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Coming To America

It is embarrassing how long it took me to put this little number together- I think from start to finish two and a half years passed between the skirt and the top! But better late than never, right?

I made this wrap skirt from a vintage 70’s pattern (Butterick 6809) that I saw on someone else’s blog and purchased from etsy. The skirt made me nostalgic, because even though I was a teenager in the 90s, I was always a HUGE fan of a good wrap skirt, and I collected a lot of them throughout my high school years, some from thrift stores and consignment shops, others from some of the cheap fast fashion retailers in the strip mall down the street (do any of y’all remember ‘Rainbow’? or ‘5- 7- 9’? We also had a spot in Birmingham that I loved called ‘Warehouse of Fashions’ that was filled with enough statically clung polyester to make a small army sweat profusely in a snowstorm). No one really thinks of the 90’s as being the era of the wrap skirt, but I’m here to tell you that it was! These skirts were way less stylish and fashion forward than their 70’s-centric counterparts, but they were most definitely available in RTW, often found positioned next to the infamous skorts garment, which was like a mullet for your bottom: a pair of shorts that came equipped with a flap of fabric attached to the side that could be buttoned or clipped closed at the opposite hip to make it look like a skirt in the front. I had these in denim, cotton, plaid, you name it! My love of fashion has come a long way, right? I can only imagine what kind of ensembles I would have put together if I had known how to sew way back then!

Anyways, my love for the wrap skirt waned after I got to college when my attention focused more on cheap JNCOs knock-offs and stretchy boot cut pants (sigh), but I have continued to reserve a little space for the iconic garment my heart. I like the simplicity of a wrap skirt- depending on the fabric you make it in, you can get a lot of drama out of the look, but the architecture remains simple; it’s basically a big rectangle with a long tie at the top and a hole with which to pull the tie through. I can’t remember the name of the blog that I saw this specific pattern on, but I loved how structured the skirt looked on the maker in a stiffer kind of fabric, so I immediately snapped it up to add to my pattern stash.

A little while later when I saw this bright geometric print at The Fabric Store in LA (again, from so many moons ago!), I knew it would be a great pairing of fabric and pattern. I loved the geometry of the textile, the clean white mixed with the bright gold, and it’s also reversible! It isn’t easy to tell in the pics but the main part of the skirt is made with the golder side of the fabric while the waistband and bodice are made with the whiter side (I accidentally put the skirt on the dressform inside out in the above photo so don’t pay attention to that lol). It’s a slick little design choice that doesn’t seem glaringly obvious but succeeds in breaking up the print a bit. So yeah, I knew it would be a great pairing, but I had no idea of the actual outfit I would try and create with the skirt, and once it was completed (again, this is one of the quickest garments to make, definitely a contender for easiest ‘first sewn garment’) I realized that I had no idea what to wear with it. In my head I was gonna pair it with a cute, tight t-shirt or make a nondescript silky tank that wouldn’t detract from the dramatic fabric of the skirt, but alas, I never got around to it. For one thing, I didn’t actually own the t-shirt that I was envisioning would look cute with this skirt, and if I’m honest, that kind of rock’n’roll meets couture look is not really so much my vibe anyways. And as far as the tank is concerned, I couldn’t for the life of me find a fabric that would look good with the white and gold foil.

Skip two and a half years-ish, where the wrap skirt has sat in my closet collecting dust because it doesn’t have a partner in crime yet. I had been perusing sewing blogs and I came across a lovely maker who had just recently made this MimiG crop top (Simplicity 8394) with a gigantic bow on the front. The top was adorable and sweet without looking juvenile. The blogger had paired it with a full skirt in a very pretty soft floral fabric with a bit of body, and I was in love with the whole look. I wondered what I could possibly wear with the top, which was pretty dramatic and unique in it’s style, when suddenly a flash of my gold and white wrap skirt popped into my head. Although it had been years since I had made it, I was almost positive that I had a tiny cut of the fabric left in my stash, probably enough to make this blouse, which surely didn’t require that much material.

 

I grabbed the pattern during the next sale at Joann’s, cut out the pattern pieces, and pulled out my remnant of fabric to see if I had enough to make it. I did. Just baaaaaaaarely. It required a very inventive cutting layout, some shaving off of certain pattern pieces, and the use of a different type of fabric to line the top with, but I made it happen! And it was just as cute as I had hoped! It has a few pieces of boning at the seams to give it some structure and help it maintain it’s shape, but it feels very comfortable and I love the length of the bodice- it’s not so high that it feels like you’re wearing a bikini top, but it is low enough that you get a little peek of belly skin, depending on what garment you are wearing on your lower half. I like that the back of the top buttons up, and I love that the bow isn’t stationary; it is sewn into the side seams, so you can tie the bow in the front or in the back, depending on your preference.

I had planned on tying the bow in the front as the pattern envelope shows, but once I paired it with the skirt, which has a wrap with a side tie, I didn’t quite like how it looked- it was overkill with two big bows screaming for attention, and this is coming from someone who LOVES bows. I was a little disappointed with the final result at first- imagine waiting nearly three years to complete an ensemble and then choosing the one pattern that doesn’t quite pair up perfectly! But then I played around with the bow placement and realized that I quite liked it when the bows were not tied on the same side (like with one in the front and the other in the back). My preference is: bodice bow in the back (party) and skirt bow in front (business). Looking at the profile I think it gives the whole look a bit of artistic flair that I wasn’t anticipating. Now I need to be real with y’all- when the bow is in the back I can’t tie it myself so I had to get Claire’s help with it, and ummm…Well, let’s just say that she doesn’t have a lot of experience tying big bows and making them look nice, even and full. That’s all I’m gonna say! I’m sure she will get better with practice LOLOLOL!

I obviously look like an extra in one of the most prolific movies of my lifetime, Coming To America, so I hope it doesn’t look too costumey because I am really digging it. The fabric isn’t an Ankara or Dutch wax print, but the bold geometry and stiffness of the fabric seems synonymous with it, particularly paired with the patterns I used. All I need is a head wrap and I will be golden! Oh man, I just realized, this would be such a great Halloween costume if I walked around in this ensemble with a basket of flower petals that I dropped all over the ground for people to walk on – I wonder if anyone would get it?

All in all, this was an easy, straightforward make, it doesn’t look like anything else in my #redcarpetDIY wardrobe, and I can’t wait to actually wear it to an event, although I will have to figure out the bow situation first. Maybe it’s because of the heaviness and stiffness of my fabric, but the bow starts to sink down a bit after a while and look pitiful, so I might need (Claire) to tie it perfectly and then sew it closed just to make sure that it stays perky, because you never know, someone might ask me to hop on one foot and bark like a dog (“a BIG dog”) and I want my outfit to pass muster 😉

 

Suits Me, the Refashioners 2017 Challenge!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, damnit!

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

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

 

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

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

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

But then it was time to work on the pants.

Cue horror music ending with a blood curdling scream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Rachel Comey Dress

Everybody loves Rachel Comey and everybody loves Vogue 1501, but it took me a really long time to jump on the bandwagon. I appreciate Rachel Comey’s designs across the board, but I don’t think that they often suit me and my style. At first glance, some of the designs are just a little too out-there for my tastes, and others seem a little too simple, but I am learning that I should give her patterns (and probably others that I judge too quickly) a second glance. It turns out, very little of what Comey designs should be categorized as ‘simple’, and paying more attention to the technical drawings as opposed to the styling on the pattern envelope would probably do me good. Vogue seems to be a fan of matching Comey designs with abstract and/or bold fabrics, and while I LOVE a good print, I think that practice has a tendency to overwhelm the design features of a garment with as much nuanced detail as Comey’s tend to have. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I have definitely overlooked many designs simply because the styled image of the garment turned me off, so it looks like that old adage about books and covers holds true for the sewing world, too; you can’t judge a pattern by it’s envelope.

I first saw Vogue 1501 on either Heather’s blog or IG feed a while ago, before she had even sewn it up (I think she posted a pic of the pattern envelope and shared how excited she was to sew it up). I remember thinking “what a strange design!” and not giving it another thought til I saw the finished makes that she and What Katie Sews created; both were dark colored and beautiful. There was something special about the pattern that I had overlooked before, and seeing it sewn up and being worn on an actual body showed me how classy and sophisticated (and yes, very NYC Magazine Editor!) it was. So I bought the pattern, because I am nothing if not heavily influenced by my favs in the sewing community. It only sat in my craft room for a few weeks before I decided what fabric to us for it.

Interestingly enough, my experience with the fabric I chose was very similar to my experience with the pattern. I had seen the bolt in The Fabric Store several times before and gawked at the beautiful periwinkle blue of the background, but maybe because it was silk, which always requires a bit of extra work and attention) or maybe because I had no ideas of what to make with it, I just disregarded it. It wasn’t until I saw Mimi’s stunning shirtdress version in the same fabric that I felt inspired to grab it, regardless on if I had a plan for it or not, and I am so happy that I did, because this material + pattern are a match made in heaven!

Aside from the gorgeous color palette (that pale peach and blue together are EVERYTHING), I love the Art Deco inspired look of the print. I thought it would pair well with the design of Comey’s pattern, which at first glance seemed pretty modern to me, but after making it, it feels a bit more rooted in vintage elements. I get a 20s/30s vibe from the loose, blousy top paired with the knee-length skirt, but the tucked-in front makes it feel more current. I made a size 8 in the blouse and a size 10 in the skirt, which was easy to combine since the blouse and skirt are separate pieces and are only connected at the waist front by one line of stitching. I could probably have gone down a size/adjusted the blouse to make it even smaller but the loose fit works for the silhouette. I ended up having to take the skirt in significantly at the back seam where the zipper is inserted, but it was easy to do- the pleats at the front of the skirt (which are so pretty draped in this fabric) allows for a lot of flexibility in the body of the skirt, so I only needed to adjust the fit at the waist and then taper down to nothing at the hip.

I had read on Pattern Review that this dress has shoulder pads and an interesting shoulder seam gusset to accommodate the extra material at the top of the shoulder (I had totally overlooked that detail from the pattern envelope info). I wasn’t sure if I wanted shoulder pads or not so I decided to construct the dress with the gusset and just yay or nay the pads when the time came to insert them. I am generally not a fan of shoulder pads in anything other than coats, maybe because my shoulders match up pretty well with the width of my hips and don’t droop down, so pads tend to make my shoulders look incongruous with the rest of my body. Once the gussets were in, I sewed up a thin shoulder pad from some quilt backing and covered it in the dress fabric, then inserted it into the blouse. It didn’t make a significant difference with the overall shape of the dress on my figure, but you could see the edges of the shoulder pad imprinted on the inside of the blouse, which was very noticeable and messy looking. I decided to forgo the pads but I kept the gussets in because it would have been too complicated to try and remove them without ruining the fabric.

For some reason I totally forgot to use French Seams when I started sewing the blouse of this dress, so there are all kind of finishes on the inside: a couple seams are serged, most of the others are frenched, and I managed to get a few Hong Kong seams in there, too! Ha! As long as they don’t come unraveled, it doesn’t matter which technique I use.

I recognize that the busy-ness of my pattern hides a lot of the design details of the dress (something that I didn’t like about the styling on the pattern envelope), but maybe I just like my fabric print better than Vogue’s so I give it a pass. I can definitely see myself making this garment again, in a solid color this time, and maybe a few tweaks to the fit; I would be interested in removing a tad bit of length from the blouse (mine billows out a bit and I have to pull the blouse up at the shoulders so that it sits straight and doesn’t fall forward), skipping the insertion of the shoulder pad gussets, and I would also like to play around with the idea of shortening the back part of the blouse so that you can see the skirt back; a bit of a play on a crop top look while keeping the front the same. It might not work, but it’s certainly worth a try! When I envision this new version of the dress, it’s peach or orange hued with a rich, velvety texture, so let’s see if this ends up coming to fruition!

The Rachel Wrap Dress in Vintage Fabric

 

I didn’t grow up in the 70s, so although I have always understood Diane Furstenberg’s work during that period as iconic, I never had any firsthand experience with it. I knew that her signature wrap dresses were a defining aesthetic of the decade, making women of all shapes, sizes and ages feel beautiful with their simple, figure flattering design, but I figured that all wrap dresses were essentially the same. GUESS WHAT I WAS WRONG. And I didn’t know how wrong I was til I got my hands on an authentic DVF design a few years ago from a TJ Maxx in a ritzy suburb of LA.

sidenote: The “ritziness” of this TJ Maxx is important to note because not all discount brand name clothing stores like this are created the same- this Maxx had a whole section of expensive designer garments with price tags way higher than I was used to seeing at, say, the TJ Maxx in Birmingham that I spent my high school years shopping in. In my opinion, a Maxx’s proximity to high-end department stores in a large, fashion forward metropolitan area has an effect on the kind of stock the store will have, but you also have to take into account how busy that store will be. For example, the TJ Maxx in Manhattan was always a dud for me because all the super nice clothes that came through there got nabbed almost immediately by all the stylists, fashionistas and bargain-hunters that made it their job to find good deals before everyone else in the city nabbed them up. I am convinced those shoppers had people on the “inside” alerting them to when they got especially good shipments of clothing. Anyway, this Maxx in the ritzy suburb was a goldmine because it was close enough to the Bloomingdales/Nordstroms/Saks of LA, but far enough outside of the city to have not been scavenged yet.

a DVF original

Anyways, as I was saying, I found a bright orange, white and black floral printed DVF wrap dress on the rack, tried it on, and was very, very impressed. Every wrap dress I had ever owned, worn or looked at before suddenly vanished from my memory and all that was left was me and this gorgeous garment, which was miraculously impervious to any flaws created by the overhead fluorescent lights of the dressing room. I swear I felt a wind machine start to blow on me as I oohed and ahhed over myself in front of the mirror. The fit was spot on, and the design made all the right things happen exactly where they needed to- the hem ended at the perfect spot just above my knees, the waist was ever-so-slightly gathered in the back so that there were no puckers or folds in weird places, the skirt hugged my hips and then dropped straight down at my thighs giving my shape an hourglass frame without making it impossible to walk. The fabric was made of a 2-way stretch knit so it had give in some places but felt stable and secure everywhere else. It was comfortable, it was sexy without revealing too much of my skin, and the color and pattern was eye-catching without being too busy. I was in love! This DVF dress was much pricier than anything I had ever paid for at TJ Maxx before, but it seemed worth it. This was at a time when I was only dabbling in becoming a better sewist and I hadn’t yet committed myself to making all my clothes, so finding a RTW garment in a discount department store that looked this good was rare for me.

just posting these DVF wrap dress shots for comparison’s sake!

Three years later, this DVF wrap dress is one of maybe 5 RTW dresses that I still own, but it is hands down the one that gets the most wear. For three years it has been my go-to audition dress for any character with the words “sexy” or “sophisticated” in her breakdown description, and I have gotten at least one compliment every single time I have worn it.

another sidenote: I just realized I have never washed this dress in the three years I have owned it!?!?! Hahahahaha!! That probably seems ridiculous to some people but unless I have a visible stain/dirt on a garment or if I know I sweat a lot in it because I lost my mind on the dance floor at an event (which happens A LOT), I don’t launder the dressier items in my closet very frequently. I was always taught that this preserves the life of your clothing, and because the majority of wears for this dress have been for only a few hours at a time- the approximate length of an audition- I simply didn’t notice that it needed immediate cleaning. Of course, after this realization I ran to the closet to pull the dress out and examine the underarms and…ummmm…IT DEFINITELY NEEDED CLEANING! The pits were yellowed from sweat + deodorant and they also had the not-so-faint smell of old sweat combined with fermented grapefruit and cedar, which are the essential oils I like to use most in my homemade deodorants! LOL! Needless to say the dress went straight to the cleaners!)

 

ANYWAYS! I have thought many times of how awesome it would be to replicate this wrap dress in other colors and prints, but this dress’s design is a little more intricate than it appears to be at first glance. I’m sure that the DVF company has played around with the original concept over the past few decades to add a little more interest and nuance to the design, and the dress I own seems to be a more recent incarnation. It has a seam at the back waist which allows the skirt to be ever-so-slightly gathered to pull into the waist while also allowing room for a fuller bottom, and the outside front edge of the dress where the neckline binding meets the wrap tie is constructed in an interesting way- it’s gathered so that the edge of the skirt creates lovely draped lines that fall down across your hip. I’m not entirely sure why that design element was included, but I’m guessing it provides a little visual interest while also camouflaging any “problem” areas around the hips and thighs (that’s not my term- I’m just using it because I figure that’s what the fashion world would call an area of the body that they think many women wouldn’t want to draw attention to).

 

I can’t imagine replicating my DVF dress successfully without taking it apart (I’m sure a more skilled sewist could do it, but that sewist is not me), so for now it will stay in my closet, finally laundered (LOL) until I get sick of it or it doesn’t fit well anymore at which point I can take it apart and create a pattern from it. This of course got me thinking about how I should just look for a wrap dress pattern to replicate the general look, if not the exact DVF design. I know that DVF doesn’t license her patterns anymore so the only way to get your hands on one of her original Vogue designs is to stumble across a paper pattern at an estate sale or pay upwards of $100 for it on eBay. Since I have not had any luck on the former and I refuse to do the latter, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for something comparable by another designer. I tried the Very Easy Vogue wrap dress pattern and attempted to make a version of it for my mother before working on one for myself, but soon after I started constructing it I knew it wasn’t the dress for me- the design and fit were not what I was looking for, and I ultimately had to trash the whole project because my knit crepe fabric was too heavy for the (weirdly large) skirt portion of the dress and it was sagging and drooping in all the wrong places. Eventually I stumbled upon Pattern Review (I don’t use this site as a resource as much as I should!) and found some promising wrap dress designs by indie pattern makers. One was called The Onion dress and the other was by a company called Maria of Denmark. I had trouble finding out where to buy the first pattern online so I decided to get the Rachel Wrap Dress by MOD instead and keep my fingers crossed that it would be a winner.

Although the finished product is a much more simple design than that of my original DVF dress, I have to say that I love the Rachel Wrap just as much. It is an incredibly quick project to sew, despite the snafus I made in the construction of mine that I then had to spend a fair amount of time undoing. It isn’t fussy or overly detailed so the fit is smooth and classic, giving the exact silhouette you’re probably looking for if you’re in the market for a wrap dress. Now in most of the finished versions I saw online, sewists used a simple cotton jersey to make their wrap dress in, usually in a fun novelty print. These looked great, giving it a very easy and casual feeling, but I was way more interested in ramping my wrap dress up and using a more sophisticated fabric. Maybe it’s because I always wear my DVF wrap dress when I am dressing up for an event or an audition, but I much prefer a more styled, dolled-up version of this kind of design as opposed to a casual one. No matter if you prefer to dress your wrap up or down, I love that this pattern accommodates the whole spectrum- you really can’t go wrong!

 

So about my fabric- I have had this in my stash for probably 3 years. After moving to LA four years ago I became slightly obsessed with going to estate sales where sewists and crafters used to live. I would find the most amazing vintage notions, old quilting fabrics and random bundles of sewing goodies and I would be so excited to give them a new life in some way. Once my fabric stash got too big for comfort I stopped going to the sales, but I accumulated some pretty fantastic vintage pieces in my heydey, including this incredible silky 2 way stretch knit. I have no idea what it’s made of, all I know is that when I got it it smelled like a stinky vintage store but the color palette was gorgeous. I saved this fabric for a long time because even though I don’t think the print is dated, it reminded me of a 70’s disco babe, and I wanted to wait for a pattern that could really amp up that retro-feeling. Last week I was looking for some scrap fabric in my fabric bureau for a different project and this black and peach yardage practically jumped out at me. I had literally JUST purchased the Rachel Wrap dress the night before and I knew immediately that these two would be a marriage made in heaven.

As much as I love this fabric, I decided not to make a muslin before cutting into it, and thankfully the sewing goddesses were on my side. I cut a size ___ at the bust and a ____ at the waist and hips. The instructions for this pattern are just ok. I knew how to construct most of this garment except for the neck binding so I didn’t need to rely on them very much, but there are no line drawings to accompany the steps and the photos (and one illustration) that are used are pretty subpar. One of the images is downright confusing! I sat at my sewing table scratching my head for 5 minutes trying to decipher what these wavey lines and color codes meant and finally I just ignored it and tried to figure it out myself. You can complete this dress in a few hours but it took me a bit longer because I made one silly mistake from the very beginning. I decided to interface my neck binding to give it more structure and keep it from stretching out too much because I know that lots of complaints about wrap dresses revolve around the dress needing to fit better around neckline so that the wrap at the bust doesn’t sag out and expose people’s cleavage and bras.

I didn’t realize that the neck binding in this pattern is drafted to be stretched out along the neck of the dress considerably when you construct it- that elasticity is what gives the wrap it’s snugness at the bust and keeps all your goodies covered up and supported. Initially I just thought that the neck binding was cut way too short but then I realized it is actually supposed to stretch a lot. Thankfully I was able to remove my interfacing from the piece and get the band to fit the neckline, but now that the dress is completed I would definitely add a bit more length to the binding. The binding at the neck is stretched out so much that it creates little gathers along the neckline, and maybe if you have a really full bust or torso your body will fill up all that space so that the gathers are stretched out and the neckline looks smooth, but on me it just looks puckered and weird- that amount of stretch in the neckband is unnecessary on a smaller bust like mine. I carefully steamed and ironed out the fabric around the neckline which helped ease the gathers a lot. It’s not obvious enough for me to dislike the dress at all, but again, next time I make it I will try adding an inch of two of length to the neckline pattern piece so that it doesn’t need to be stretched out as much.

I had a bit of trouble getting the edges of the straps of the dress (where the binding intersects with the dress fronts) to lay smooth and flat. This is a bit difficult to describe without any photos, so I forgive me for that oversight! I am not sure what the culprit is, but I suspect that more detailed instructions for these steps would have been incredibly helpful. The issue resulted in the front edges of the dress, which get turned in towards the inside to create a hem, curving in a weird way and not laying flat. But when I tried to keep the fold on the edge straight, the section above it where the neck binding and strap met would not stay even and would morph into a very wonky shape. Again, explaining this doesn’t make much sense when you can’t see what I am talking about, so just know that I somehow managed to unpick my stitches and shift the pieces around so that they looked even and smooth. I’m not sure if this is a drafting issue or just a miscommunication in the instructions for this part of construction, so next time I make it I will pay close attention to how these steps are supposed to be worked (and what I did to fix them, if necessary).

demonstrating how much fabric is underneath the wrap of the dress – it’s plenty! so less chance of the wind blowing your skirt wide open!

After taking the photos for this dress, realized that I didn’t like the edges of the sleeves. Maybe because the fabric is relatively fancy or maybe because I prefer cuffs on sleeves in general, but the simple folded hems with twin needle stitching just didn’t do it for me. They looked too casual for a dress with this much oompf. So a couple of weeks after completing this garment I went back and took out the stitching at the sleeve hems. I cut out some cuffs whose final measurements would equal the width of the neckline band for visual consistency and then I serged them into the sleeve edges. The addition of the cuffs added a tiny bit more length to my sleeves (which I didn’t mind as they already ended a couple of inches beneath my elbow) and looked way more finished than they had previously. To finish the front edges and bottom hem of the dress, I folded in the allowance and used a twin needle to stitch everything down as I had initially done on the sleeve hems. It looks clean and pretty on the inside.

Despite my complaints about the sub par sewing instructions, I do think this is an easy pattern to make that comes together quickly and yields pretty dynamite results. You are required to draft a couple of pattern pieces (I think just for ties, whose length you can adjust depending on your preference- I made mine longer than suggested) and it’s important to note that you have to add seam allowances to certain parts of the dress and that not all of the seam allowances are the same, but those are listed pretty clearly in the instructions. One last thing is that this dress is the perfect length on me as drafted, and I usually have to shorten patterns considerably to keep them from being too long, so if you are one of those #blessed with long limbs, keep that in mind if you don’t want this to end up being too short on you.

Big thumbs up to this pattern- I hope some of you who have been keeping your eyes out for a classic but simple wrap dress give this one a shot!

 

A Pin Up Dress in Raw Silk

I have a crazy story about this fabric. It was included in one of about 3 other gigantic bags full of used men’s clothes and old fabric remnants which was “gifted” to me by someone I didn’t know very well. I had offered to teach some friends how to sew a simple project at my house, suggesting they bring a friend if they wanted, and one of them brought someone who basically used my house as a Goodwill. Someone in this individual’s family used to sew and they had inherited some bags of (mostly unusable) fabric…which they in turn gave to me. They included about a dozen men’s button up shirts, too,  just in case I wanted to “use them for scraps or something”. Initially I thought that the gesture was thoughtful, albeit misguided, but soon it dawned on me that the person could have cared less about whether or not I was actually interested in what was in those bags- they just dumped them on my floor without a second thought because they didn’t want it taking up space in their house anymore. As you know, I am all about recycling fabric and clothes that have more life in them, but not everyone’s trash is someone else’s treasure- sometimes it’s just trash! A better way of handling this situation would have been for them to ask me ahead of time if I had any interest in their stuff before lugging it all to my house. Or at the very least, they could have brought the bags and asked if I would like to go through them to keep anything that might be of use. As it turned out there was hardly anything worthwhile in their giant pile of stuff when I rifled through it a couple of days later, mostly jagged fragments of cloth that had already been cut into and some stained men’s clothing, which was now of course my responsibility to get rid of. I threw away the remnants that couldn’t be salvaged, delivered everything else to charity, and kept one of the few shining lights in the pile, a narrow three-yards-long cut of a jewel-toned raw silk, for myself. I couldn’t imagine what I would use it for, but it was in great condition and I couldn’t stand to throw it out.

Ultimately this story has a happy ending because, even though I never wanted the fabric in the first place, I did end up making something beautiful with it, which seems almost worth having to deal with that annoying situation…almost. What is it with people giving crafters their discards in hopes that they can magically turn them into something beautiful? Maybe I am just sensitive about the assumptions that non-makers tend to put on us (since you really enjoy sewing it would be a cinch for you to make something for me! and my personal favorite, you should sell your items! I would buy them! so you need to SELL THEM!!!!!) but I tend to regard things outside of my wheelhouse with a bit more respect and sensitivity than people show to me. In my experience, questions invite dialogue while presumptuous declarations just show ignorance.

ANYWAYS. This dress! It’s awesome! I was genuinely surprised at how gorgeous the fit was when I went through all these photos- I hadn’t worn this #redcarpetDIY dress yet and it had been almost a year since I made it, so my memory was poor. But I feel like a bombshell in it! And that is NOT a familiar feeling for me. Cute? Sure! Pretty? Thanks! Glamorous? Aw, shucks! But sexy? Nope, not me. Well, not me unless I am wearing this dress apparently. It’s a pretty simple silhouette and that’s why I was so attracted to it. I love Gertie’s books because they have so many great classic blocks included in them, and though I don’t fit perfectly into her drafted patterns (the bust is always WAY bigger on me despite my measurements matching up with the sizes), I have found that the extra work needed to alter the fit is always worthwhile because they suit my style well and I know I will use them over and over again.

This dress was the first time I used boning in a bodice, and since it was kind of an experiment to see how I liked the process, I used the cheap plastic kind. It’s fine for this dress which probably won’t get TONS of wear since it’s so dressy, but I make all my boned bodices with steel wire boning now, which is much stronger and curves to your shape better than this plastic does (on me, at least- mine came in a roll and it was impossible to get the curve out of it before I sewed it in the dress).

I followed the instructions for making the bodice of this dress in Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book with the heart shaped neckline. The instructions were pretty good and definitely gave me a solid foundation for the concepts, but I feel like there were a few important bits of information left out. For example, I don’t recall any mention in the book of using an additional fabric to give your bodice more support, so the first few dresses I made with strapless bodices just have a shell with a boned lining attached, as opposed to a shell, a lining and another layer of sturdier fabric, either made of muslin or hair canvas, sewn inside of that. (And if this information is in the book and I just missed it, apologies- either way it’s still a great book!) I didn’t even know that a THIRD layer to give the bodice more of a sturdy foundation was a thing til Renee mentioned it to me. Without this additional layer of a stronger fabric, particularly for softer, drapey-er fabrics like the ones I used, the bodice can be a bit flimsy. I don’t have a big bust so I can totally get away with wearing this dress and not worrying that anything is going to pop out, but it would still be nice to have a more supported bodice when there are no straps to hold it up. Also Gertie illustrates a simple plan for how to lay out your boning placement across the bodice, but she doesn’t explain when and if you should deviate from that plan, and there are several patterns in the book that, as per the illustrations, have a different boning layout than the one she describes in the instructions. It’s unclear when you should make those adjustments and why- maybe it’s up to the discretion of the maker? Regardless, more information would have been helpful.

Aside from that issue, I found the construction of the bodice pretty straightforward once I altered the pattern pieces for the bodice (I didn’t use a SBA, I just took the seams in where needed and it worked fine). The skirt took some work, too, but I am more familiar with adjusting that type of garment so I knew how to make the changes I wanted- basically I just baste my skirt pieces together and try it on over and over again, altering the seam lines until they look and feel right. I made my first pencil skirt from another of Gertie’s books and it has served me well, but I started from scratch with this pattern block in case it was drafted differently than her previous books.

Unfortunately I could not manage to get my skirt darts and bodice darts lined up properly in the front! When I moved them on the skirt they made the skirt fit differently, and I didn’t want to rearrange the seam lines on the bodice because I had already sewn it together and I was too lazy to take it apart. So the front lines don’t match up at all. WHO CARES! Since I have such a significant curve in my hips, the seams on the sides bulged a bit in weird ways once I got the fit right, so had to cut notches in the seams to make them lay flat. It makes the skirt hug my body perfectly but the insides look wonky- it’s hard to finish a seam with notches cut into it. My solution was to use bias seam binding on that area, carefully sewing the edges of the little triangles created by the notches, but it still doesn’t look very clean to me. It’s okay though- next time I will probably just serge those seams individually (right and left side) close to the seam line and see if that gives the seam enough flexibility to stretch around my curves.

One other issue I have with the way this dress looks is the top of the heart shaped bodice- it has a little fold on either side of center that I can’t get to straighten out for the life of me! I trimmed and notched those seams and I also used a small length of basting stitch on the lining at the center front to gather the middle of the “heart”, as suggested in the book- still has a tiny fold. No idea what I did wrong, but it could just be an issue with the raw silk- it was pretty good to work with but certain areas had different characteristics, and maybe it’s just a little stretchy in that area.

For a dress that looks as painted-on as this one, it is surprisingly comfortable! Or at least it is standing up- I can’t remember if I have tried to sit down in it yet. I used this same pencil skirt block matched with a different bodice from Gertie’s book and I had to drive to an audition in it the other day. You guys. It was hysterically uncomfortable! I had to squeeze my knees together super tight just to drive my car and at one point I considered unzipping the entire back of the dress so that I would have room enough for my legs to move around freely. But that seemed like a dangerous prospect- what if I couldn’t zip myself up in the car by myself or I broke the zipper and had to have my whole backside exposed to the CBS lot before I could get help?? As long as you aren’t driving, this dress is manageable- all you have to do is sit on the very edge of whatever seat you are in and keep your legs either crossed or zipped up tightly at the knees and thighs. This must be how Marilyn Monroe walked around for an entire decade. The book suggests using a waist stay for this dress but I didn’t see the point- the skirt isn’t heavy and it is fitted to my body so closely that there isn’t much wiggle room leftover. Also the bodice isn’t really strong enough to be held up by a waist stay- I think the stay is most beneficial in something more rigid than mine turned out to be.

Okay, so that’s the dress! Not bad for my first attempt at a boned bodice! I made this bodice twice more over the past year but I am still perfecting my construction. I have another dress like this lined up in my cue, this time a boned strapless bodice attached to a circle skirt, and I will definitely use an additional sturdy fabric coupled with the lining and a waist stay. And I might play around with the neckline a bit, but the heart shaped bodice is so just so pretty- I might not be able to stay away from it!

Holidays in Velvet

I have never made myself a dress for Christmas before, but since this was our year to spend with Claire’s family and they had a ‘Progressive Dinner’ planned (which entails starting dinner at one house with drinks and apps, moving on to another home for the Christmas meal and then a final house for dessert and presents), I figured this was as good a time as any to whip up some festive attire. Truth be told, the Christmas dress only came into being after I walked into The Fabric Store  last December and saw a roll of the most luxurious black velvet laying on one of the tables. It was so soft, the fabric had a gorgeous drape, and the velvet had so many dimensions. Black is my least favorite color to wear so I pretty much never ever sew it unless it has a print, but this velvet was too special to not make an exception- when the light hit it you could see all the texture of the cloth while the deep black color seemed to emit golden hues at certain angles. What made me more in love with the fabric was that I immediately knew what I wanted to make with it, which is pretty rare for me. I had bought a Big Four pattern when there was a massive sale on them at Joanns. My Dad had come down to visit me in Savannah for the weekend and since I didn’t have a car, he happily drove me to the grocery store, Target, and Joanns so that I could grab some notions that my local fabric store down the street didn’t carry (f I hadn’t mentioned it before, my Dad is exceptionally sweet and I wish I had a photo of him patiently sitting next to me holding my basket of thread and zippers as I thumbed through the $1 bin of patterns).

Anyways, one of the patterns I nabbed was this Simplicity 1585 Project Runway dress with raglan sleeves. The Project Runway patterns are great because they give you lots of options for adding details and design elements to what is otherwise a simple garment, and this one had some really cool options for adding piping and ribbon. The style lines of the dress seemed like they would suit my black velvet beautifully. My fabric wasn’t super heavy or thick, but I still thought it would best suit a pattern without a lot of bulk and gathers, and because of the way the lines of the skirt flowed, velvet seemed like a match made in heaven. Turns out, nothing is heavenly when you are sewing with velvet :/

I re-upholstered an armchair in velvet last year and had to do a fair amount of machine sewing for the piping and seat cushion but I didn’t have any trouble with it at all- maybe because it was a heavy weight fabric and backed by sturdy cloth, it behaved like any other upholstery fabric I had worked with before. My precious, supple black velvet on the other hand? Totally different story. I found a little bit of helpful information about sewing with velvet on the Threads Magazine website, but nothing could have quite prepared me for how frustrating it would actually be! I imagine that sewing with velvet knits is a little less complicated because you can just power through most all the seams with a serger and be done with it, but my velvet required a lot more attention than that.

my dressform after a very brief encounter with this velvet dress- all seams were sewn, this was just the leftover dander clinging to the inside!

The biggest thing I learned about velvet during this project is that it is MESSY; I was constantly wiping teeny tiny little threads of black off my sewing machine and work space. I guess this is because the threads in velvet fabric are short and piled as opposed to long and woven, so when you cut it, the hairs are no longer attached to anything and they just fall all over the place. My velvet also behaved a little bit like silk when I was cutting out the pattern pieces, but because I was on a tight timeline with a little less than three days to make this dress before we left town, I didn’t want to spend too much time cutting it out. So. I cut it on the fold. I would NOT recommend this! Cut your slinky velvet out in a single layer like a responsible seamster!

 

The next biggest thing I learned about sewing with velvet is that it doesn’t want to be sewn!  You think I’m kidding? It’s as if the fabric had a life of it’s own. When sewing two pieces of velvet together, they just don’t want to stay in place and have a tendency to slip and slide out from under the needle. I tried pinning my layers all kinds of different ways but it still wouldn’t behave, so then I tried a tip from Threads Mag that suggests you use a fabric adhesive on the seam allowances of your pieces, press them together, and then sew. This worked about 80% of the time, but it took a lot of extra work and patience and it of course made things even more messy. To keep the glue from spraying all over my cutting table, I would place paper underneath the edge of the piece of fabric I was spraying, but soon enough that paper would become tacky with glue and wind up transferring itself onto my hands or other parts of the fabric. Add to this all the tiny hairs of stray velvet that was covering my workspace already and you can imagine what a sticky mess it was. I was surprised that the glue didn’t really ruin any of my fabric, though- there are a few places where there is still glue within the seam, but mostly it wiped off pretty easily, and the glue itself tended to lose it’s bond after several minutes, so if you mistakenly glued any pieces together, you could pull them apart without too much trouble.

One of my mistakes in making this dress (and oh boy, there were many!) was thinking I could add all those cute details (like the piping around the arm seams and the keyhole at the neck) using a satin contrast fabric on top of the velvet. I gave it the old college try, but working with the glue and the piping and two finicky fabrics was more than my poor little maker psyche could handle. The nail in the coffin was finally completing one side of piping and realizing that, aside from being uneven and wonky looking, the velvet combined with the satin piping looked an awful like a velour Adidas track suit from the 70s. And obviously that was NOT the look I was going for. Ultimately I abandoned the piping and the final result of the dress is better for it, but I will most definitely be making this dress again in the future with a less finicky fabric and using the piping as intended.

I made a quick muslin of the bodice of this dress sans sleeves since most Big 4 patterns don’t fit me right out the box, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was an exception, save for taking in the seam allowances in the back (I have a ‘small back’ in pattern adjustment lingo and have had to take in fabric at the back zipper on every dress I have ever made). The only real issue I had with the pattern were the sleeves, so of course I was kicking myself that I didn’t include these pieces in my muslin from the very beginning. It’s hard to tell if the sleeves were wonky because of my fabric or because of the design; as drafted the short raglan sleeve version has two pleats at the cuff in addition to gathers on either side of them, and they are connected to a band in contrast fabric (mine was the cream colored satin). For the life of me I could not get these sleeves to work. My velvet fabric seemed too bulky to accommodate both the pleat and the gathers, and because the sleeve is so small, it was also hard to get fabric adhesive on the seam allowance properly, so I had to resort to using pins again to keep the pieces together under the needle. As a result, the fabric slid around so much that I couldn’t successfully sew a consistent seam allowance along the edge and the sleeve ended up looking pathetic- it hung down lower in some places than others, it was weirdly puffy around the shoulder, and it was also too tight around my arm. I spent HOURS on these sleeves before realizing that the only way to save the dress would be to omit the satin sleeve cuff and the pleats, loosen the gathers, and use a cuff made out of velvet instead; the velvet tended to work better with self fabric than satin. When I finished the sleeves and tried the dress on, it was ten times better than before- the sleeve lay smoothly off the shoulder and didn’t look too billowy.

Finally, I had a bit of trouble with my invisible zipper- I could not manage to get it to lay smoothly at the very bottom where the two back pieces of the skirt connect together again. I am pretty good with invisible zip insertion so I am just gonna blame this on the fabric, too. I don’t think it’s bad enough to notice unless you’re looking for flaws, and nobody does that on Christmas day! If I were ever to wear this dress to a red carpet event though, I would definitely try to figure out how to make it lay flat.

All in all, this make was pretty successful considering that I had never worked with this kind of velvet before and it was brand new pattern to me and I had time constraints. I feel very elegant in this, because for one, velvet is an extraordinary fabric to wear, and two, this pattern works well on me. The skirt is flowy and I love the way the high bodice looks and feels. I also love the design of the collar and the keyhole at the chest, which gave just enough of a peekaboo to be interesting without making me feel self conscious. The finished garment has a vintage A Doll’s House vibe to it, which was probably due to my color and fabric choices, and I really love how it turned out. I will absolutely make this dress again (but not in velvet!) and I will absolutely sew with velvet again (but not in this pattern)! I am super interested to try out some different types of velvet next. I have a couple of yards of a beautiful, sturdier purple velvet from The Fabric Store that I think would make a great pair of cigarette pants, and I am also interested in getting my hands on some stretch velvet and using a super simple pattern which will let the velvet take centerstage. But not anytime soon; it’s been almost a month and I am still recuperating from this dress!

Swans and Svaneke No. 8

I mentioned this dress in a blog post from last year about my cool lemon two-piece #redcarpetDIY outfit. The two completed projects look quite different from one another but they came from the same pattern by How To Do Fashion, Savaneke No. 8. I won’t rehash all the details from the make since you can read them in the aforementioned post, but just as an overview, here is what I thought of the pattern:

  • nice versatility in the design which allows for several different looks within one pattern
  • some of the “views” included in the collection photos are actually pattern hacks whose instructions don’t come with the pattern- you have to hunt them down on the designer’s blog
  • the fit is a bit small in the shoulders and bust for me but overall the drafting matched my body fairly well
  • instructions are not very detailed and while this is fine for an experienced sewist who might have their own methods of construction, a beginning sewist might find them hard to follow
  • pattern designs are all classic, inspired and well-thought out vintage replicas

Once I discovered the How To Do Fashion blog and saw more of the pattern hacks available, I became slightly obsessed with the ruffled button band that she added to one of the views of this pattern; such a simple way to add some extra drama to a simple silhouette! Because this was a pattern hack, the actual construction information was even less clear than what came with the pattern and I had to do a lot of piecing-things-together to make it work.

For example, the original pattern (seen above in line drawings) includes three separates- a dirndl skirt, a crop top and a button up blouse with a peplum. But in this photo of one of the completed projects from the design (below), you can see that the peplum top has been attached to the skirt with the addition of a waistband. This look is technically a pattern hack (in addition to the ruffled button band that I added to my make) and therefore there is no information in the included instructions for how to make it. But the task didn’t seem all that difficult- at the very least I know how to sew a bodice onto a skirt!

Turns out this hack was a tiny bit trickier than I anticipated. Working entirely off of the photo, I pieced my dress together omitting the button band and adding the ruffle (which, by the way, was super easy to construct and fun to see come together). I realized in the middle of sewing the sleeves onto the bodice that I didn’t have a plan for how to get in and out of the dress. The dirndl skirt is drafted with a zipper at center back, but I had already cut my back bodice piece out on the fold and it was now too late to add a seam allowance to the back to insert a zipper that went from skirt to bodice. And unfortunately the way the bodice is drafted you can’t simply pull the dress over your head to get in and out of it- it’s too tight. So I decided to rotate my skirt so that it’s zipper would be on the side seam, and I extended the zipper up the bodice’s side seam to just underneath the arm. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze but I can successfully get the dress on and off with the side zip and front buttons undone. But because I altered the position of the skirt, I had a seam right down the front center of it. Thankfully this beautiful swan print fabric from Fabrika in Savannah, GA is just the right amount of busy when gathered at the waist that you don’t even notice the break in the fabric pattern. (Whew!)

I am still intrigued by how the designer made the blue striped dress above- from the angle of the photo you can’t tell if she stuck a zipper for the bodice on the other side of the dress facing away from the camera or in the back- or maybe she didn’t use one at all?? Doubtful, but I have seen greater magic in the sewing world. However she managed to do it, I am happy with the way that I configured mine and I am also thrilled that I somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the construction process so that I didn’t ruin the dress before figuring out how to make it wearable. I made the same size in this top as the yellow two piece number, but this top fit me much better and I am assuming it has to do with a little more give and flexibility in my cotton swan fabric than the thicker jaquard.

The only adjustment I made to the pattern (aside from the ruffled button band) was to take out a huge swath of fabric at the back bodice. I think the adjustment is technically for a swayback, which I have never had to use before. All I know is that when I initially sewed my bodice to my skirt, it was even all the way across the front and sides and then it drooped and pooled dramatically at my lower back, so much so that the skirt was several inches lower in the back than the front. Ultimately I raised the whole waistline of the dress higher because it was too low for my tastes, and I ended up taking out a full 3 inches + at center back and then tapered to nothing at the sides. It was such a weird shape and large quantity of fabric to cut out that I felt sure it was going to look noticeable and not sit right on my body, but it looks and feels totally fine so I guess I made the right alteration.

The only other issue I had with the dress was aligning my buttonholes the wrong way. For some reason I made horizontal ones instead of vertical ones, and because of how big my buttons are, they take up too much space across the width of the button band so there that is only a tiny fraction of fabric on either side of the holes I made, which means that that fabric can rip if I am not super careful with how I button the buttons. On top of that, the horizontal buttonholes allow the button band to spread open across my chest, which keeps the band edges from lining up properly. To fix this I installed some snaps in the middle of the bands and in between each button which keeps the band in place and it works beautifully, although it’s a pain to close the band with all those little notions lined up!

The frill around the button band would probably look better on a fabric with a less dramatic print- as it is now you can’t really see that detail too well because SWANS! But I don’t dislike the look of the frill at all and I totally going to stick a band on another button down shirt at some point in the future. My castmate Alano wore a gorgeous button up shirt the other day that had a frill along each button band, but his band was way smaller and more subdued than the one on my dress. It gave his shirt a nice visual pop without looking overdone or exaggerated and I would love to incorporate that into a make one day. Love getting inspiration from unexpected sources!

 

 

70’s Print for a 70’s Pattern

As you may well know, The Fabric Store has been carrying Liberty prints for a while now, and when I first saw them in person, the selection was both thrilling and overwhelming. Liberty has long established itself as the go-to fabric supplier for all things floral, but I soon found out that delicate flowers were not the only thing they were good at; as seen in the cityscape fabric for this dress I made last year, Liberty can do modern and abstract just as well as they can do feminine and organic. They carry large and small prints, both quaint and sophisticated, in a bigger variety than ever before, and although they have plenty of woven silks and cottons in their arsenal, they also have a growing selection of stretch knits, which is what I always gravitate towards. Truth be told, sewing with silk still scares me, and while I have had successes in the past, the overwhelming outcome of my silk projects has been abysmal.

Despite my history with silk, I knew I needed to get over my fear sooner than later because the three yard cut of Liberty silk Cynthia sent me (Cynthia is one of girls at the LA shop, and she is SO helpful and intuitive about picking out fabrics and prints! Call them for all your fabric shopping needs!) was just screaming to be sewn into something spectacular. I am astonished at how technically busy this print is without it feeling overwhelming or loud. The beauty of this fabric is a real testament to the individual who designed the print; the color combo is mostly monochromatic with subdued hues of browns, mauves and greens, and the shades of brighter colors in the print are used so sparingly that they don’t feel splashy. But the real star of the print for me is the line work used. The shapes are not exactly flowers and they aren’t exactly paisley- I don’t really know what to call them. When you look closely, the print of the fabric looks more like intricate doodles squeezed together and delineated by color. However you want to describe it, I think it’s stunning. Usually when working with a busy print I feel pretty nauseated about halfway through construction, but that was not the case with this one at all- each seam gave me an opportunity to discover something new in the print and my admiration for the beautiful color palette just continued to grow the further I got along in my process.

Anyways, I have tried the method of cutting out silk in a single layer sandwiched between pieces of paper to keep the fabric from shifting to varying degrees of success. The biggest con with this method is that I hate wasting all that paper, and while it’s certainly better than cutting the silk plain, I still found it tricky to keep the paper and the silk layers together throughout the process. On top of that, this method only applies to cutting the silk- sewing with it still takes a tremendous amount of care (some people suggest even sewing your silk pieces with a layer of paper sandwiched in between and then gently tearing it off the fabric through the perforations, but I have never had the patience). For this dress I nixed the paper idea and took a cue from one of Lladybird’s blog posts suggesting the use of a spray fabric stiffener on your silk projects. I have read that using a gelatin soak on silk works much the same, but I was impatient and eager to get started on this project sooner than later. I hung my Liberty fabric over my backdrop, sprayed the entire yardage with the fabric stiffener until it was damp, then let it dry. When I checked on it an hour later, the fabric was totally transformed; it had a stiffer hand, no longer flowed and draped as it had before, and behaved like a lightweight cotton. It was so easy to maneuver that I was able to cut it on the fold easily, and the threads of the silk didn’t shred all over the place as it has a tendency to do, either. But the best part was that it sewed like a dream! No more wonky seams and sliding fabrics- everything stayed in place and over the two or three days that I worked on this pattern, the fabric stayed stiff and crisp. To get it back to it’s natural, silky state, when the dress was completed I soaked it in water and a little bit of eucalin soap for about 10 minutes and then I let it air dry. The next day after a gentle ironing, it was good as new! So easy!

The pattern I used for this dress is a vintage Butterick that was gifted to me by the lovely blogger Amelia when we met a couple of years ago at a panel discussion about diversity in the media (I am pretty sure I have mentioned her generous gift before!) I actually had planned on using a different vintage pattern for this project, but when I opened the pattern I realized it was missing the entire front pattern piece, so I chucked it in my paper bin (I always re-use old pattern paper and envelopes for wrapping) and settled on this one instead. This was probably a blessing in disguise because I think the Liberty fabric suits this pattern even better than my original choice.

 

Vintage patterns are SO. FREAKING. GREAT. I mean, the instructions can often be wonky, and sometimes they use weird techniques that are either unnecessary or completely outdated, but a lot of the time the designs and approaches used in construction are super clever and feel fresh since modern designers don’t utilize those methods anymore. One of the elements I was most taken with was the way the sleeve cuffs came together. I assumed there would be a placket of sorts with buttons and holes on either side to close the cuff to the wrist, but this pattern used a much more simpler yet still effective technique. There is no placket at all, rather the cuffs are positioned so that there is extra room between the edges of the sleeve, and that excess fabric is simply folded in when the buttons are closed. This detail wouldn’t work on a bulky fabric and definitely has a more feminine effect than a regular placket, but it works beautifully on a lightweight flowy silk such as this.

But the real drama of this dress for me is in the collar, which is created with a standard placket and drafted to flow up the side of the neck. This detail coupled with the puffy sleeves and the gathered cuffs at the wrist gave me a very Designing Women vibe, which technically was an 80’s show but some of the clothing still seemed inspired by a little 70’s glam. Normally I am weary of the sizing on Big 4 patterns, but I seem to have a little bit more luck with vintage patterns, and the shape of this pattern offered a lot of wiggle room since it wasn’t meant to fit closely to the body. Because of this, I didn’t make a muslin and the fit turned out great.

I did however shorten the sleeves considerably, because even just eye-balling the pattern piece I could tell they were gonna be way too long. The end result was just perfect but I had to redo my sleeve insertion a couple of times; because the sleeves are gathered to create a poofy effect around the shoulders, there was a lot of easing that needed to happen, and my ease wasn’t very even on one of my sleeves. It’s possibly that I should have taken off some of the seam allowance at the shoulders to take up some of the extra fabric in the sleeve head, but instead I just very carefully tried to even out my gathers and make sure they were concentrated at the top of the sleeve as opposed to the front or the back. This part of the dress does not look perfect, but it doesn’t bother me and the sleeves feel comfortable.

The only other change I made to the pattern was to add elastic to the waist. As drafted, the pattern is meant to be worn with a belt wrapped at the waist to cinch in the extra fabric, and while I loved the look of the belt, I knew that, because of my waist to hip ratio, that free flowing fabric around my waist was never gonna sit right and I would be fiddling with it all day. I knew that elastic would give the same effect while keeping the gathered fabric in place, particularly with such a lightweight fabric. So I cut a strip of fabric the length of the waist of the dress and the width of my elastic (1/2″) plus room for folding over each edge. I sewed the casing onto the dress, inserted my elastic, and closed the hole up at the side seam, making sure to spread my elastic evenly across the waist. It worked like a charm. I also put belt loops on either side of the dress because I knew I would still want to wear a belt with it and I wanted the belt to stay in place since they have a tendency to ride up on me. The belt was made of several strips of fabric sewed together and then turned inside out. I used to serge all my inside seams for finishing but I am becoming a strictly french seam kind of girl when the seams are suitable and the fabric is a woven. It makes the end-product look so luxurious and I am convinced that it stays looking neat on the inside for much longer. For this dress, all inside seams are french, and I used bias tape to finish the sleeves with a hong kong seam.

 

I thought that this dress was transparent when I first saw the fabric so I wore a slip under it when I wore it to the TCAs this past week, but turns out that it wasn’t really necessary- the fabric is so busy that you can’t even see the shadow of my body underneath it, which is important to know if I ever decide to wear this in warmer weather. I love love LOVE how this dress came out- it is even better than I imagined it would be! It feels glamorous and it got so many compliments when I wore it for the first time, and it also looked surprisingly good on camera (they say you shouldn’t wear prints or multi-colored garments on camera but I think it totally depends on what the fabric looks like- again, the color combination of this silk really makes it magical!

 

 

Bag(s) Lady

 

I love making bags but for some reason I don’t post my completed projects here on my blog very often, with the exception of these roll top bags I made a couple of years ago. Bags are super fun to make because they take less time to complete than most garments, there are no fitting adjustments that need to be made for it to come out “right” so satisfaction is more than likely guaranteed, you can use up scraps from your stash, and you get to work with really fun notions and hardware like D rings and swivel clips, YAAAAAAAY! In addition, for beginner sewists, bags are great projects to help you get used to certain sewing techniques without feeling overwhelmed.

Before Christmas I finished the Maker’s Tote by Noodlehead patterns to house all my in-progress knit projects, and it turned out pretty great (although I rushed through it towards the end so I could get back to my Vogue Coat and as a result, some of the finishing details are not quite as precise as I would like).

I found out that in addition to being an excellent home for my craft projects, it’s also a pretty fantastic travel bag, what with all the inside pockets and roomy space inside. All it needs is an additional long strap to throw over my shoulder when running through the airport, and who knows, I might actually get around to adding that at some point.

 

But this post isn’t really about the Maker’s Tote, it’s about the Swoon Masie Bowler Bag that I just finished. Swoon first came across my radar last year when I was looking for bag patterns to pin on my pinterest board and I discovered the Bag-Of-Month club. It’s a club that you have to buy into for a flat fee, and every two months for a year you get a new design by a reputable bag designer delivered to your inbox for a total of 6 bags. You don’t know what the designs will be before you buy in to the club, and the patterns are not available for individual purchase until after the pattern has been released to the club members. This is such a fun idea for people who LOVE sewing up bags (or who love hoarding patterns, or both). The patterns range from really excellent and innovative designs to run-of-the-mill plain totes (easy construction) with embellishments on them, and even though I am not the right demographic for the club since I only make a couple of bags a year, it’s been fun to check in with the club online and see which patterns have been released and what people have made with them. Swoon is one of the better designed brands that participates in the club and I finally purchased their Masie Bowler bag pattern after oohing and ahhing over it for months (I’m pretty sure that this other bag of theirs will also be in my future- I am so in love with their clever use of fabric choice)!

I purchased the pattern with absolutely no vision of what my completed bag would look like until a couple of months later. On a trip to Michael Levine’s where I was hunting for fabric for a gift for my sister-in-law, I came across a display of beautiful hand woven mudcloth.  I have always loved mudcloth but I had never seen any in stores for purchase before. It was so hard to choose a fabric; each was so simple but so well designed, and they were sold by the piece as opposed to by the yard. Ultimately I chose one with a larger print (I really like the way large prints look on smaller items) and I am really happy with the layout- I made sure to highlight a different part of the pattern on each side of my bag.

 

With bag making you have a lot of room for design choices and mixing different kinds of textures and fabrics together, and I wanted the mudcloth on my bag to be the highlight of the piece so I ignored the recommended contrast fabric suggestions in the pattern and used mudcloth for the exterior main, upper panel and gusset pieces. I also decided not to use woven fabric or vinyl for my contrast pieces and instead used leather from a big piece I bought from The Fabric Store about a year ago. It is so beautiful and although I use it sparingly, it has gone a long way- I used it for the wallet I made for Claire in addition to straps and bottom pieces for a few other accessories I have worked on over the past year (when I find the right pair of flat lasts I am going to use the rest of it for a pair of shoes). I really love working with leather but I am going to start keeping my eyes out for used leather clothing so that I can up-cycle the material instead of buying new pieces of it.

Anyways, using leather really upped the sophistication of this bag, but as you can imagine it was a real %#&(&*&$ to sew! There are a few things I could have done to make this a bit easier, namely skive the seam allowances of all the leather pieces making them thinner and therefore much easier to manipulate. But hindsight is 20/20 and by the time I realized that skiving would be a good idea, all my leather pieces were basted to their Soft n’Stable counterparts already. And I was too lazy to take them apart. Let’s be honest, my laziness is almost ALWAYS the main culprit in situations like these. As a result, sewing the corners of the bag turned out to be QUITE A FEAT, because I had to contend with curves and three layers of leather. And for the record, sewing the corners of bags is always a trying thing to do whether you use leather or not- it takes a surprising amount of upper body strength to maneuver all those layers and whenever I finish a bag I find myself feeling a little sorer in my arms and neck than usual. Skiving my leather would not only have helped ease the difficulty in sewing the thick pieces together, but it would have also helped the finished bag sit better. With leather as thick as this, you can’t really “press” seams in any direction, you can just gently hammer them down with a rubber mallet and hope for the best. If my edges had been thinner, they would have settled into their curved shapes a more easily. As it stand, the leather seams of my bag are very “thick”, and they don’t really flatten out very well on the sides or bottom. I’m okay with it though- I know now how to make it work better next time and Claire has assured me that this bag is still impressive (her exact words were “you could sell this in a shop and people would but it!” lol).

The instructions for this bag are excellent and I didn’t find one mistake or typo in the whole thing, but they do not take into consideration the option of using leather (maybe the designer is vegan?) so I had to figure out a lot of things on my own and make mods for the differences in my material- not a big deal, just an important thing to note. Namely I had to forgo the side pockets on the outside of the bag- 5 layers of leather plus Soft and Stable would have been too much fabric for my machine to accurately sew through. I also needed to change the way I made the handles and strap. Instead of folding the edges towards the middle and top stitching the edges , I just cut out leather in the dimensions for the final pieces because I knew the leather would be strong enough. After using the bag for a full day, I realized that, though the leather was strong enough on it’s own, normal wear would distort the shape of the straps over time, so I have since added a backing to both the shoulder and hand straps and they are much sturdier now- everything looks the same except the straps have the deep brown leather on both sides.

For my lining fabric, I used a beautiful Ankara print that I found on my fabric buying spree with Marcy and Renee last summer. I don’t remember where we got this fabric from- it was one of those random spots in the fashion district with lots of sequined laces in the store windows. I would never have thought to stop inside if Marcy had not steered us in there, but she is an amazing fabric tour guide! The guy inside gave me a kind of pervy vibe and was DROOLING over poor Marcy, who was able to maintain a perfectly friendly smile on her face for as long as it took me to find what I wanted and get a good deal. That girl is a GEM, I tell ya! I have a lot of this fabric left over and I think I might make either a tea length dirndl or pleated skirt from it. I love the image of this woman’s face peeking out of my bag and would love even more to have her adorning my legs as I swish around this city.

 

I wish I had changed the way I made the front and back embellishments on the bag and just cut out the pieces in the final shape of the connector instead of following instructions to fold the top edges in and then under, which created a lot of bulk (even though I did think to skive those pieces). I think those instructions are made to make the vinyl stronger where they connect to the rectangle rings for the straps, but since I used thick leather I totally didn’t need to reinforce the edges like that. Ultimately they look just fine, and the only crappy looking part is where I had to sew those thick edges down underneath the rectangle hardware- the machine sewing is SO wonky here because I was using a zipper foot AND sewing very thick pieces together, but I have decided that the wonkiness adds to the charm (can you tell that I am NOT a sewing perfectionist??)

I didn’t add much to this bag that wasn’t in the design already except for these purse feet, which I love!!!! I wish I had been doing this on all my bags that I have made, so I am telling YOU to add them on all of yours so you don’t have to miss out. Ok, back to what I left off: in addition to leaving off the side pockets, I also decided to leave off the top stitching and the piping embellishments on the outside edges of the bag, which is a shame because I really love the way the piping looks. But I knew that the additional piping fabric and top stitches would make sewing the leather pieces even more difficult, and I also thought that design-wise, piping might add too much fussiness to the look. I love the way this bag looks so I don’t regret any of my editing choices, but I would love to make a future bag in all woven fabric so that I can add all the cool little embellishments that I missed out on.

This bag didn’t take too long to make and I am really happy with it, warts, wonky stitching and all ! Aside from making smarter choices when working with my leather so that the bag would hold it’s shape better, I wouldn’t change anything at all about it and it’s such a good size for me! I rarely leave the house with more than a wallet, phone, keys and sunglasses, and this housed all of the above today when I used it for the first time, in addition to some sides and some junk mail. Oh, and my iPad. Oh, and snacks! Damn, this bag fit a lot into it now that I think about it- I love it even more now. I appreciate that the design has a shoulder strap in addition to handles because I use both of them to carry my bags around pretty regularly. This bag takes up a very small amount of fabric so I still have quite a bit of mudcloth left over. Not entirely sure what I am gonna make with it, but an obvious choice are throw pillows, either for myself or as a gift. I’ll try and remember to share whatever becomes of the remaining fabric here on the blog or on instagram!

 

 

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.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNh3ii3hVc9/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

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.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BN-lCLMBB-o/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

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).

https://www.instagram.com/p/BN-zbG4BjOT/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

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.

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

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