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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):

 

 

 

 

 

Working So Jaquard!

HA! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!

I made eyes with this amazing fabric twice at The Fabric Store before I finally took the plunge and got a cut of it. I had no idea what I would make with it, but I knew it wouldn’t take long to figure something out. I am learning to let a fabric speak to me first instead of trying to tell it what it should be and ignoring its qualities. Like many jaquards, this fabric has a LOT of body, it holds its shape beautifully and it doesn’t wrinkle, but this also means it doesn’t respond to ironing very well, so a pattern with lots of folds and gathers and tucks isn’t a good choice for it. Initially I imagined this fabric in a classic fit n’ flare shape- I wanted to take advantage of the volume it would exhibit in a skirt- but I have been feeling a little bored with this silhouette lately. I love fit n’ flare but I have made a this style of dress several times over the past few months and I needed to change it up just a bit. I brought this yellow and blue tear drop jaquard fabric with me to Savannah and let it marinate in my closet a bit while I waited for inspiration to hit.

And hit it did! While glimpsing over my BlogLovin’ feed, I read this post by Handmade Jane on a blouse she made from a Danish indie pattern company called How To Do Fashion. One quick scroll over to their pattern shop and I was SMITTEN! HTDF has a vintage aesthetic with uncomplicated silhouettes that have a really dramatic effect. I love pattern designer Nanna’s use of fabrics- she seems to be a genius at marrying her designs with the perfect classic print, color and textile to elevate the whole look.

These are two of the looks that immediately caught my eye on HTDF’s website, and I am posting them here because I actually made up versions of both of these designs, so I can talk to you about my experience with all of them. I will focus this post on the two-piece outfit in grey above (my version of the red polka dot dress will come in a later post)!

As you can see, both looks above are attributed to the pattern No. 8 Svaneke. I thought it was a pretty good deal to get this many different looks/options in one pattern, and I purchased the hard copy because PDFs were not available for this particular design. The pattern arrived in a large envelope with a How To Do Fashion clothing tag for my finished garment and the pattern printed on thick, high quality paper. In the above blog post, one of Handmade Jane’s complaints was that instructions were not included in the printed version of the pattern. I personally think this is a big plus because it wastes less paper, and the instructions are easily available on the pattern’s website- you can print the instructions out if you need a hard copy or you can download them as a PDF and read them off your computer, tablet or phone (which is my preferred method). So kudos to that! On the other hand, the pattern pieces are printed on both sides of the paper, so you can’t cut the pieces out. This is actually not a problem for me because, unless it’s a one-size-fits-all kind of pattern, I copy all my pattern pieces onto paper so that the original pattern can stay intact and I have the option to make different sizes/adjust the fit/loan out or sell the pattern in the future. I realize that this method kind of negates the “not wasting paper” rule of thumb, but on the other other hand, printing on both sides of the pattern paper is also less wasteful. I guess it’s just a personal preference, but for me, the HTDF printed patterns are spot-on for my needs.

The instructions, however, were another story! There were a couple of issues for me with these patterns when it came to figuring out how to make them. One was that the actual instructions are a little more bare bones than I am used to. Ultimately I was fine with it- I have been sewing for long enough that I can figure out how to make pretty much anything come together without too much hand-wringing, but I would not suggest that a beginner try and tackle these patterns unless they were okay with having to figure out a lot of stuff on their own. It is certainly not an impossible pattern for an inexperienced sewist to complete, but heads up: they might need to phone a friend. As Handmade Jane wrote in her blog post, some of this might come from the instructions being translated into another language, which is totally understandable.

But my main beef with the pattern instructions has to do with the photos used for the styled and completed garments. As seen in the picture of the two-piece grey outfit I posted above, the outfit consists of two pieces: a crop top and a matching pleated full skirt. The beautiful skirt is what actually caught my eye in the photo and I loved how it looked with the voluminous fabric- I thought this design would look perfect with my own jaquard textile. However, if you take a closer look at the line drawings for the pattern pieces, you will see that the skirt is actually gathered at the waistband, not pleated. I assumed that there was simply not enough room to show all the different versions of the skirt in the line drawing, and that instructions would be included in the pattern on how to make the pleated skirt shown in the picture, but once I got the pattern pieces, I realized this to be false.

Why would you include a photo of a garment with a pattern if you can’t actually make that particular garment? I hemmed and hawed for a while over what to do and eventually decided that I would just need to create a pleated skirt using my own drafting expertise experimentation. I was definitely annoyed at having to spend so much time essentially re-creating a pattern that I spent good money on (the total amount for this pattern after shipping and taxes came out to be around $30USD), but I had my heart set on the cute silhouette of this crop-top and full skirt pattern, so I wasn’t going to turn back now. I cut out skirt pieces using the pattern from my By Hand London’s Brilliant Bouquet Dress and after I had spent a couple of hours playing around with the pleats and making them even all the way around (I didn’t have a dressform in Savannah so I had to do all my adjusting and fitting on my body while standing on top of a bed because it faced the only decent-sized mirror in my apartment), I sewed the skirt together and felt fairly pleased with what I had created with my limited knowledge. And then a few minutes later while perusing the How To Do Fashion website’s blog, I came across a tutorial for making the No.8 Svaneke skirt pattern into the pleated skirt shown in the pictures.

COLOR. ME. ANNOYED. It turns out that the pleated skirt is a hack of the original gathered skirt in the pattern bundle! Sigh. I think that including a picture of a hack in a description of a pattern without any mention of it being a hack is misleading; all versions shown in the photos should be included in the instructions and pattern bundle, or at the very least, some mention of the hack should be written into the description of the pattern instructions so that the maker knows exactly where to go for the info to create the garments that are shown in the product description.

Anyways, enough about the instructional snafu! A little knowledge and growth isn’t a bad thing for me, and now I know that I can make a beautifully pleated skirt without too much hassle! I thought that large pleats for my skirt would be better suited for my fabric than thinner ones, so I started in the middle of the front of skirt and worked my way out, and once I was happy with how those pleats looked, I mirrored them for the other side. I played around with the placement for quite a while until I was satisfied with how they laid around my hips, then I sewed the waistband and zipper on. In the original pattern, I believe that the skirt waistband is supposed to be lapped (I didn’t follow those instructions so I can’t quite remember), but because of my thick fabric, it created too much visual bulk. So I decided instead to have the waistband edges meet at center back above the zipper and use two hooks and eyes to close it.

Despite having to create my own skirt from scratch, the crop top is what required the most amount of work. I made the top as instructed from start to finish, but realized I didn’t like the amount of width around the bottom of the blouse. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to play around with the seams because the blouse closes with an invisible zipper in the back and needs to be wide enough to get it over your torso. Although I love the boxy look on the model in the photos, I knew it would look much better on me cinched in a bit more at the side seams, so I needed to figure out a different way to close the back of the blouse. One option would be to use a separating zip so that it could open completely and I could get in and out of the blouse with ease, but I didn’t want the zipper to detract from the rest of the shirt and the matching skirt, and detachable zips seem to be pretty bulky and visible. My other option was to create a button band on the back edges of the blouse with buttholes and buttons, but that seemed like more work than I was willing to put into such a simple blouse. Ultimately I compromised- I used a button and loop method so that I could use the original blouse pieces as-is without having to add interfaced bands. I cut out and attached a piece of fabric the length of the back center piece and about 2 inches in width, and then attached 8 loops of white corded elastic evenly spaced along the edge. I then sewed them to the seam allowance of the back left bodice piece and folded it under. On the opposite bodice piece I sewed corresponding buttons close to the edge, and voila! Easy button closure without all the hassle of buttonholes and bands!

no idea why i look so sad in this picture. i think i might have resting sad face?

After I made the new closure, I took in the side seams about an inch or so, angled up towards the sleeves, and I much prefer the way the blouse fits and looks now! The sleeves and bust of this blouse are a teensy bit tighter than I would prefer, even after letting the seams out a bit, so if I make this top again I will go up in the bust at least one size and keep the adjustments I made to the side seams, and I might shorten it just a bit so that you can see more crop when my arms are down at my sides (as you can see in the pics, you can’t really see much belly skin unless my arms are raised).

All in all a super cute outfit that definitely looks different than anything else I have in my #redcarpetDIY wardrobe! I love the little sliver of skin that shows between the hem of the blouse and waistband of the skirt, and I love the unique and dynamic look of the jaquard print; up close it looks like yellow teardrops with a spot of blue inside, but from just a few feet away the pattern meshes into a haze of trippy polka dots. My favorite color to wear is yellow so I am in total love with the subtle brightness this fabric lends- coupled with the blue accent, it’s not overpowering, but it definitely makes a statement.

Jasika vs. the Vintage Vogue Coat

For the record, I won.
But whoooa was it a battle! Comparable to Jasika vs. the Ginger Jeans! But I learned so, so much in this process, and I am incredibly happy with how it has turned out, warts and all.

I first got the idea for this coat about a year ago. Last fall I attended a red carpet event in a memade gown that I sewed from a vintage Vogue pattern (I have yet to blog this dress, but I swear I will one day!). The dress was a silver-hued chartreuse with a very simple silhouette and it’s stunning, but I didn’t have any outwerwear appropriate  to wear with it. It wasn’t cold enough in LA to frantically search for something suitable to wear over the dress and I ended up being fine for the most part, but it got me thinking about how nice it would be to have a long dressy coat to wear over fancy red carpet attire. I started scouring the internet for different coat patterns and ultimately focused on vintage designs because they were simpler in style but still packed a lot of drama. I thought that a simpler design would work with a bigger variety of garments underneath.

https://www.instagram.com/p/-FrrfuRF4w/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

It took me weeks to settle on the vintage vogue coat pattern that I ultimately chose, but I was immediately drawn to it. In the illustration it kind of looked like a big blanket draped over the figure wearing it, but it didn’t look baggy, and it had enough lovely design details to keep the look interesting and feminine. I loved the peter pan collar and the roominess inside the coat- it would work well with anything from bulky sweaters to dresses with shoulder pads. I loved the long length and the patch pockets (although I ended up omitting the flaps of said pockets- I wanted to stuff my hands into them easily), and the way the coat draped down the back on account of it’s center-panel. Shortly after the pattern arrived, I went to The Fabric Store and chose a beautiful thick wool coating (they have the most impressive wools at this store!) that stood out for me. It looked cozy and warm, and was made of neutral colors- black with grey and white herringbone- that would pair well with lots of looks. I also chose a shiny and silky-smooth gray charmeuse to line the coat with. My lining fabric seemed extravagant at the time, but I wanted this coat to feel as nice as I hoped it would look, and after making plenty of garments over the years with cheap polyester linings, I knew that splurging on it would make me incredibly happy when it was all over (spoiler alert: it totally does!).

Okay, so now fast forward almost a whole year, in which time my gigantic swath of fabric sat in a brown paper bag in a corner of my craft room with cedar wood blocks inside of it to keep the moths at bay. I can’t remember exactly what sparked me to pick this project up again and finally start on construction, but around a month ago I suddenly felt very inspired to get ‘her done, as Coach Taylor would say. I was probably motivated in part by the realization that we would be spending our Christmas in the northeast this year (we alternate our holidays in increments of three- one with her folks, one with mine, and one just us, usually on a fun trip). At this point, my dramatic fancy coat project morphed from something mainly aesthetically pleasing to one that was more functional and would keep me warm in a blustery city in the winter.

In my whole adulthood, I have never before had a dressy coat that was actually warm. My current outerwear wardrobe consists mostly of sporty Patagonia gear that I collected from my years fighting off chilly rain in Vancouver, a couple of leather jackets, and a nice wool JCrew coat that is only suitable for mild winters. And back when I lived in NYC in my early 20’s, I couldn’t afford a nice warm coat, so most of my years were spent in cheap wool pea coats from H&M with so many layers stacked underneath that I could barely move my arms. I’ve always thought that legitimately warm winter coats came in 2 categories: sporty parkas, or furs. Design-wise there just isn’t that much in between. Which is one of the best things about making your own clothes: filling in the gaps! But how to make a regular dress coat comparably warm without majorly changing the design elements? Queue: THINSULATE FABRIC!!!!!!!!!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BN0hzWshRB2/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

Ahhh, thinsulate fabric. Surely you know of it, and I imagine that lots of you have worked with it before. I had only heard it’s name because it’s a material that companies like JCrew rely on to beef up the warmth in their wool coats, but I had never seen it in raw form before. When a big box of it arrived at my house, I was pretty shocked to find that it is strikingly similar to a diaper; it’s got a thin white layer of soft, papery thin cloth on one side with an airy cottony filling on the other. I bought the 4 oz weight of Thinsulate fabric for my coat because I didn’t want to add additional bulk to an already heavy coat, but because the product is so lightweight, it wasn’t very thin. It is very pliable and can smoosh down pretty easily, though. You use Thinsulate like an interlining, and most people simply baste it to their lining pieces and then sew their patterns accordingly, but hold up- I am getting ahead of myself.

Before I got to the lining and interlining portion of my coat, I had to construct the shell. Let me remind you that I was using a vintage Vogue pattern from 1948, probably the oldest pattern I have ever actually used before. And it really showed. The instructions were printed on one large folded piece of paper with very tiny lettering that was literally falling apart every time I touched it. I read over the instructions several times to try and get a good idea of how the coat would come together, but I kept getting stuck in the same places, and I figured that I just needed to GET to that part with the actual pieces in front of me to better understand how to proceed. Then I pulled out the pattern pieces.

OH MY GOD. Those pattern pieces.

I had never before worked with a pattern that had no actual writing on its pieces before, so I didn’t know that, before printing pattern pieces with words, the pattern companies used an elaborate hole-punch method to put all the information on the pieces. The name of the piece would be written out in a series of hole punches, for example, the word “COLLAR” was spelled in tiny formatted holes, but they also used holes on the perimeters of all the pieces to show the 5/8 seam allowance, holes to map out darts and pleats, holes to signify where certain pattern pieces needed to meet, hole-punched triangles and squares to show where button holes and waist lines were located, etc. So picture a tiny cut out collar pattern piece made of THE MOST DELICATE paper known to man, which begins to disintegrate if you so much as sneeze near it, folded up very tightly, and covered in holes that at first glance appear to be some kind of cipher. Just keeping the pattern pieces intact was a feat requiring the utmost patience (which I lost about halfway through), but luckily I am a trace-the-pieces-to-preserve-the-original-pattern kind of girl, so now I have a replica of the pattern on more solid paper, should I ever attempt to make this pattern again (YEEEAH RIGHT).

As you can see from the design, the coat is not complicated at all, and this is probably the only reason I was able to get through it, because the instructions were a bit…shall we say V(A)GUE? And on top of that, they used certain materials and techniques that are just outdated now. Not to mention that there was so much more hand sewing involved on garments made back in the day, and although I am happy to do a fair amount of hand sewing for super nice, ambitious projects like this one, I DID want it to be complete in time for me to take it with me to MD. Queue: Tailoring: Singer Sewing Reference book! I saw this book recommendation on Cashmerette’s blog a while ago and decided to get it when planning for this coat. Best decision I ever made. The book is slightly dated in it’s style and possibly some of it’s techniques (there was no mention of how to bag a lining in this book, so I had to use my dear google for that part- perhaps there is a newer version of it?), but it’s still filled with super excellent information and beautifully photographed pictures showing each step of certain procedures. I don’t think I would have been able to get through this coat without the aid of this book, and I feel indebted to it. It mainly helped me get through the bound buttonholes on the coat front (I had never made them before and they are totally easy but just have a LOT of steps!) and pad stitching the collar (which was actually not too tricky since I didn’t have a proper collar stand but I did it anyways because LEARNING!), but it also taught me lots of random tidbits of information like which kind of lining to use and the anatomy of a collar.

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Once my shell was completed with beautiful bound buttonholes, I tried it on and saw that the shoulder seams were built for a line backer- they were HUGE! The pattern I used was sized a couple of inches bigger than my measurements but I had no idea it would be THIS off. Thankfully, due to the simple design of the coat, I was able to remove the sleeves, slice off a couple of inches of width at the shoulders which I carried down just a bit under the arms, and then re-attach the sleeves. I inserted some store-bought shoulder pads which gave my coat just the right amount of stability and structure at the shoulders, and then I got to work on my lining and interlining.

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This part was really tricky, only because none of my sources on construction and instruction had information on using Thinsulate as an interlining, which is certainly thicker than the flannel-type material the original pattern called for. Because the Thinsulate is thick, I didn’t want it to create too much bulk at the seams, so instead of basting the lining to all the interlining pieces, I constructed the sides of the lining and interlining separately and merely overlapped the Thinsulate’s edges instead of sewing them using a seam allowance. Then I connected the sides at the back center piece with regular seam allowances. I probably didn’t explain that very well? Sorry!  Photos would be helpful here but I didn’t take pictures because at this point of the coat making process I wasn’t even convinced I could successfully finish it! Anyways, the point is that I assembled my lining and interlining while trying to eliminate as much bulk at the seams as possible. Next I had to read up on how to bag a lining. The process seemed simple enough, but there were a few details that I wanted to make sure I got right, and an article I found on Thread’s website got me through it, although not without a lot of head scratching and cussing (this article, too, was extremely vague and lacking in details but was the only tutorial I could find that wasn’t connected to a specific sew-along. I wanted my information to be general so that I could easily apply it to a variety of coat designs).

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The bagging part was easy, but I had a lot of trouble with the hems of my lining and interlining and had to un-bag the coat several times to trim off a bit more of the Thinsulate, which was too bulky in some places, causing the hem to sag or be uneven. It took a while, but eventually I figured it out enough to tack the bottom of my lining down onto my coat, which I am not even sure is a step that is done with most coats, but mine needed it. Sewing the lining to the sleeves was another source of frustration for me because I understood how they needed to look, I just couldn’t figure out how to get there, and the Threads article seemed intent on using as few words as possible to describe this procedure. But I eventually figure this out, too. So far the most prevalent theme in my sewing life is to cuss and yell out loud for 20 minutes and then, magically, the solution will just fall into my brain.

 

It was interesting to see and feel the differences in how the coat fit with and without the Thinsulate material underneath; without the interlining, the coat draped in a dramatic fall from the nape of my neck to the floor and swung around beautifully when I moved, but with it, the coat was much stiffer and had a more structured silhouette. I missed the floatiness of the un-interlined coat, but I really like the way it looks with Thinsulate too- it looks a bit more regal, and its definitely going to be warmer. But now I’ve got a seed planted in my head to make ANOTHER long wool coat, this time for California winters, which wont need to be underlined at all and can maintain that swooshiness factor that I liked so much about the un-interlined version.

After the coat was bagged and I pressed the hems a million more times to keep them crisp and even-looking, all I had left to do was slash the facings behind my bound buttonholes, sew the edges down, then choose my buttons. I had planned to buy some large buttons in black or gray at Michael Levine’s, but when I got there, the lovely person behind the counter convinced me that covered buttons were the way to go. They complimented my coat a bunch and made the case that a covered button would allow the coat to easily transition from casual to dressy. They were totally right, and I feel so thankful that they offered their expertise- I can’t even imagine what this coat would look like with a different set of buttons.

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So, here we are, at the end of my blog post, which is already WAY too long. And I left out so many things! Like how I accidentally ripped a tear in almost every single original pattern piece at some point while handling it! Like how Thinsulate burns really easily and there are most definitely a few places deep inside this coat with singed holes of diaper material hidden by lining! Like how you can see some of my “invisible” hand stitching at the bottom of the coat if you look closely enough! Like how I sewed an entire pocket onto my coat inside out! But I know that stuff isn’t important- this project was ambitious because I had to do so much research on my own since the instructions weren’t mapped out and handed to me on a platter. I take for granted how simple and accommodating so many modern sewing patterns are, and it was a real eye-opener to feel forced back into a beginner-level again. But it was worth it, and I am TOTALLY PROUD OF MYSELF! I took it one step at a time, I refused to let the project defeat me, I trusted my instincts, and I came out with a coat that I am hoping will keep me toasty warm during my holiday adventures! Thanks to everyone on instagram who went on this journey with me and sent me encouraging words- I feel like we did this together! Consider yourself stylishly warmed by this coat, too 🙂

a woman’s work is never done?? lololol

The #notmypresident Kelly Anorak!

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What a week, y’all. What a world.

Making has saved my sense of peace during this presidential campaign, but the day after the election I felt so depressed that I wasn’t even inspired to work on the project I had been happily plugging away at for days. I didn’t want to listen to music. I didn’t want to watch Netflix. I didn’t want to listen to an audiobook, or be around other people. But I also didn’t want to sit and stare at a wall while fuming. So I tentatively made my way to the makeshift sewing table in my apartment. I pushed some tools around, tidied up the area, threw away some fabric scraps and thread that had collected on the edges of the table. I didn’t feel better. But I felt calmer. I don’t know, maybe those feelings are synonymous sometimes. I liked having something to do with my hands. So I decided to install one ring snap and see how I felt. Again, I wasn’t better, but I had something to focus on, and I figured that was good enough. I installed the snap on the other pocket, and then I began the slow, new-to-me process of installing the coat zipper, which seemed really daunting to me at first glance.

Making didn’t take my mind off of my worries- it has never had that kind of effect on me- but it was therapeutic; it gave me space to process my thoughts without the sharpness of my emotions sending me reeling into teary-eyed territory. I cry hard and often, and I think that fully experiencing our emotions is super important to our mental health. But sometimes angry tears don’t make me feel any better at all, and I couldn’t imagine how I would stop them once they came.

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By the time I finished installing the zipper and facings and placket of this jacket, I stood both in awe, of both the task I had completed and my mood. I remember looking at the photo on the pattern and thinking to myself, how in the world is this supposed to come together?? because sometimes getting from point A to point B seems like an act of magic; even though I can see all the steps laid out in the instructions, it’s hard for me to fully envision the end product of a thing unless I am in the middle of creating it. But I found some solace in this. Because I also had no idea exactly what I needed to do to fix the current state of our country (how in the world are we supposed to come together??) and I realize now that it doesn’t matter- all I need to do is start at step one: to show up. To be willing to learn, to use my voice, to act when I am called upon. Somehow, in the creation of a coat zipper, I had acquired a new resolve- I felt emboldened, full of love, optimistic that my community would, as it has for hundreds of years, continue to fight for the rights and well being of the disenfranchised. I am anxious and scared about the struggles that we will face on our path, but I have faith that we will come out on top, and I am excited to be on the right side of the history that we will make together.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE, Y’ALL.

And with that, some details about this absolutely beautiful coat that miraculously served to both inspire and heal…

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This jacket is made from the much anticipated Kelly Anorak coat designed by Closet Case Files. When Heather sent a sneak peak of the coat through her newsletter a day or two before the official launch, I squealed audibly and sent Claire lots of photos of the coat that had been included in the email, since she is the only person I know who would be as excited about it as I was (she’s a generally supportive and enthusiastic human I am #blessed). I purchased the physical pattern instead of the PDF because it’s harder for me to print patterns while I am in Savannah, and I also immediately ordered a hardware kit that Closet Case was offering for sale in their online shop. I buy all of their kits when offered- the tools and materials are so well sourced and they just make sewing new, seemingly complicated garments a tad bit easier.

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Initially I envisioned a light gray twill Anorak for myself, so I went to my local fabric store in Savannah and found the exact fabric I was looking for, but unfortunately they didn’t have the full yardage that I needed. So I decided I would supplement the missing gray twill with this really beautiful soft navy suiting I found in the shop. I went home, spent a couple of hours thoughtfully placing and cutting out the hundreds of pattern pieces (ok, there aren’t that many, but it sure feels like it when you’re on the floor with a spasming back and tracing them all onto the fabric), and I started sewing the pieces together.

requisite Forsyth Park shot!

requisite Forsyth Park shot!

I had a really tough time finding the right color of topstitching thread for the light gray twill. First I tried using a darker gray thread, but it looked too blue against the fabric, so I took all that out and used a white thread instead. This didn’t end up looking much better, but I figured that I would like it more as I continued piecing the jacket together. I also was worried about the weight of my jacket- the twill seemed a bit more flimsy than I wanted for this jackets, so I considered putting a lining into the coat, but I had never made a coat before and I felt a little overwhelmed at having to figure out so many new things at once. I got all the way up to the step where I needed to install the grommets on the jacket for the cord to slide through, and I suddenly started second guessing the whole project. I only had enough hardware for one jacket, and I realized that I wasn’t enough in love with the way mine was looking to waste my beautiful new snaps and grommets on it.

I am not one to walk away from a project so quickly after starting it, but I am so glad that I trusted my instincts; I rolled up the unfinished jacket and remaining pieces and set them aside. The next day while reading the Fabric Store’s blog, I saw some photos of a new shipment they had just gotten at the LA store and was immediately taken by a plush, pale pink bonded suiting fabric they were highlighting.

It looked soft and warm, and the color was perfect for me since I love lighter shades of pinks and peaches. I called the store and they sent me a couple of yards of the fabric (although not all of their LA fabrics are sold in the online store, you can always call them directly and ask for swatches or cuts of the stock they put up on their blog)! I kept my fingers crossed that this fabric would work for the jacket, and I was elated when it arrived a few days later and it looked and felt just as striking in person as I had hoped!

Since my first gray version was ultimately a muslin, I was able to make a few more adjustments on my pink version. I had already shortened the length of the coat about an inch and a half to better accommodate my petite frame, but I also kept the pockets in the same place, and I realized on the first coat that the placement felt awkward because they were now a bit too high. So on my pink version I moved them down about an inch or so and they are now perfectly placed. I sewed a size 4 and didn’t grade up in the hips on the first gray version of this jacket, even though my measurements suggested I do so, and when I sewed up the side seams, it definitely felt less roomy in the hips than I preferred. I extended the allowances at the hips on my pink jacket about an extra 3/8 inch on both sides to accommodate grading to a bigger size and it now fits beautifully. Other than these changes, I sewed the jacket as instructed, but I still made a bunch of random mistakes throughout (all of which are my fault!)

 

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The most obvious mistake was sewing the front yokes in different directions on each side; thanks to Closet Case Files’ quick and easy tutorial, I used flat felled seams for the first time ever, which was super fun (also, it’s so weird that I had not used them before, because French seams are pretty much a staple for my makes nowadays). But I accidentally sewed the yoke seam towards the top on one side of the coat and towards the bottom on the other side of the coat, so they look visibly uneven on the outside. Of course I didn’t realize my mistake until the entire coat had been sewn together already and I was NOT about to undo all my work for something that didn’t bother me all that much. Also, because my pink fabric is so thick and doesn’t iron very well, it was very hard to get the seams completely flat and sewn down evenly on the inside, so there are also a few wonky flat fell seams that you can only see when looking on the wrong side of the jacket- again, I am so glad I am not a perfectionist because I would never get ANYTHING done!

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Another goofy mistake I made was with the zipper placement- when installing then, I cut them a tiny bit too short and as a result, the top ends of the zipper aren’t enclosed in a seam, which means that the zipper pull would totally fly off the top if  I zipped it up without stopping before the teeth ran out. I was stumped as to how to fix that little snafu for a while, but when I hand sewed the seam of the hood to the inside of the jacket, I realized I could insert a few stitches just below the topmost tooth on each side of the zipper and it would serve as a stop to keep the zipper pull from zipping off of it.

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Inserting the snaps and grommets was a cinch after reading Heather’s tutorial on her blog, and my only other suggestion on how to install them is to remind you to work verrrrrry carefully when you are placing the snap pieces along the jacket- I almost missed my mark a few times because of not being patient enough to make sure the snaps lined up perfectly. Removing a spring snap that has already been set is VERY hard to do without ruining your fabric, and yes, of course I say this from experience (insert rolling eye here).

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The trickiest issue I experienced with this fabric was the fact that it was very thick and cushiony, which was only a problem a few times when I had to topstitch through several layers, like on the cuffs of the sleeves. Otherwise it behaved very well. sidenote: one of the cool design features I love about this Kelly Anorak is the topstitching all over it, and at first I was bummed that you couldn’t see the topstitching on my pink fabric very well because it’s so thick, but the technique still creates a little groove along the topstitched lines, and now that it’s complete I love the overall effect. I also appreciate that this fabric isn’t very wrinkly, and now after wearing it around on one of the coolest days I have experienced in Savannah thus far, I can attest that she is also perfectly warm! Much warmer than the twill cotton jacket I first started making would have been, but not as thick and bulky as a full on winter coat- essentially the perfect jacket to get me through an LA fall and winter.

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As for the pattern? Sigh. It’s fantastic just like all of Heather’s work! The fit for me is wonderful: one easy adjustment for the length, which is made even easier thanks to markings on all the pattern pieces that are affected by lengthening/shortening, but even more importantly, the coat is ROOMY in the shoulders and arms and hood (Lord, how I hate a tight hood that smooshes all my hair down). This is the sort of jacket you can wear comfortably with sweatshirts and layers, and the sleeves on my size 4 Kelly don’t feel too tight or bulky with even my thickest sweater worn underneath. The instructions for this jacket are easy to follow, and it handles complicated techniques and steps succinctly. Again, I had to go slowly through the instructions for the zipper facings and placket because it was all new to me and there are so many pieces, but I didn’t make any mistakes and the result is beautiful. Additionally, Heather provides a few tutorials for tricky steps on her blog- I had already started working on my zipper and button placket before she posted a tutorial on how to do do that part, but I figured it out on my own just fine, so I think that the average sewist will find the instructions easy to follow, too!

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My manager and his husband Bob are in town for the weekend and I was able to finish my coat before they left, which means I got to get some photos of it while we were out and about! My favorite place we visited today was the SCAD museum of art, which has work and installations by current students and alumni. The museum is small (read: MANAGEABLE for someone like me who can only handle beautiful art in shorts spurts of time) and varied and I absolutely loved every inch of it- you should definitely go visit if you have the chance!

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jeans are the Ginger Skinny Jeans and cowl is handknitted from a pattern by Miss Babs!

 

 

 

 

 

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)!

A Star in a Kimono-Inspired Robe

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Someone is completely upstaging the actual handmade item in this blog post, but I don’t mind. How could you possibly mind? She is just so stunning!

I feel very lucky to be sharing a screen for the next couple of months with the lovely and superbly talented Jess DeGouw. I guess I just have a thing for Aussies, because she reminds me a lot of my old friend and Fringe cast mate John. They are both so warm and smart and thoughtful, and incredibly generous to all the people around them- she has inspired me to both give more and relax more on set, and I enjoy all the time I get to spend with her, whether sitting next to each other in our cast chairs gabbing about interior decorating or sitting in a coffee shop walking her through the steps of how to cast off (I taught her how to knit a few weeks ago and within days she had already completed a beautiful scarf- she is such a natural!) Anyways, I shyly asked her this morning if she would mind posing for a few pictures in this robe I had just finished sewing and she thankfully said yes. We set up some quick shots of her wearing the robe with the sun streaming through her windows, and although my photography skills don’t do Jess nearly enough justice, I am so pleased with how these turned out. But again, could you expect anything less with that face???

OK, if you want to keep gushing about Jess, the star in the robe, you should catch up on her work in season one of WGN’s Undeground, which is how I was first introduced to her. You will LOVE her!

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This is the Almada pattern from Seamwork, which has been on my to-do list since the very first time I saw it last year. I love how it’s a simple design with simple lines but the overall look packs such a dynamic punch; it’s simply beautiful, and now that I have made it I am definitely having a bit of trouble deciding whether I should use it as a house robe as I initially intended or wear it around the city as a light jacket. I suppose I could do both but that feels weird. House clothes are house clothes, and never the twain shall meet!

I have talked here before about how the Seamwork patterns are so pretty and styled so elegantly, but because of their simple designs, many of them require a bit more thought and attention in construction to make them work for my body. Fortunately this is a project that doesn’t fall into that category. The sizing is pretty general (XS-XL) and since it doesn’t hug the body tightly anywhere there isn’t much room for error if you fit into the measurements provided. The design is simple enough that you can make some easy adjustments/additions to the pattern without sacrificing the integrity of the original look (or you can also also completely sacrifice it- who cares?? when you sew, the world is your oyster!)

 

I got this bright pique fabric from The Fabric Store, and I loved it because it had a great texture on the right side which reminded me of waffle-textured towels. It is somewhere between a medium to heavy weight fabric while still feeling breathable; it seemed really fitting for a house robe! The color is as brilliant in real life as it looks in the photos, and definitely should have been washed separately on cold when I pre-washed it- unfortunately I was in a rush and stuck it in the wash with several other pieces of laundry, and then they all came out bright blue! I was able to color correct most of the items with a dye-out product whose name I cannot remember, but I should have known better: anything this brilliant needs it’s own bath 😉

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Because of the texture of the fabric, the raw edges get pretty messy quickly, but I don’t have my serger with me in Savannah. Instead, I bought some awesome bias tape from this store on etsy to use for all the raw edges on the inside. I know, I know- I can make my own bias tape, but I am lazy, I didn’t bring my bias tape makers with me, and I love supporting small indie craft shops when I have the chance.

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Besides enclosing all my raw seams with tape, I raised the ties on the front of the robe by a couple of inches- as drafted, they were really low on me and instead of cinching the fabric around my waist, it made the robe tight around my hips and butt, which felt completely unnatural and uncomfortable. I also decided to add a long neckline band around the front sides and back, more like a traditional house robe would have. It was the only thing I didn’t like about the original pattern- the sleeves had these beautiful cuffs that made a visual connection to the robe ties, which made the neckline look a little plain to me. I cut one long piece of fabric about 3.5 inches wide that matched the length of the robe opening and sewed it onto the neckline of the robe, then closed the raw seam with bias tape, and topstitched it flat to the underside of the robe so that it wouldn’t flip up easily. It lays down perfectly flat against my neck and feels super comfortable.

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The only other thing I will change is to add two big pockets to either side of the front of the robe- I didn’t have a chance to cut them out and sew them before I got these photos, so you can just imagine them for now. In wearing this robe over the past couple of days, it was clear that I needed some storage on this baby- I think I might have even dropped a chapstick down my side, only realizing that I didn’t have an actual pocket for it to fall into as it crashed to the floor.

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I am so thrilled that I finally marked this pretty pattern off of my list, and I am glad that I went against the grain and chose such a unique fabric to sew this in- she looks so different than all the other really beautiful versions of Almada I have seen, and I think she was worth the wait! Thanks again to Jess for being such a good sport and letting me capitalize on her charm and beauty for my own selfish reasons 😉

Brillant Bouquet

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This dress is BRILLIANT (hence it’s name) and it is hands-down the fabric (from none other than The Fabric Store!) that makes it so exceptional. I am unsure of the fiber content of this textile so I wont even speculate about it here, but I can tell you how it handles and looks in person: it has a significant amount of body, is sturdy but soft to the touch (not scratchy like some textiles of it’s ilk), it holds its shape well with no folding or creasing, and it has a very delicate sheen on its surface without looking glittery or shiny.

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This is the first panel fabric that I have ever sewn and I couldn’t have chosen a better material to start with, but, like many memorable relationships, I’m not sure if I chose this fabric or it chose me! It grabbed my attention from across the store because of the bright orange flowers and interesting color combination- I would never imagine that lavender, orange and deep blue would work so well together, but I guess that’s why I’m not a fabric designer! HA!

I had no idea what I would make with this fabric when it came home with me, but I knew my choices of pattern would be narrowed down considerably because of the unique qualities of the print and the hand. The fabric is stable without being crispy and it also has a lot of volume, so drape-y, flowy and gathered designs were out of the question. The panel flowers also needed to be taken into consideration- I needed a pattern that would let the bright print of the flowers take center stage. I rifled through my pinterest boards for pattern inspiration but didn’t find anything that grabbed me, so on a whim I decided to take a look at the By Hand London catalogue. I had most recently made the Anna dress to tremendous success and I wanted to see what other patterns I might have overlooked that would work for my unique fabric.

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I had seen the Flora dress before but it didn’t really stand out to me at the time, probably because the dress on the model is cut fairly short and I generally stay away from those lengths on my frame- I also have a love/hate relationship with high-low skirts and dresses. But this time around, armed with a specific fabric in mind, the Flora dress pattern seemed like the perfect partner to my Brilliant Bouquet fabric. The pattern has wide pleats at the waist instead of darts, which, depending on my panel placement, was a must since I didn’t want to break up the line of the flowers if possible. I also thought that pleats would create a more interesting look with my full-bodied fabric than darts would. The bodice I chose for the Flora dress (there are two options) was simple and understated, which seemed like a nice contrast to the drama of the skirt, and I thought that keeping the flower print at the bottom of the skirt and having it complete before the start of the bodice would look nice.

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The majority of my mental concentration came when trying to place the skirt properly on the print. The skirt, which is essentially a 3/4 circle, is made of three pieces- one for the front which is cut on the fold, and two for the back. The waistband of the skirt is curved but the panel print is placed straight across the fabric, perpendicular to the straight grain, so trying to determine the smartest way to take advantage of pattern placement without having the line of the flowers broken up was nearly impossible. At this point I realized that having a dart in the skirt as opposed to pleats would have been helpful in terms of keeping the flower print continuous across the skirt. But ultimately I decided that the break in print placement could be an intentional design choice, especially coupled with the full folds of the pleats, so I forged ahead and cut out my pattern pieces as planned (but not before taking several deep breaths!).

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I cut the front piece of the skirt a couple of inches longer than the pattern called for and I extended the length of the back pieces to give a more dramatic look to the skirt’s silhouette. This design choice was inspired by a photo I had come across a while ago on tumblr:

I am OBSESSED with the look of the main fabric contrasted with the printed lining, and I thought I could try it out with my Flora dress by lining the back skirt pieces with the main fabric so that the panel print was visible underneath, too, but, for several reasons, it didn’t quite work out. For one thing, my Brilliant Bouquet fabric has way too much body for a lining of the same material- it would have created even more volume and the pleats would not have formed properly. Secondly, the high-low length of the skirt of my Flora dress isn’t dramatic enough for you to see the lining beneath it- to accomplish this look I would have needed to make the dress almost floor length, and there was not enough room between the panel prints to accommodate that much fabric.

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In the end, everything worked out for the best- I love how the Flora dress came out even without a special lining, and I am excited to try and recreate the above look on a future garment (and hopefully in that same lemon color because OMG it’s stunning). The only thing I wish I had done differently is put pockets in the dress, because they would have worked so well coupled with the volume of the skirt, and who doesn’t love pockets when they don’t interfere with the silhouette of a garment?? The dress is super comfortable and the fit is wonderful, which is an impressive feat for me since the entire thing was sewn in my temporary apartment in Savannah without a proper standing mirror or dress form- there was lot’s of arm-contortion involved when trying to get my zipper placement right, but I must say that I am getting pretty good at it!

Linen and Loose

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I had the opportunity to meet Amelia a couple of years ago at a panel about diversity in media. Amelia’s young son recognized that he was gay from a pretty young age, and since there aren’t very many narratives that frame coming out in childhood in a positive light, she started blogging about her journey as a mother dealing with both the highlights and frustrations of having a young child who was the member of a disenfranchised community; you can check out her writing here! Anyways, the day that I met Amelia, I learned that she was lovely and warm and funny, an accomplished knitter, and also incredibly generous. She knew that I was a sewer and that I would be on the panel, so she came to the event with a huge stack of vintage patterns that had been in her garage unused for years, and she was giving them all to ME! Can you even??!!

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I’m not sure if this was the first pattern I sewed from all the designs she brought me, but it’s the first time I blogged about one of them. I chose Butterick 4485 for it’s loose fit and clever panel design feature on the front. I wanted to make an easy-wearing dress that would look good with the deep navy linen I had just found at The Fabric Store during one of their seasonal sales (their linen is so PREEEEEEETTYYYYY)!

Butterick 4485

Butterick 4485

This was a fairly straight forward make, and aside from the bizzarro steps that vintage patterns are sure to include at some point in their instructions, this came together very quickly and without too much thought (gotta love an easy make every once in a while, right?)

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I finished all the inside seams with a serger for speed and efficiency, and the back closes with an invisible zip. The buttons are decorative and don’t actually close anything (yay again for an easy make!) and were purchased at an antique store that Claire and I found on a trip a couple of months ago.

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There is a lot of ease in this kind of design obviously, so I didn’t make any fitting adjustments other than to shorten it significantly, otherwise this pattern would have come down to my damn ankles it was so weirdly long. I made view B because there is something about that shortened, slightly flared sleeve that is so CUTE to me- maybe because it’s a sleeve I don’t see very often in modern patterns? Most sleeves I come across seem to always be fitted, and either long, short, or 3/4 length. I love all those options, but this particular sleeve gives a tiny bit of drama without being too over the top, and who doesn’t love breathing room around their arms??

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Jury is still out on how I feel about the way this dress looks on me- I love the fabric and the design but I’m not really one for tent-dresses. I haven’t had a chance to actually wear this yet because I am working in Savannah, GA right now and…let’s just say that the weather is not quite ready for dark colors and/or anything with sleeves. So far my overall shorts and a tank top have kept me cool enough to look presentable when exploring the city; any more coverage than that is TOO HOT. But hopefully in a month or so I can test drive this little number out in the world and get a better idea of how well it fits into my wardrobe. Fingers crossed!

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Deer & Doe & Denim

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I was asked by Deer & Doe, a lovely pattern company that brought this gorgeous skirt into my life, to review their newest pattern, a pair of skinny high waist jeans called Safran. I had never been asked to review a pattern before, so, even though I felt like I already had a go-to jeans pattern in my arsenal (trusty Ginger jeans by Closet Case Files)  I figured that if nothing else, it would be a fun thing to try, seeing as how I am trycurious and all. And WOW, I am so glad that I did! Making this pair of  jeans pushed me out of my comfort zone, introduced me to new design features and made me pay more attention to the nuances of different construction techniques. But they also made me appreciate how essential Heather Lou’s jeans-making sew-along is, which she turned into an eBook for purchase. That ebook guided me through my first pair of jeans and has made each pair I’ve sewn since a breeze, including the Safran!

 

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I wont comment on the instructions for these jeans since I didn’t get a finalized version of the booklet before the pattern was released, and I ended up reverting to certain construction techniques that I was more familiar with for the sake of having my pair finished by the pattern’s release date. But I will of course comment on how much I LOVE how they turned out. I have always wanted a pair of cute floral skinny jeans in my closet, but back before I was sewing I had no luck with RTW versions; a brand called Earnest Sewn was the only brand that fit my body well but they only seemed to carry 50 different shades of indigo- no prints or fun colors. Of course now I can sew my own jeans, but finding the perfect stretch denim has been REALLY tricky.

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photo taken before I did more fit adjustments in the waistband!

Heather Lou gives some awesome tips in her eBook about finding a good ratio of cotton/ polyester/ spandex to get the stretch recovery necessary for a great fitting pair of skinny jeans, but the options on the market are few and far between when it comes to printed denim. So when I came across this unique stretch denim at The Fabric Store, it kind of seemed like destiny. The floral print is really pretty, but you can BARELY see it- the way that the threads are woven makes the print take on a gray-ish tint, almost like someone colored a picture and then started erasing it, so you can only just see the image peeking through (the photos in this post show the print as being a bit more vibrant than it is in real life). I LOVE IT SO MUCH! The fabric is soft, and it isn’t super lightweight like so many stretch denims/twills that I come across in stores. Safran calls for denim that has at least 20-30% stretch and this one from The Fabric Store seemed like it would fit the bill, so home it went with me!

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I was excited to see the size chart for the Safran jeans because they seem to be designed to fit curves- they required no grading to match my measurements, which is rare for me for pants and skirts- I am about two sizes smaller in my waist than my hips in most patterns. I did end up needing to make one adjustment for fit, though. There was a bit of gaping at my waist after I basted my pattern pieces together, but I had of course already cut my legs out and didn’t have enough fabric leftover to re-cut the back pieces. So I created one small dart on each leg back, centered right over the pocket at the waistline, and re-drafted the waistband to fit the new curve of the legs. Because these jeans have no yoke, the adjustment was simple to make and I don’t even mind the look of the dart on the back. I really like the no-yoke design choice on these jeans- it makes them look a bit more streamlined and modern, and I think the design choice works particularly well on this floral denim.

I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the pocket design. I always have trouble with front pockets on skinny jeans- they always try to peak out the top and I am constantly stuffing them back inside the pants, but the way these pockets are drafted, peaking out is pretty impossible. They are topstitched on both the side and opening of the pocket and they are also fairly deep, which helps keep them in place.

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Speaking of pockets, I am notoriously finicky about the ones on the back- I’ve got a lot of booty to cover and I can’t leave the job to too-tiny fabric squares. The Safran pockets looked pretty well-balanced for a proportionate booty, but I used my Ginger jeans pockets instead- they are about an inch longer and only slightly wider than the Safran pockets and I think they turned out really great.

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I used only one line of topstitching as opposed to the classic two on these jeans as the pattern suggests, and I opted out of using rivets, mostly because I didn’t have any leftover from previous pairs that matched. But they look just fine without them. The fit of these jeans looks incredible IMO, but they were preeeeetty tight in the waistband, and I think there are a couple of reasons for that. For one, I might have made my back darts a little too big when adjusting the waist- I could have taken out half of the width and been fine. Also, this pattern calls for you to make your waistband pieces out of denim, with the waistband AND facing interfaced. This keeps your waistband super snug and not as prone to stretching out over time, but it makes it REALLY hard to get any breathing room if the band is perfectly fitted to your waist, which mine was. In an attempt to get a little more wiggle room here, I moved my button over as far as I could without it looking too funky, and I even wet my jeans and wore them for a while to stretch the waist out a little, but the mistake was in my overfitting of the waist area with my darts and waistband redrafting (living’ and learnin’ over here)! So after I took these photos, I ripped out my waistband, took out my darts and started over: made the darts half the size, and altered the waistband to match the tiny adjustment in the back legs, and I only interfaced one side of the waistband. Now they are SO MUCH BETTER and I can wear them and actually breathe comfortably! It was a lot of extra work to take out the waistband and start over from scratch but it was so well worth it- I have made too many amazing things in my life that didn’t fit quite right and then sat in my closet unworn because I was too lazy/daunted to fix them. These jeans were obviously too good to sit anywhere unworn!

The most important realization I had in making these jeans was FIGURING OUT HOW TO MAKE MY JEANS EASIER TO PUT ON! I never blogged the skinny jeans I made after my first pair, but I kept running into the same issue with them- the jeans looked great on but I could barely pull them up over my butt! I know it was because the waist of the jeans is so much smaller than the hips, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what to do to fix it without changing how they fit. And then, on this pair of jeans, it hit me: Just make the zip fly longer! I am sure that some of you are like NO, DUH OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT YOU DO! Unfortunately it has taken me a year to figure this out, and I didn’t have the epiphany til after I had already finished these jeans, but I don’t care- better late than never, right? If I add about an inch to the bottom of the zip fly and make sure I transfer that length to the other necessary pieces, like the fly shield and the interfacing that goes on the jean fronts, it will allow my jeans to open up further, which should account for the extra room I need to get them over my hips. OH MY GOD I can’t wait to try this out on my next pair.

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All in all, Safron is a fantastic jeans pattern, and I am most definitely utilizing some of the design elements/ construction techniques on my future jeans, like the awesomely deep pockets and the belt loop construction (Safran has you baste the loops onto your outer waistband before attaching it to the waistband facing, so the loops are caught in the top waistband seam and you only have to stitch them down on the bottom- much less work and a cleaner finish. I also made my loops longer so I had room for a slightly wider belt). I would definitely recommend this pattern for an intermediate sewist/ someone who was confident with jeans-making. I love the original design details and the ease of construction. Because the design features of these pants are so pared down, they are quicker to make than the other jeans I have sewn, and they don’t feel redundant at all: a totally new take on a classic jeans pattern. Many thanks to Deer & Doe for allowing me a backstage pass to their newest pattern!!!!

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Elephants on a Vintage Blouse

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I stumbled across the etsy shop Indianstores, which sells block printed fabric on soft, supple cotton, after seeing it mentioned on a great sewing blog I follow. Their textiles are produced and printed in India by a team of talented artisans and the selection the shop offers is striking. I was in the middle of selecting a floral fabric from their online shop when an interesting textile printed with elephants also caught my eye, but there was only a 1.5 yard cut remaining in the store. I snatched it up anyways without any thought of what I would actually make with it (something I try not to do too often!), and it took me a while to figure out how to use it. The fabric would have worked with any number of patterns in my stash, and I had been eyeing it specifically for a new True Bias Southport maxi, but I just didn’t have enough yardage to make it work. With my newly organized space for patterns and pattern pieces, I rifled through the blouse section in my filing cabinet since that type of garment seemed like it would make the most use of my limited fabric.

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It didn’t take long to come across this re-issue of a vintage blouse pattern (Simplicity 1590) that I purchased several months ago at a Joanne’s for $1.

I liked the interesting lines of the blouse’s design, how the front is like a normal button down but then connects to the peplum on the sides in  an unexpected way. I love the little bow tie at the top of the collar (which I subsequently messed up, but more on that later) and the ties in the back, and I LOVE the kimono-inspired sleeves- all the details added up to a really cool looking blouse, one I hadn’t really seen out in the world before.

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As much as I love the look of vintage silhouettes, I don’t make them very often, and I realize now that it’s because getting good at sewing older patterns requires a fair amount of know-how in the general art of sewing- in my opinion, most vintage patterns are not well suited for beginner sewists because they sometimes use outdated construction techniques that are needlessly complicated, and they don’t often give many helpful details in their instructions, omitting certain steps with the assumption that the sewist will already know how to do something. Of course I am probably spoiled with the heavily worded, brilliantly illustrated PDF instruction booklets and sew-alongs in today’s sewing community, but there is no denying that for me, less is not more when it comes to learning how to do something new. The good news is that I no longer consider myself a beginner sewist, and vintage patterns that gave me trouble years ago when I first started sewing regularly are a breeze for me to figure out now. That’s not to say that I don’t make royally silly mistakes when I sew from vintage patterns, but they feel much less daunting for me.

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This blouse is a fairly simple make but the instructions for how to attach the peplum to the front was a little confusing. Fortunately I eventually figured it out, so that detail doesn’t look weird, but I didn’t fare so well with the collar. For some reason I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the collar piece shouldn’t extend all the way to the edges of the shirt front, because if they do, the collar flaps will overlap in the front when buttoned all the way, which will interfere with the little bow at the neckline- ROOKIE MISTAKE! When my collar and shirt front edges didn’t match up, I just thought I had cut my pattern piece incorrectly, so I basically stretched out my collar piece/ eased the neck opening as much as possible to match the edges of the button bands. I didn’t realize my mistake until the shirt was completed and I tried it on. SMDH!!!! The ill-positioned collar didn’t bother me enough to redo the whole collar piece though, and I can still wear it with the little bow (which is attached to the shirt by snaps), it just doesn’t look perfect. But guess what- it will the next time I make it!

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Here’s what I love about the final garment- the cotton is easy breezy lightweight, so it’s comfortable to wear on hot LA days, but not so lightweight that it doesn’t keep it’s shape. The fullness of the peplum is really pretty and the length of the whole shirt is just right on me with the slight dip down in the back. Originally I imagined wearing this with a vintage wool pencil skirt I have, but the skirt is too wide at the bottom when matched with this top- as a whole there was too much width on the top half and the bottom half did nothing to balance it out. But when I tried this blouse with my Ginger skinny jeans? BINGO! Perfect balance on top and bottom! I also love that the shirt’s silhouette looks kind of fancy on it’s own, but when paired with my elephant fabric, it looks way more casual.

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oh my god I HATE how my hair looks in this style. thank god for photo shoots where you can see exactly what does and what doesn’t make you look like a million bucks, lol

The addition of the red buttons, which I thought would break up the black and white of the print nicely, push it into even more adorable territory- I am basically a walking ray of sunshine in this top, as evidenced by the MANY compliments I got when I wore it for the first time a week ago. I had a big audition for a project I was really excited about on a studio lot that I had never been to before, which meant BUBBLE GUTS CENTRAL. Two separate compliments in the bathroom which sparked a whole conversation at the sink with a lovely woman who was just learning how to sew (I gave her my card so she could check out my blog) and then more accolades in the audition room from the producers and casting director. Nothing can diffuse my nerves more quickly than some shop talk about sewing- it’s the best way to make me feel empowered and excited about what I have to offer, because no matter what happens in front of that camera, I know that I MADE MY WHOLE OUTFIT AND I LOOK GREAT!