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Green Silk and Velvet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!