’s so hard to get the straight stitches perfectly even and nice looking around the edge, because the nap of the velvet shifts around so much that even if you have sewn a completely straight line, it just doesn’t LOOK straight. After failing at attaching the pockets by machine stitch, I unpicked them and decided  instead to hand stitch them to the fronts, which took me approximately 5,000 years to complete, and they still ended up looking terrible. Also, because of the drape of the fabric, the way the pockets were sewed onto the fronts looked wonky- I pinned them on straight but they shifted so much by the handling of the fabric that for some reason they just leaned too far to one side and looked slanted. I decided to take them off again and just forgo the patch pockets on the front, but of course by this time the outline of those seams were were so pock marked on the front that it looked awful. I trudged forward because I had faith in myself and the jacket and because it’s green silk velvet and you just do what you have to do for green silk velvet!

But when I got to attaching the collar, things got worse.

The vintage pattern calls for interfacing the collar to give it a little bit of structure, but my iron on-woven interfacing would not attach to the underside of the silk velvet with the light touch of my iron (I couldn’t press harder or I would ruin the pile on the right side). So I decided to make some sew-in interfacing out of organza instead. I meticulously cut out my collar pieces, basted them to my shifty velvet, and then sewed it all up. It looked horrendous. The light, voluminous body of the organza was not a good match for the drapey velvet, and the collar now poofed out around the neck and refused to lay flat. I looked like a Santa’s elf during the off-season.

I opened all the seams around the collar and cut the organza interfacing out- maybe I didn’t need interfacing at all, maybe the velvet was heavy and stable enough on its own to maintain the shape of the collar without the aid of interfacing. I sewed the seams closed again and took a look in the mirror. I don’t know how, but this looked even worse! The collar wrinkled and draped around my neck, flopping around the shoulders and not holding its shape at all- honestly, each side of the collar looked like a gigantic labia fold, and although labia folds are wonderful, I simply don’t want to be wearing them on my body if I am not in a production of the Vagina Monologues.

Each attempt to fix this jacket was destroying the nap of the velvet more and more and it was starting to look tattered and tired. But that didn’t stop me from making one more attempt to fix it, which, spoiler alert, didn’t work out. I wondered if the wider shape of the collar was keeping the velvet from laying down nicely around the neck, so I tried shaving off the width higher up on the collar to make it thinner and more like a band. Perhaps that would have worked if I had done it before constructing the whole jacket, but as a fully sewn garment being manipulated and hacked to bits, the adjustments couldn’t stand on their own and the whole thing looked a messsssss.

There was no saving it as a jacket anymore, so I picked it apart to make some scrunchies with the leftover fabric pieces and I started the jacket over with fresh green silk velvet. This time I opted for the Artemis jacket, and as you can see, it came out beautifully! It was a very straight forward make and was way less stressful to put together because it behaved so much better with this pattern design. One cool thing about this velvet is that the nap isn’t directional like on other velvets, so I was able to jigsaw my pieces together from my meager yardage- I think I squeezed this jacket out of about a yard and a half of fabric, which is great because this pattern takes up a lot of space due to the unique shape of the pieces. I shaved the sleeves down about 2 inches in order to make the cutting layout work, but I could have shaved them down even more- since this fabric is so drapey and the underside of the velvet isn’t very pretty, I didn’t like how the sleeves looked rolled up once the jacket was finished, so I ended up chopping off an additional couple of inches from the sleeve hems.

As I said, the Artemis is a very easy and straight forward make- only four pattern pieces (front, back, pocket and collar), and it comes together very quickly. Even with this finicky velvet I was able to sew this up in an afternoon. I love the way the pocket is designed- it attaches to the front of the jacket and folds in on itself so there are no visible seams on the outside. In fact, the only top stitching for the jacket is done to tack down the inside fold of the collar to the inside of the jacket, but after trying out topstitching on a few inches and seeing how terrible it looked on this fabric, I carefully unpicked it and just handstitched the inside of the collar to the inside of the jacket so that it was invisible on the outside.

Because the pockets are not attached to any seams of the jacket, they kind of flop around on the inside, which wouldn’t be so much of an issue with a more stable fabric, but in a drapey fabric like this it can feel a little weird. There wasn’t an easy way to tack the pockets down after construction was completed without it showing on the outside, so if I made this again in a drapey fabric, I might elongate the pocket piece, sewing it closed so that it isn’t too deep, and that way it can be caught in the bottom hem of the jacket. Other than that, though, I am really happy with this pattern and how it looks in this velvet. I love the richness of the green and the ease of wearing this jacket with so many things in my wardrobe- I am so in love with it that it feels like a neutral! I’m expecting to get lots of wear out of this jacket in Vancouver with her breezy sunny days and chilly nights, so if you follow my IG, get prepared for an onslaught of silkyyyy greeeeen!

The shorts I am wearing in these photos are the Flint shorts by Megan Nielsen , the top is a crop from a Mimi G Simplicity pattern that I haven’t blogged about (and sorry, I don’t have the pattern number off the top of my head) and the shoes are Sven clogs. Thank you to Claire for taking these photos and gifting me this magnificent camera! You’re the best and I love you!!

Velvet, Gold and Pussy Bowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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!