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Starburst Dress for Stylemaker Fabrics Blog Tour 2019

Hey hey hey! I am chuffed (can you tell I have British friends on IG??) to be a part of this year’s Stylemaker Fabrics Spring Tour! The tour is an opportunity for fabric lovers to be introduced to and inspired by all the new textiles that the Stylemaker Fabrics online store has to offer, and there have been some really fantastic makes on the tour so far!

I had a really hard time figuring out which fabrics I wanted to work with for my make- there were so many pretty colors and interesting prints that I could have stared at the fabric swatches for days, but then I stumbled across a new-to-me-pattern by Amy Nicole Studio called the Roksi Dress and felt a surge of inspiration. This dress has a simple but clever design- it’s basically three of the same garments of varying lengths layered over each other, so a knee-length swishy spaghetti strapped dress goes underneath a hip-length swishy spaghetti strapped tunic which goes underneath a belly button-grazing swishy spaghetti strapped crop top. Cool, right? I love how this design leaves so much room for playing around with color and print, love what an easy dress this probably is to wear and make, and I love how far you can stretch the pieces out for various looks…the pieces can be worn individually or together in various ways to create completely new looks! Thinking that this was the garment I was going to make, I spotted three different, very summery shades of tencel twill from Stylemaker Fabrics that I knew would look really lovely together, reminding me of a popsicle, or sherbert. Something summery and fun and breezy in the California heat!

Me trying to be in West Side Story

No sooner had I ordered my fabrics than I stumbled (it appears that I stumble around a lot on the internet) upon a version of McCalls 7894 that Bianca of Thanks I Made Them recently completed. I came across it because the McCalls instagram shared a picture of her make on their account and I! WAS! SMITTEN! I had not seen this Big 4 pattern before and if I had, I’m sure I would have overlooked it. For some reason the pattern envelope just didn’t call out to me in any way, shape, or form…however, with Bianca’s spin on it? WHOAH! I loved the use of color in her fabric choices, which made the whole dress feel like a day at the beach, and the style and fit were just so flattering, even with it’s weird waistline which dips down at the sides (not usually my cup of tea). Even though I had been dead-set on making the Roksi Trio, I was suddenly in the McCalls 7894 camp, and I imagined that my three cuts of fabric would transition beautifully into this dress. Ultimately I decided that switching these patterns was a brilliant idea because the Roksi Trio, while it would have looked great in my three sherbet hues, would be better served by playing around more with print and color than just color- every version of the Roksi Trio that uses prints and solids together stands out, and I would love to make this pattern in the future using some exciting prints from my stash!

So onto this here make…I was very out of Big 4 practice when I started this project. Because of my Family Crisis/December Hiatus and a busy work schedule in Jan and Feb, it had been a while since I had created much of anything, much less a Big 4 pattern I hadn’t sewn before, and I was out of practice. Because of this, I made a lot of mistakes that I normally don’t, but fortunately I was able to fix pretty much all of them!

First mistake: I pre-washed a bunch of new fabrics in one load (these tencel twills plus a couple more) and got bleeding on the yellow and peach cuts of my tencel twill (surprisingly the pink didn’t take the bleed). The bleed wasn’t super dark and it wasn’t completely covering the yardage, but it was definitely noticeable and annoying. I think forgot to put a dye catcher sheet in the wash when I was pre-washing these, but I shouldn’t have washed all the pieces together in the first place- this was totally my bad. Also, before anyone suggests in the comments that I should have used that smelly dye-remover stuff to get the spots out, I chose not to use it because I think the results can be ineffectual- when I have used it in the past it has gotten most of a dye bleed out, but never all of it, and it has faded the original color of the fabric I used it on, which I didn’t want to happen- the vibrancy of this tencel twill is one of the reasons I picked it out! As a result of the bleed, I had less fabric to work with because I had to avoid the areas that were dotted with blue. Stylemaker Fabrics very generously offered to replace my fabric, but I wanted to avoid that at all costs- I HATED the thought of wasting all that fabric and I was determined to make this project work with what I had. With some artful placement of my pattern pieces, I successfully cut out most of the dress without getting too many of the blue spots anywhere, although there are a couple of tiny, very inconspicuous places where the dye spills over- but I would have to point them out to you (and you know I’m not gonna do that!)

Next mistake: I totally forgot to grade out from my waist to hips when tracing out my pattern pieces, even though I do it on literally ALL BIG 4 PATTERNS I make, so when I tissue fit my pattern pieces onto my dress form, there was no ease whatsoever in the hips! Instead of recutting my pattern pieces, I decided to simply add extra seam allowance (via paper taped to the edges) to my skirt pattern pieces to accommodate the room I needed. Once I made those tweaks, I sewed the dress up, serging the insides close to the seam line to finish them since there are a lot of curves on the dress and I was afraid french seams would be too bulky. I basted the skirt and bodice pieces together and tried it on and…. I HATED IT!

Image result for hated it gif

It looked awful- ill-fitting, super frumpy, too long…issues I am used to addressing early on in construction with my pattern tweaks. Then I realized why- I had ALSO totally forgotten to shorten my bodice like I also ALWAYS do! What was wrong with me?!? I was such a mess! I didn’t have enough un-spotted fabric to re-cut my bodice so I had to take the easy way out and chop off an inch of the length from the shoulders to raise the dress higher. Of course this was not an ideal fix because it changed the drafting throughout the entire bust area, affecting the armholes and sleeves and making the upper bust area have much more room in it than necessary, but it was the easiest, most efficient fix and it isn’t too noticeable. To accommodate the raised/shorter bodice, I had to take out an inch from the height of the sleeves so that they would fit the shorter armholes, and I also had to extend the opening of the armhole below it’s original drafting so that they wouldn’t be too tight.

Completely separate from the bodice length issue but just as frustrating was the front bust area. It is designed with gathers under each side of the bust, and then it crosses over to wrap at center front, but on me, it looked hideous. Part of this was because I had not yet shortened the bodice, so the waist was way too low making my boobs look like they reached to my belly button (low swinging boobs might be in my future, but I am not there yet!). Beyond that, the look just wasn’t flattering on me- maybe because I don’t have a very full bust so the gathers had nothing to hold. Regardless of the why, I knew I wanted to omit this design detail. I contemplated trading them out for darts but ultimately saw that pleats worked much better, still giving me lots of ease and wiggle room in the bust and keeping in line a little more closely with the original design.

 

Those were the major mistakes changes I made to the dress- once I lifted it up by shortening the bodice, the skirt fit much better (it had initially been too low and wasn’t hitting my bottom in the right spots). Thankfully this tencel twill was a real dream to work with and the fabric was able to withstand a lot of hustle and bustle as I made major and minor changes to the dress throughout construction. I have always been drawn to tencel twill because it has a sandwashed look to it, a tiny hint of sheen that bounces off the fabric when the light hits it in the right spot, so it makes something that would otherwise look ordinary seem much more luxe. The weight of this tencel twill is also particularly nice- it’s got such a nice hand feel, and as you can see, the drape is terrific and pairs well with this dress. The fabric looks beefy without actually being heavy, and it took my sewing AND my unpicking beautifully!

This dress is only lined in the bodice, which makes it feel substantial and supportive while the skirt gets to stay light and breezy. I had been referring to this project as the sherbert dress as it sat in piles of fabric waiting to be sewn together in my craft room, but once I actually started construction I was amazed to see myself transformed into a package of starburst! In this dress I look like a trio of red, pink and lemon candies, and I am not mad at it one bit! This color combo still screams summer, just as I had hoped it would, and I think the choice looks really chic and fun without looking like a kindergartener (no shade to kindergarteners!)

This dress was a lot more work than I was anticipating (again, all because of my own mistakes), but it was totally worth the blood, sweat and tears- I love the overall look of this dress, and something about it feels a little bit vintage to me. I don’t know if it’s the poofy sleeves or the color blocking, but it looks ripped from a page of a seventies teen magazine, and I dig it, man!

Thank you, Stylemaker Fabrics, for inviting me on your fabric tour this year- I never would have made this dress without inspiration from your spring collection, and I know I will have a lot of fun wearing it out in the world! For this dress I used tencel twill in coral, yellow, and melon, and you can find more of the beautiful fabrics in the newest collection at Stylemaker Fabrics here! There is one more stop on the tour tomorrow, by none other than Michelle of Stylemaker Fabrics herself, and you can check out her make here!

Lastly, big thanks to Claire and Lawrence (BFF) for teaming up together to art direct and shoot my looks today- Claire is always a big help to me in documenting garments for my blog, but Lawrence’s keen eye for detail and enthusiasm in helping us stage everything was amazing- it was one of the most relaxing and fun times I have ever had shooting blog photos, which normally feel like a chore. I am so so lucky for you both, and thrilled that we got to work together like this- we gotta do it again!

Lawrence doing final touches LOL!

A Rigel Bomber for Claire

I make Claire stuff all the time- hoodies, binders, approximately 326 pairs of Hudson pants- but not all of it gets catalogued here on my blog. Mostly because getting photos of myself in my makes seems to take forever, so trying to schedule an additional person feels downright preposterous. But every once in a while, I make Claire something so radical that it’s essential to catalogue here, and this Rigel Bomber by Papercut Patterns is a perfect example.

Rigel Bomber

Although I’ve pinned and pined over lots of photos of their patterns, this is the first one I have actually ever made. Hilariously it was gifted to Claire through me (since Claire doesn’t sew), because our friend thought it would be a good style match for her, and she was totally right- this bomber jacket has all the athletic/leisurewear essence of the clothing that Claire is generally drawn to, with a little bit of design flare included.

I have to be honest- I wasn’t a huge fan of this pattern, drafting-wise or construction-wise, but I am not turned off of it enough to not try out another of their patterns in the future, and I do like the outcome of this jacket! Let’s start with the fabric and notions choices, which are probably my favorite part of the whole project, but which definitely took the most time to collect. Last December when Claire and I went down to New Orleans to celebrate our friend Geri’s birthday, we made a stop at Promenade Fabrics because I had heard of what a special store it was. I guess they weren’t quite ready for our crew when we arrived- we were like, 10 people deep, and we barged in on the quiet store with a lot of conversation and squeals of delight (mostly coming from Claire). I got the distinct feeling that the people manning the store didn’t actually think we were going to buy anything. But we did! And this beautiful print is one of them!

Of course Claire is the one who picked this out- it’s got her personality all over it: bold, bright, and totally unique. We had already decided that I would make her the Rigel Bomber but it was taking forever to figure out what fabric she wanted- nothing online caught her interest but she also wasn’t sure what she was looking for. When we walked the aisles of Promenade, she kept asking ‘would this one work?….what about this one?’ and not finding the exact print-to-textile match necessary, but then she found this random little bolt off to the side that caught her eye. We pulled it out and it was stunning! A galaxy print with a bit of embossing on the fabric, lots of silver, gold, yellows and reds. The fabric was expensive but they only had one yard left and although I knew it wasn’t enough to complete the whole jacket, I felt confident that we could supplement the rest of it with something really cool.

Back at home with the pattern pieces cut out I determined that we could get the back and front bodice pieces from the galaxy print and we just needed a different fabric for the sleeves…but what?? I glanced in a corner of my craft room and saw a big box of leather that I had just purchased for a steal from the Brooklyn Shoe Space instagram account. Sticking out of it was a soft, pliable chocolate brown hide that matched the reddish, brownish hues in the galaxy print. “Ever considered leather?” I asked Claire, and her eyes widened.

Once we had the main fabric worked out, I forged ahead. I didn’t muslin (yeah, yeah, I know!) or make any big adjustments, but I did redraft the front neckline to be more rounded- as designed it slants into a V and pulls down kind of low at the front, which I just don’t like very much- I prefer the more classic neckline shape of a letterman’s jacket. Next I re-drafted the facing to match the curve of the neckline of the front bodice, and I liked the look much better, although I could have raised the neckline higher and rounded it out even more. Weirdly, I got pretty stumped by the welt pocket construction…well, not stumped, per se, but dissatisfied. I wasn’t impressed with the techniques they used but I didn’t realize how strange they were til I was already halfway through them and it was too late to change it up. I don’t remember everything I disliked about the method, but I do remember that it lacked a lot of key information, like which direction to press the pocket bags and facings, etc. Pressing properly throughout welt pocket construction is one of the things that makes this design feature look really tidy and professional, so omitting it was a big oversight to me (FYI I really like the technique used in Closet Case’s Sasha Trousers).

I also disliked the size and shape of the pocket- it’s not very deep or long and it was kind of frustrating to sew. Part of it is because the jacket is relatively short and narrow, but I still think it could have a lot more room in the pocket without compromising the design too much. Thankfully the unattractive pocket and welt can’t be seen on the inside of the jacket because I decided to underline it! A regular lining would have been nice but because I used a thick material (leather) for the sleeves, I didn’t want to bulk up that area even more, so I just underlined the back and front bodice pieces with some bright green quilted polyester by basting the lining and outer fabric together and then sewing it as one.

 

Claire had purchased a zipper and a length of binding on etsy once we found her main fabric, but I neglected to tell her not to purchase from any accounts shipping from overseas, since they can take months and months to get here and it’s not the most sustainable way to buy. Spoiler alert: we are still waiting on her zipper from China and it has been THREE MONTHS lol! I ended up having to hunt down ribbing locally once I got to that step in the instructions, and I also picked up a really cool zipper, but lo and behold, when I got back home to use them, they were all wrong. The “ribbing” I bought from Michael Levine’s was actually more of a thin, lightweight, ribbed stretch knit- it was incredibly flimsy when I basted it onto the neckline of the jacket, and the color was also not quite right- a little too bright and orange-y to pair well with the galaxy print. And then! The zipper I got was too long! Which normally wouldn’t matter, but because this is a separating zipper it needs to be exactly the right length for the jacket front.

I took to instagram asking my followers if anyone had any beefy, sturdy ribbing to suggest for me that I could buy online, and Michelle of Stylemaker Fabrics wrote me with a link to the perfect ribbing that she carried in her shop. I bought two packages of waistband ribbing (I used the additional one for the neckband) and matching ribbed cuffs in a color that ended up being the absolute perfect compliment to the jacket- a deep purple-ish wine color that enhanced the purple in the galaxy print and was a nice pairing for the brown leather of the sleeves.


Next I looked on youtube for tutorials on how to shorten a separating zipper, and I found that I could remove some of the teeth with wire cutters and then cut the excess length, but I wasn’t sure how to close off the top of the zipper without an extra pair of zipper stops – apparently you can buy zipper repair kits at a local fabric store, but I wasn’t planning on leaving the house for the rest of the night so I was determined to figure it out with the tools I already had. Somehow, someway, I convinced myself that if I was careful, I could pull the stops off the orginal zipper with pliers and then close them back onto the zipper where I needed them to be, right below where I had cut off the teeth. It took a while and a lot of muscle, but I did it, and it was totally worth it- this zipper is just too cool to not be attached to this jacket.

Because I opted to use leather sleeves for this project, I had to be flexible with a lot of the construction methods- it would have been quick and easy to serge almost the whole jacket, but I can’t run leather through my serger, so I had to sew straight stitches with Nylon thread (which holds up better when sewing leather). I also had to try and reduce bulk in as many places as possible, sometimes skiving the leather down at intersecting seams, sometimes using my mallet to pound the seams flat or open. Using leather took a little bit more time but I adore the look is brings to the jacket.

Another design element I didn’t like so much was the facing, or rather the fact that the facing isn’t instructed to be tacked down inside the jacket around the zipper. On this jacket, the facing constantly wanted to fly open or get scrunched up inside the jacket when it was being put on, and tacking it down was easy since I underlined the outer shell, but on a single layer jacket, depending on the fabric, this might be a difficult thing to do.

This jacket was literally four months in the making but I am glad I kept working on it because it looks really freaking cool and it’s SO CLAIRE! I am hoping that the leather of the sleeves softens up more over time because as of now, even though the leather is soft and pliable, it’s still pretty thick and it needs to be broken in. If I made this again I would probably lengthen it a bit and round out that collar even more (and alter that pocket bag shape!), but I think it fits Claire well and is a beautiful collaborative effort on both our parts. Enjoy, Claire- I love you!