Suicide Kale, A Film

It feels a little bit like a dream that I never knew I had has come true!

Suicide Kale, which I have only mentioned here before briefly, is a feature film that me and my friends made a couple of years ago, and as of this week it is now available for rent on both Amazon and Vimeo!

To celebrate this huge milestone, I wanted to share a little backstory with you about how the film came to be.

After recently moving to Los Angeles and having very few close friends in our new city, Claire (my wife) started following Brittani Nichols on twitter. Claire said to me, “Honey, you should follow this girl, she is so funny.” I said “OK.”
And I started following Brittani.
She was so funny.
She is also a QWOC, so she was like, RELATABLE TO MY INTERESTS. I said to Claire, “I wish we could hang out with her.” Claire replied, “why don’t you send her a DM?”

And I was like

But I did it anyways, because what did I have to lose? The only thing worse than not having Brittani Nichols as a friend was following her twitter account and liking her posts all the time in quiet desperation. And I was already doing that.

I sent her a message basically saying “Hi, I’m new here”, and she graciously agreed to meet up with me and Claire at a hotspot in Silverlake that served frozen popsicle Micheladas (#blessed). The deal was sealed and within a couple of months, Brittani had introduced us to her whole group of friends in LA that included loads of smart, talented, and very funny women. As we all started hanging out and getting to know each other better, we created a safe space amongst ourselves, complaining about the industry jobs we worked on (always rooted in patriarchal BS) and discussing what would make them better (dealing with less patriarchal BS). We joked about what a dream it would be to all get together and make something fun for ourselves, but I never actually thought it would happen, because Hollywood doesn’t normally work that way, not unless you’re in a room with (rich, usually white) men that you’re trying to vet. But then, a couple of summers ago, Brittani sent out a group email insisting that we should “just MAKE something already.”

San Francisco. June 18th at 3:45pm. Frameline Film Festival. Stoked. #suicidekale

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She had a script- it was bare, but it had a solid plot. She thought the scene meat (ew) could be filled in with improvising from the actors, and she had someone in mind for most of the roles. She wanted to know if we could film it at my house so that we could save on location costs since there wasn’t enough money in the budget. Because there was no budget. I had never before been trycurious about producing a film, but I couldn’t say no- I was in capable company and I knew that if ever I was going to push myself out of my comfort zone, these were the people to do it with. After a couple of false starts where Director Extraordinaire™ suddenly had to fly to Iceland for work and Brianna the Babe™ booked a big gig, we finally found some days in August that stayed available for all of us, and filming began.

Carly, our loveable magician-slash-director, her wife, Robin, our blonde bombshell DoP, and Brittani paid the minimal upfront costs for things like iPhone lav mics, camera equipment rental and craft services. The actors provided our own wardrobe and I wore a favorite dress of mine made the previous year from one of Gertie’s books. I supplied Rosie the dog, the lunch meal prepared in one of the scenes, and props from around my house. Lindsey made sure our spiritual needs were accounted for and kept us on our toes by forgetting to wear her necklace in certain scenes. Briana was late every day because she never knew what the actual call time was and no one wanted to be the one to tell her. Unsurprisingly, I had the time of my life. Our cast and crew was comprised completely of women, mostly queer (jury is still out on Rosie’s sexuality), all adept at their jobs and interested in a full collaboration with one another. Five days and several Zankou lunches later, we had completed our first feature film, and we could not have felt more proud of what we had accomplished.

#suicidekale

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Our goal from the start was simply to conceive of and implement an original project, from start to finish, with our own knowledge and resources. But once Carly took on the arduous task of editing our film and she and Brittani came to the realization that it might be good enough to…gulp…screen it for actual people, our goals began to change. Submitting to a festival seemed like a bit of a stretch. Being accepted by a festival even more so. And winning a film festival, let alone several?? Practically unfathomable! But that has been exactly the trajectory for Suicide Kale, the little film that could. With a grand total of $4000, most of which was directed towards post production costs like color correction and sound mixing, a group of friends got together and made a film that has become an important addition to the world of queer indie cinema. Our film features WoC in the leading roles, prominent queer relationships, and a cute pit bull; it represents us because it looks and feels like our lives.

We are so excited for all the wonderful festivals the world over that have welcomed our film with open arms, and thankful to Frameline for distributing Suicide Kale to make it available to viewers everywhere. You can keep up with news about Suicide Kale at www.suicidekale.com: where the film will be screening next, what VOD platforms we will be available on, lots of great clips, and reviews, and of course, what will be coming up next for the Suicide Kale production team. If you have a chance to watch our film and like it, feel free to leave us a review and tell your friends about it! The more this film gets shared with audiences, the better chance we have of creating even better cinema in the future…think healthy thoughts 😉

Hannah Take 2!

This will be a mostly uninformative post because I already talked at length about my first Hannah Dress by Victory Patterns a couple of months ago here on the blog. To catch you up to speed, I really enjoyed the unique construction of the dress, from the smartly designed hidden placket at the neckline to the folds at the back of the dress that float into pockets on the sides- all of which set it apart from most loose-fitting dresses of similar design and shape.

But there were a couple of big things about the make that I really didn’t like at all.

The first was that the sizing was off. My experience with Victory patterns is that they run smaller than the measurements suggest, and my size 2 bust graded to a 4 at the waist and hips simply did not cut it. It was too tight in the bust and armhole areas and I could feel the dress straining at certain points. It didn’t look terrible at first glance, but a closer inspection showed small wrinkle lines fanning out from the armholes and around the placket. It was also a tiny bit too snug in the hips. I wanted the dress to just barely graze my frame beneath it since it was designed to be loose fitting, but when I walked, the fabric would cling to my butt, which interfered with the loose silhouette I was hoping for. I had also shortened the dress about an inch and a half, assuming that, like most patterns I sew, this dress would be end up being way too long on me, but that was a mistake. As drafted, this dress was probably the perfect length for my 5’3″ frame, and could even have stood to be a tiny bit longer for a sleeker look. So after the dress was finished and I tried it on, I knew immediately that I needed to go up at least one size and add the omitted length back in (and perhaps even a little extra).

The second issue I had with this dress was the color combination. I was going for a rust and sky blue combo that I had pinned a while back on pinterest and fell in love with, but because I bought my fabrics online, I couldn’t tell that the colors I ultimately purchased were not very close at all to the inspiration photo I was basing them off of. On top of that, the fabric I chose was tencel and didn’t have the same shimmery/lux qualities as my inspo picture either, so, visually, the whole project missed the mark on where I wanted it to end up.

But I realized the biggest problem I had with my fabric/color choice was that I kept feeling a subtle sense of distaste every time I looked at the dress. I couldn’t figure out what it was- I was enjoying the construction process and was excited to see how it was going to turn out, but something just wasn’t making me feel happy with how it was looking. And then it hit me: the gold and navy fabrics I had chosen looked like orange and blue- Auburn colors! I discussed this more thoroughly in my initial blog post but basically, even though I haven’t ever been a fan of football (college or otherwise), I grew up in a family that was vehemently pro-Alabama. Roll Tide, Roll! was the war cry I would hear roaring from our living room on game days, and occasionally I would even participate in the booing and hissing at the television screen when Auburn scored, just for fun. I wasn’t at all invested in this rivalry, but now as an adult I realize that I have effectively become a Pavlovian dog; without any conscious participation, I have been conditioned to balk at everything orange and blue that crosses my line of vision and to feel unexplained happiness when I see maroon and white. Or elephants. Or anything with the word “Tide” in it, including laundry detergent.

This is a particularly weird predicament to be in for someone like me, who, as mentioned earlier, could not care less about sports or college rivalries or mascots. But rooting for my home state of Alabama (as complicated about it as my feelings are), makes me feel closer to my family, who is spread all across the southeast region of the US. No matter what is going on in their lives, I can rest assured that they will all be sitting in front of their tvs on game days, rooting for The Crimson Tide, drinking beers, having a grand time. I usually don’t watch the game myself, but I make sure to text everyone in my family who is, periodically checking in on the score so that I can join them in feeling excitement or disappointment, depending on how good the team is that year (although I obviously wouldn’t know a good team from Adam- I just ask Claire to fill me in).

So yeah, back to the first Hannah dress. When I put it on I looked like an Auburn fan. And as much as I tried to get over it, ignore it, tell myself I was being silly, I simply could not. It’s possible that without any prior knowledge of or connection to Auburn’s team colors I would still not like this orange and blue color combo together. But it’s unlikely. Family loyalty is deep. Team loyalty is insidious.

So what’s a girl to do? I LOVED the design elements of the dress, but it didn’t fit as well as it could have and looking at the colors gave me a headache. Of course, if you followed my Octopus sweater making saga at all then you know exactly what I decided to do- MAKE IT AGAIN, BUT BETTER!

While working on the first version of Hannah I kept thinking about how much better a pink and gray version would be, which are two of my favorite color combos, and once I realized that I needed to make it again to be really happy with it, I started searching for more tencel fabric in those colors, but I didn’t have much luck. I like tencel- it can get a little wrinkly when worn, but it sews easily, has a beautiful and soft hand, and the texture looks really cool when made in a design that shows it off. Unfortunately, the colors I found available online were pretty limited. I finally tracked down a pink that I liked a lot and then ordered a light gray from another retailer that I thought would pair well with it, but once they arrived, they didn’t match well together at all. The gray had a blue-ish silvery tint to it and just didn’t have the right depth colorwise to contrast with the baby pink I had settled on. Thankfully, it was easy for me to know which color to substitute for the gray, because in my head the only thing that goes better with pink than gray is BLACK!

As soon as I saw the two fabrics side by side I was super excited to see how the final garment was going to turn out. Pink and black are just so chic to me! The combo seems gender neutral, totally fit for both masculine and feminine styles, and it is inherently sophisticated. As you know, black is my least favorite color to wear by itself, but when it’s paired with pastels or bold bursts of color like in my Rachel Wrap Dress, it’s pretty hard to resist.

At the last minute I decided to make a straight size 6 instead of grading from a 4 in the bust. I knew the 6 would probably give me the fit I was looking for in the hips but I worried that a 6 would be too big in the bust and arm region. But I took a chance that it wouldn’t and I was right- the 6 fits me perfectly at the bust with just the right amount of ease, and by the way, a size 6 is a full 3 inches larger than what my measurements would suggest by the Victory Patterns size chart. This is good information to keep in mind for their newest pattern, the Jackie Dress, which I am DYING to sew up as soon as the perfect knit fabric finds it’s way into my life.

Lastly, I added about 2 inches of length to the dress so that it hit me just past my knees. I am not entirely sure why I went with a longer silhouette seeing as how the original drafting is probably a great fit for me, but as soon as I started envisioning this pink and black version of the dress I kept seeing it as longer than the fit of the pattern photos, and I am go so glad I went with my instinct. Because my original Auburn colored version of this dress is so short, this longer length looks a little more appropriate to me. Not that I don’t mind showing some leg, but something about this pink and black version screams “opinionated NYC fashion editor!” to me while the first dress whispers “war eagle” in a choked falsetto. That makes no sense, but whatever. Maybe because the first version feels too short AND too tight, there was just no way I could feel very comfortable in it (despite the color combo), and everyone knows that comfort is about the most sexy thing you can wear.

I feel sexy, classy and stylish in the pink and black version. And for all of you lovely commenters who insisted that the original Auburn version was not that bad, I appreciate your support and enthusiasm but I am SO glad I went with my gut on this one. By itself, the Auburn dress is fine, but compared to this pink and black version, it doesn’t hold a candle!

 

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!

 

Embrace Octopus Sweater

I used to be pretty active on ravelry.com, taking photos of all my knitted projects and jotting down notes to include in my overview of the patterns and yarns I used, but now that I have my own blog and an instagram account, the effort seems tedious and unnecessary. Unfortunately, the result is that instead of transferring project notes to this blog about my knitting, I end up opting out of writing anything about my projects at all, which seems sad. Knitting is technically where I got my first taste of blogging about making things, and since this blog is about all things try and curious -not just sewing- knitting should have a place here, too! (Along with furniture-making, shoe-making, baking, etc…but those projects also seem to get left off the blog more times than not- I gotta do better!)

Anyways, now that I am in LA I don’t knit as much as I did when I lived in NYC or Vancouver, but contrary to popular belief, this city has great sweater-weather! Not just for the mild winters when all you need is a good cardigan (no coat necessary), but also for the evenings, which cool down considerably for the majority of the year, and when visiting the west side of the city near the beach, when the breeze off the ocean makes the daytime much chillier than on the east side and in the valley. Still, I have accumulated more handmade sweaters in the past 9 years than Los Angeles knows what to do with and because most of my older pieces are bulky and thick in order to handle northern climates, I sadly don’t get as much use out of them here. This did not, however, stop me from making the Embrace Octopus Sweater when I stumbled across it on raverly a few years ago. It’s easy to see why- just look at it!

I had been searching for a cool pattern to knit up for Claire for her birthday, upholding the tradition of making her a new sweater each year as a gift. Claire had recently gotten her cephalopod tattoo so I entered “octopus” and “squid” into the search terms on ravelry to see what I could find and lo and behold, this beauty popped right up. I was impressed by how beautiful the pattern was, but I honestly don’t recall being too scared of it. I had knitted several projects with both intarsia and Fair Isle before, so I was familiar with stranded knitting, and nothing about the actual dimensions or fit of the sweater seemed too out-of-my-depth; it was pretty boxy and only required shaping at the shoulders and neck like any raglan sleeved sweater. All that was required of this project was patience, and I’ve got that in spades. So I gave it a whirl, and about a month later (I was on a tight schedule because I wanted it to be finished in time for Claire’s birthday), it was complete, and I mean COMPLETE! Ends woven in, blocked AND dried!

Since I made the first version of this sweater so long ago I won’t bother with trying to recall the details of my experience with it, so instead I will focus on the most recent versions I made, starting in October of 2016. At the time I was working in Savannah and had just completed my first pair of knitted socks, thanks to Sonja’s (gingertakesphotos) inspiration. They were super fun to work on and got me back in my knitting groove after a several months’ long hiatus, so when they were finished I was ready to tackle something big again. After I had made Claire’s octopus sweater a few years prior, I promised myself that I would make one for myself, too, but I knew it would require a lot of modifications since the sweater came in only one size and it was larger than I wanted.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNV8CpkBOaW/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

With all the extra time I had in Savannah, it seemed as good a time as any to get through the tricky bits, so I hunted down the pattern in my files on ravelry and downloaded them (I don’t have a fancy knitting app for cataloguing my PDF patterns, I just store them all in Notability). I was surprised to see that there was a newer version of the pattern than the one I made a few years ago, and this one came in two sizes, but guess what- FOR SOME REASON I DIDN’T USE THE NEW VERSION. Don’t ask me why; sometimes there is no explanation for our ill-advised behaviors, right? I think my reasoning was that I was already familiar with the first version of the pattern and how it fit so it seemed smarter to work with what I knew. But hindsight is 20/20. I should have worked from the newer version of the pattern because it had some adjustments in fit that would have benefited my project. But  the truth is that nothing would have completely saved my second sweater from the knitting fail it became. Let me explain.

I wanted my sweater to be smaller than the version I made for Claire. But since the octopus sweater is based off of a chart that has to be followed precisely in order to get the octopus to look like, well, an octopus, you can’t adjust the size by knitting more or less stitches like you can with other projects. For any non-knitters reading this, most knit projects have their sizes differentiated by the number of stitches knitted with all subsequent sizes following, so your pattern would start out like this:

for sizes S (M, L, XL), cast on 110 (122, 138, 146) stitches, join in the round, then knit 6 (7, 8, 10) rows in stockinette.

The only way to make a larger or smaller sweater for this project is to alter your gauge and/or your yarn: using smaller needles will result in a tighter knit and therefore a smaller sweater, and bigger needles do the opposite. By changing the weight of your yarn you get a similar result- a thinner yarn will yield a smaller sweater than a thicker yarn will. By combining changes in both the needle size and the yarn, you can get tremendously different results without having to adjust any of the specific knitting details of the sweater. It is important to see what your gauge is when making these kinds of changes by swatching the yarn with the needles you intend to use and comparing it to the gauge the pattern calls for. I went down a few needles sizes (which is a mod I make with almost all knitted garments- I have a very consistent but loose knit) and used a much thinner yarn than the bulky kind suggested for this pattern, then I swatched it. It was about an inch, give or take, smaller in width than the suggested gauge of the pattern, which seemed about right, I guess? Honestly it was just a guessing game but I was happy to play along! Unfortunately I lost, big time. I knitted several inches of the bottom of the sweater and it was looking pretty small to me, so I would try it on and discover that it just barely skimmed my abdomen. It was fitted, but it definitely didn’t seem too small and I had plenty of breathing room. “Keep going!” I would tell myself, “it’s fine! You’re being paranoid!”

Famous last words.

Turns out I was NOT being paranoid at all. When I finally cast off the collar of the sweater a couple months later and ran to the mirror to try it on, I could barely get the damn thing over my head! I got stuck at one point trying to pull the sweater over my bust (which isn’t even big!) and had to take a few deep breaths to get the sweater the rest of the way down. To my horror, you could barely tell the sweater had an octopus on it! It fit around my abdomen just fine, but as soon as the sweater got to my rib cage, the stitches started to distort from being stretched out so much and the eye of the octopus was warped and frightening looking. The raglan seams were so spread apart that you could see my skin peeking through the stitches and the actual sleeves were so tight that I was hulking out of it at the biceps. And finally, the whole thing wanted to ride up my belly with each inhale I took. It was a disaster 🙁

still tiny as shit 🙁

Somehow I convinced myself that it would stretch out a lot after I blocked it and magically fit me like a dream as soon as it was dry, but I knew deep down that there was no saving it, at least not for myself. Once my fears were confirmed and it was THE EXACT SAME SIZE after blocking (which by the way has NEVER happened to me- everything I knit stretches out after I have blocked it! lol) I decided wasn’t interested in trying to manipulate it further. People were writing on my instagram page about turning it into a cardigan, cutting it up the sides or middle and adding extra stitches to it, etc, but I was adamant about leaving it alone. I had coveted this sweater for myself for years at this point, and it just didn’t seem worth it to settle for anything less than a garment that was exactly what I wanted. That’s the beauty of making things for ourselves, though- we fine tune, adjust, and rework it until it’s as close to what we want as we are capable of making. And the old adage held true for me- if it’s not worth doing right, then it’s not worth doing at all. To be clear, I am no perfectionist- over the years I have settled for garments that were a little more off than on, a little more wrong than right. But my wonky knitting gauge and miscalculations with this sweater didn’t make it imperfect- in fact, the sweater was very beautiful when it was completed, it just didn’t fit me.

I won’t lie, I was heartbroken when the reality hit me that I had just spent months making what was essentially a knitted muslin. But I also realized that this was a chance to make the sweater EVEN BETTER than it would have been if it DID fit me. Once it was complete, I saw that it wasn’t just the fit that was off- I needed to have chosen different yarn colors as well.

The pattern is written so that the main color is dark and the contrast color (which is used for the octopus body) is a lighter color. I followed this guide for the first version of this sweater, but for my second I thought it would be cool to switch them around and have a dark octopus on a lighter background. This probably would have worked just fine if I hadn’t dramatically changed the yarn I used from a bulky (as suggested in the pattern) to a lighter worsted weight yarn, but because I did, the dark contrast color had to be stranded behind rows and rows of light pink stitches. The result is that the dark blue yarn ended up peaking through the light pink yarn. A bulky weight yarn creates much fluffier, thicker stitches so there isn’t much room for the yarn you are stranding to show through the holes of the knits. Again, HINDSIGHT! Another tricky thing about using the opposite colors as suggested in the pattern is that it makes the chart REALLY hard to read sometimes. The chart is color coded so that dark squares represent the main color and white ones represent the contrast color. Switching your own yarn colors means that you end up reading the chart backwards, though, so you have to re-interpret the white square as dark yarn and visa versa; as you can imagine this can really mess with your brain when you aren’t paying close attention, and I almost always watch TV when I knit. It wasn’t a huge issue, it just tacked on even more knitting time to have to go back and redo stitches that I ended up knitting the wrong way.

Okay, so now I had decided I was going to re-knit my sweater with the proper yarn weight, gauge, color suggestion and using the newer version of the pattern which included two sizes (M and L) instead of just one. I did go down a few needle sizes as per usual but I felt confident that it wouldn’t throw off my sizing too much. I chose a Malabrigo bulky knit for my main color in a deep gray-ish purple that had flecks of light in it and for the contrast color I chose a light pearl gray color that looked exactly like the lighter flecks of my main yarn- I figured they would look good together and tone down any peeking-through of my light colored stranded yarn (I was right!). My contrast color yarn is actually a DK weight, so it’s slightly thinner yarn than my bulky yarn, but I didn’t think it would affect the over-all look of the sweater, and again I was right.

I made just a few more mods on this version but nothing dramatic- I added more length to the ribbing and bottom of the sweater right before the stranded knitting begins because I think that this sweater as written is pretty short and I wanted mine to cover half of my butt. I also think that the sleeves have a weird shape- they start out pretty tight at the wrist and then grow as you keep knitting, but I wanted sleeves that had a little more wiggle room at the wrist before shaping began, so I just added a few more stitches to what I cast on and knit them straight up until the number of stitches on my needles matched the chart count (all this was done before the stranded knitting begins so it doesn’t affect the octopus at all).

The sweater is knit in 4 parts- you start at the bottom of the body and work in the round, following the chart, all the way up to the underarms, then you hold the body on waste yarn. Next you knit each sleeve in the round from the wrist up. It should be noted that one sleeve has almost no stranded knitting except in the top corner where the head is, and the other sleeve has an octopus tentacle wrapped all the way around it. If your stranded knitting is not very consistent and you knit too tight or too loose when stranding, one of your sleeves might fit differently than the other one. I only know about this from obsessing over the notes that other people made on ravelry when making this sweater. Thankfully I have a pretty consistent hand when knitting (stranded or otherwise), so I didn’t have that issue on either or my sweaters, but it’s something to keep in mind. One trick I learned is to knit with the right side of the knitting facing you so that your stranded yarn has more slack (traveling on the outside of the garment with more room as opposed to the inside with a little less room). But in general you have to remember to give your stranded yarn just the right amount of ease- if you pull it too tight your knitting will pucker and gather and fit very tightly, but if it’s too loose you will have loops on the inside that will gape and snag on things (like jewelry and fingers) and it can also create holes in your knitting. It’s not hard to figure out the right tension for stranded knitting but it might take a little practice to feel confident with it.

Rib the neck weave the ends and fin #prettyguts

A post shared by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

When going through parts of the chart that had lots of stitches of one color and not the other, I would strand the unused yarn through every 4 or 5 knits of my other color, catching it in a stitch and giving it a bit of slack before it was either used in the chart again or stranded through. Another trick I learned is to take a break from the chart knitting every six inches or so to weave in the ends. On my first version of this sweater I waited til the very end to weave them in and it took me DAYS to finish- there were probably hundreds of them! I don’t strand through the entire sweater- as you can see in the photos there are places in the chart where there are inches and inches of main color only, and since my tension doesn’t change when stranding or regular knitting, I just cut my contrast yarn off and knit in the main color until the chart shows that the contrast color comes in again. This makes knitting go quicker but it also means you have more little yarn ends to sew in at the end. Weaving them in throughout the process gives your eyes a bit of a break from following the chart and balances out the tediousness of focusing on just one part of the sweater for too long.

After you knit your sleeves, you add them onto your needles with the body of the sweater on it and begin working in the round again and decreasing at the beginning and end of each sleeve. Every time I make this sweater my knits are off at the octopus head- no idea if it’s a pattern mistake or something I am consistently doing wrong, but I always just fudge the rows right there until the chart matches up again (this area of the head is just a big block of contrast color so it was pretty easy for me to make it work without sacrificing the image of the octopus).

After following the chart for the yoke of the sweater in a spiral going inwards, you do some short row shaping at the neck which requires a lot of attention but for some reason is just SUPER fun to do IMO, and then you do a couple inches of ribbing at the neck band and then bind off. The pattern gives you the option to omit the short row shaping and just knit in the round until the charted knits are complete, but doing this gives the neck a very rectangular and wide opening and I don’t think it’s flattering- I followed these instructions on my second version but liked the short row versions of my first and third sweaters the best.

After weaving in all the last few ends of yarn, I tried the sweater on and was pleased to find how much I loved the fit! I had always thought I wanted a less boxy and a snugger fitting sweater than how it was drafted, but it actually felt cozier with so much ease in it, and it doesn’t look huge on me as I had feared- it definitely fits well and I could not be happier with all the choices I made the second go-round, from sizing to color to mods.

 

The best part of this story is that I found the perfect person to send my tiny pink version to, a very fashionable friend of mine named Alice who adores the colors of this sweater and who obviously fits into it SO well- it’s almost like it was made for her!

As for me, I could not even tell you in words how thrilled I am to be done with all things octopi! I learned so much about this particular sweater pattern in the past 4 months, but I also learned a lot about myself, my determination and what I am capable of. As I always say, I wasn’t bestowed with any specific gifts or talents for making, I have just cultivated the ability to be patient with and kind to myself, to allow myself space to mess up without judgement, and to give myself as many chances as I need to try, try again. Fundamentally, creating art isn’t really about how much talent you have- it’s about showing yourself some grace, and that is some self care that I think we could all use much more of.

Happy making, y’all!

 

 

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!

Pleated Pants in Pink

I have always been quite fearful of sewing pants for myself, which makes very little sense considering I have successfully made nearly a dozen different versions of jeans over the past couple of years. Somehow Closet Case’s Miracle Jeans patterns (here and here) have seemed like a walk in the park compared to starting from scratch with a brand new pattern that has no sew-alongs or hand-holding to accompany it. I’m not scared of the actual construction so much as getting the fit right, and I am sure this fear comes from a lifetime of experience trying to buy RTW pants in commercial stores. I have never, I repeat, NEVER bought RTW pants that fit me perfectly. They have run the spectrum of I can’t believe you’re wearing those out of the house to I guess they look okay if you pull your shirt down over your butt, but never wow, those pants look amazing on you! Either the pockets gape at the sides or they are too tight in the thighs or, most often, the waist is huge while the hips fit snugly, leaving me with a big gap of space between my waistband and my actual body. Doesn’t matter the style- jeans, pleated, flat-front, darted- if they didn’t have an elastic waistband on them then they weren’t going to fit my body very well.

With her patterns, Heather helped me (and hundreds of other people around the world) craft a pair of jeans that fit our bodies beautifully and made us feel and look amazing, but for some reason in my head these successes seemed to only apply to jeans making- I couldn’t imagine those concepts translating to the world of trousers at large. Intellectually I knew this didn’t make sense, so I gave myself a bit of time to work through my fear without adding too much pressure to jump into pants making. I started reading blog posts about people’s journeys making their own pants. I pinned pants patterns that interested me and seemed suitable for my style and shape. And I bought myself a copy of the much heralded Palmer and Pletsch’s Pants for Real People. Some of the material in it is pretty dated, but on the whole the information is reliable and very helpful.

There are a few standout lessons I learned in reading this book which I was able to apply to these pink pleated pants. Number one (and perhaps most important) is tissue fitting. I always side-eyed the tissue fitting concept because I couldn’t comprehend how substituting pattern paper for fabric would translate to anything useful; pattern paper seems too thin, stiff and delicate to temporarily mold to your body. But with tips from the book I was able to get a better understanding of why you tissue fit- it is but one step in the process of creating a pattern that works for your body, and it is super helpful. First of all you are instructed to tape the crotch seams of both the front and back pants pieces to keep the paper strong during the fitting process, which addressed my initial concern about the paper not holding up well to fitting on the body. It is also recommended that you use a length of thin elastic tied around your waistline to keep the paper pattern pieces from falling off and to give you a visual reminder of where your actual waist is in relation to the pattern pieces. You pin the seams of the pattern wrong sides together and then (very very carefully) try them on and make your way to a mirror so you can assess the fit and look. The paper doesn’t necessarily give you a great idea of what your final pants will look like, but it does show you most if not all of the fit issues that the pattern will have, particularly if the waist/thighs/calves/crotch are too big/little, loose/tight, high/low. Once you see where the pattern needs to be adjusted, you make marks on the pattern paper and then add in or take out “fabric” as needed.

Many of these adjustments were familiar to me because I would make them when muslin-ing (or just working directly from my fashion fabric), but making changes on the paper pattern streamlines the process, takes less time than muslin-ing, and keeps you from potentially ruining your fabric. The two most awesome adjustments that I learned about from the book are 1. changing the crotch curve and 2. adjusting the waist height of the pants. Deepening the back crotch curve creates more room in the seat for fuller butts like mine (you can do the opposite if you have a flatter derriere) and WOW what a huge difference it made! I deepened mine by 1/2 inch from the seam allowance and it made for a pant that fit my curves in the back while still giving me plenty of room to walk and sit and bend- they look super fitted but they don’t feel tight at all. Amaaaaazing! Raising the waist of the pants was another impressive fix- it’s a quick and dirty way to keep the pants from sagging or gaping and seems to be a good solution to fixing a swayback as well. Since you have a band of elastic around your waist, it’s easy to see where the paper pattern should be adjusted in relationship to where you want the waistband to be. When I was tissue fitting these pants, the back came up super high on me, several inches past my natural waist, so I was able to cut that chunk out to make them sit better, giving plenty of room for ease and wearability.

After my initial tissue fit, I added more room to the hips, adjusted the width of the legs and calves and adjusted the length of the pieces between the waist and the hip (this created a shorter depth of crotch since mine hung down a little lower than what felt comfortable or looked good) on my paper pattern, then I cut out the new pattern pieces using a black textured fabric that I hoped would be a wearable muslin. Unfortunately, halfway through the process I realized that my fabric was of pretty poor quality and that I would probably never wear them once they were finished, but I didn’t mind- I got some great practice with that first pair and once I saw that the fit was getting closer to what I wanted, I was excited to move on to my pink fabric anyways. I installed my zipper using the Closet Case method she shares in her Jeans Making e-Book, then I basted the pant legs together, tried them on, and made a few more tiny tweaks in the hip and thigh area. After that it was smooth sailing- I just needed to create and attach my waistband and hem the bottoms.

Now the real exciting thing for me here is not that I used the Palmer Pletsch method of making pants, but that I used a BURDA PATTERN TO MAKE THEM. Yep, you read right! (I blame Renee). I have mentioned a dozen times on this blog how much I hate Burda patterns. I love the styles but MY GOD the instructions and construction techniques are just awful- too sparse, sometimes written incorrectly, no line drawings or photos (at least with the online patterns I have purchased) and no additional details on construction techniques whatsoever. When I first started getting into sewing a lot a few years ago, Burda enticed me with all their pretty photos, fashion forward designs, and inexpensive patterns, and I accumulated quite a few of them, even making a couple of dresses that turned out sort of okay, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was NOT the intended demographic for their patterns. With the exception of a few simple designs, their patterns are generally not for beginners who are unfamiliar with how to construct a variety of garments. I remember buying a cargo shorts pattern of theirs a few years ago which essentially began with the words “insert your front fly zipper” and no actual instructions that followed. I was like *#^!)#&%$%?!?!?!?!- aren’t you supposed to tell me how to insert a front fly zipper, Burda??? I looked up instructions online but I was too out of my depth, having never made a zip fly before and getting incredibly confused when the details of my pattern pieces didn’t match up with the tutorials I was finding. Needless to say, I threw that project in the Butthole Bin and hadn’t tried another Burda pattern since.

But when I realized that I wanted to make a pair of trousers for myself using the Palmer Pletsch technique, I had a lot of trouble finding a pattern that matched what I wanted. I was looking for a peg-leg trouser, something high waisted with a loose-ish (but not wide) leg that could be rolled up at the ankle, dressed up or down. I wanted pleats, too, a detail that ladies with curves are not “supposed” to wear since pleats can accentuate areas that you “should” want to hide. But of course, as mentioned in an earlier post, I am moving away from all those “rules” and experimenting with clothing that has aesthetics I am attracted to as opposed to details that I think will “work” for my body (/excessive use of quotations). The Big 4 companies didn’t have what I was looking for and neither did any of my fav indie pattern designers, but I found several pattern contenders when I reluctantly started sorting through the online Burda catalogue. I could vaguely hear Renee’s voice in the back of my head rattling off all the amazing Burda patterns she had successfully made over the years, and I started to gain a little more confidence. It had been years since I had last attempted a Burda pattern and I knew my skills as a sewist had grown a lot since then, but I had also noticed that as a I got more comfortable with the craft, I liked to challenge myself more. So. Maybe it was time to give Burda another chance. I chose the Pleated High Waist Pants 02/2012 #103A, (why do they choose the most confusing way to name/categorize their patterns??) added the damn seam allowance (I shouldn’t hate this as much as I do because I already trace all my pattern pieces- adding seam allowance is really not that big a deal for me…and yet!) and went to work.

This is me demonstrating how comfortable and easy it is for me to do a squat in these pants! I do squats in heels all the time, by the way!

Guys. It wasn’t that bad! I used my trusty Closet Case construction method for inserting my zip fly, adding and subtracting certain details to my liking, then I proceeded as usual for any other pair of jeans using the fitting adjustments described earlier in this post. With a solid foundation on how to construct a pair of pants, I didn’t even need Burda’s measly 7 sentence “instructions”, and maybe that’s how most Burda patterns are intended to be used- you use them with your own basic understanding of how to make the garment and they just supply the drafted pattern pieces. I guess there is reason these patterns are so cheap! I would still prefer to have a regular set of instructions included with my patterns, but I know now that I am capable of working from my own knowledge, and I love that the world of beautiful Burda patterns is now open to me again.

As for the pants, I LOVE them! I realize that I have been saying I love my makes way more consistently now which feels so exciting to me. And it’s true! These pants fit great, they are super comfortable, and I freaking love the gorgeous pink color of the fabric. On my last trip to The Fabric Store, the lovely Sara immediately led me in the direction of this hot pink raw silk when I told her I was looking for a bottom-weight fabric for some trousers. This fabric was a little more lightweight than what I was initially looking for but once I saw it, I obviously couldn’t say no (pink is my favorite color, next to yellow, and next to gray. I have three favorite colors, sue me). It ended up working perfectly with this pattern, and raw silk is probably a smarter fabric to wear in a Los Angeles summer than what I was looking for anyways. This is one of the (many) things about The Fabric Store that I love- everyone in the store is knowledgeable about the fabric and they also have really good taste, so whether you are looking for something specific or needing help narrowing down your options, they can steer you in the right direction. The color of this fabric is as brilliant in person as it is in the photos, it has a spectacular hand (soft with just the right amount of nub) and drape (a lot of body without being stiff) which works really well for this pair of pattern.

I didn’t use the waistband pieces of the Burda pattern, mostly because they made absolutely no sense to me- I couldn’t tell where they connected to each other and which piece was supposed to be cut on the fold. Instead I decided to use my waistband from the Ginger Jeans pattern, which was already curved and adjusted to fit my waist perfectly; I shaved off a little of the width and it worked like a dream on these pants. I played around with the idea of adding belt loops but eventually nixed that idea because I wasn’t sure if I would actually wear a belt with them. After wearing them once I can say that a belt is totally unnecessary and I am so glad I didn’t do the extra work of adding them, cause sometimes I am just lazy.

brushing my shoulders off, obvs.

Now that I have successfully made a pair of pants using a fitting technique I had never tried before and a pattern company that I historically hate, I am feeling kind of unstoppable, like I need to make ALL the pants! I already have a project in mind for my next pair- I want them to be a high waisted wide leg pant in another fun color, like yellow or robin’s egg blue. I wish I had some of this raw silk in every color because it would work for SO many projects, and I can only imagine how beautifully it would sew up into a dress. But let me slow down and take it one cut of fabric at a time…I already have two #recarpetDIY projects on the horizon in addition to one of the Pattern Review winners for best dress of 2016 lined up in my queue. And I have like three pairs of shoes that I am ready to try my hand at, too, now that spring sandals are in all the shops and I am feeling newly inspired.

Sigh. Sew little time, sew many projects 😉

edit: OMG I forgot to say: The top is a Grainline Studios Lark Tee in a knit fabric from Michael Levine’s which was just too pretty not to buy when I went shopping there a couple months ago- didn’t blog about it because these tees are super easy and there isn’t much to say about them, but it’s a great pattern with lots of options and I love how this one turned out!

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!

 

 

Roll Tide Toll

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What good is a rule if you don’t ever break it, amirite??

Among MANY rules that I have set in place for myself as an adult, thanks to a relatively boundary-free childhood (which is a memoir blog post for another day), avoiding patterns that don’t suit your silhouette is probably the one that I stick to the most. It didn’t take me long to institute this sewing rule after I made a few patterns that looked great on the models in the photos but failed to turn me into a tall, leggy, thigh-gapped lady in turn. This ‘sewing for your body’ rule of thumb is, as the kids say, mad problematic. I know what “works” for my body and what styles I feel the most confident in, but how much of that is learned and how much of that is my actual opinion? I know I have discussed all of this before in some way so apologies for sounding like a broken record, but I am always finding new avenues into how body image, the patriarchy, and feminism/womanism intersect. I have always been taught that pants or skirts that end at mid-calf are not flattering on short women or women with muscular/thick legs, so I didn’t wear them for years… but is that something I really think is true or did I just internalize it from all the copies of Cosmopolitan magazine I read in my teens and twenties? I just don’t know.

I also recognize that I am speaking from a place of privilege to even contemplate these possibilities in a public space without fear of retaliation or judgement; despite my own episodes of body dis-morphia and hangups, I am petite, and this type of body is currency in our culture. My shape adheres to the general standards of what is considered “acceptable” by society and I have benefited from this in all kind of ways, from the work I have gotten in my career to the ways that strangers treat me. It is not my intention to use this space as a platform to speak on behalf of curvy/voluptuous/plus-size/fat women because that is not my experience in the world- I want to support their voices, not drown them out with my own. But I do want to pay better attention to the language that I use and the inner thoughts that I have regarding bodies, my own and other people’s.

How can I show solidarity with all bodies in the world when in private I criticise my own, periodically zooming in on ways that it is not “good” enough? How can I say that big is beautiful! if there are days when I avoid looking in a mirror for fear that I will be disappointed with what I see? Again, I just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to know. Lately I have been pretty good at changing the language I use when I am being critical of my body. Instead of telling myself that I am something, I try to focus on whether or not I am feeling something, and there is usually a connection there. When my internal monologue tells me that I am ugly or gross or unattractive, most of the time I am actually just feeling things like sadness or frustration about something unrelated, and those uncomfortable feelings are manifesting themselves in the way I view my body. Why? Well, I personally think it’s because individuals who identify as women and/or who present themselves as feminine are often taught that their worth lies in their physical appearance. There is some comfort, albeit misguided, in being able to blame our failures, insecurities and anxieties on the way that we look. But I don’t think the answer is simply to stop those “negative” feelings from brewing up inside of us. Uncomfortable feelings are valid and important, and it helps to know where they come from; discomfort does in fact have a place in our lives. But allowing that discomfort to define the way we in turn actually move around in the world is unfair.  There should be space enough for us to feel how we feel and still see ourselves as whole, worthy individuals. Of course, it feels easy for me to intellectualize this, but much harder for me to actually start to unpack it and change the behaviors I have had for so many years. But it doesn’t help to start, right? Right!

Which brings me to….THE HANNAH DRESS by Victory Patterns!

I saw the Hannah dress when it was released last year and immediately thought, “Oh cool, another beautiful dress I will never make for myself”. I had a couple of reasons for shooting this pattern down so quickly. One is that I have made two Victory patterns before, the Ava and the Nicola, to practically disastrous results. Both are super pretty designs with a lot of personality, but the sizing of these patterns was way off for me (they fit much smaller than the measurements suggested) and if my memory serves correct, I also thought that the drafting was off; for instance, a lot of my notches and raw edges in one of those patterns would not meet up even after double checking my marks on the initial pattern pieces, and it drove me up a wall trying to figure out what I had done incorrectly.

Mini review alert: On the Nicola wrap dress, I had to do a lot of extra work trying to make the pattern wearable after I completed it- I had to add a lining to the dress because you could see the insides of the skirt very easily since the flap in the front flew open constantly when you walked or sat down in it. The bodice where the two sides met in the middle refused to lay flat for me and kept puckering up in the strangest ways, and it was also placed weirdly low, so I was constantly worrying that my boobs (which, by the way, are not very large) were gonna pop out. To keep the front bodice closed and PG-rated, I tried sewing all these extra buttons and closures I into the dress, but they didn’t work well and I still ended up needing to wear a slip underneath the dress to keep my goodies covered. The sleeves were also a big problem for me. I thought they looked just fine in the images on the pattern but on my dress they were so gigantic that they looked a little clownish. I ended up hacking several inches off the length and the width of the sleeves so that they looked more subdued but they just never felt quite right. I wore this dress only once, tugging and pulling and untwisting it the whole time, before putting it in a give away pile when I konmaried my house last year. Essentially the design had a pretty silhouette but simply was not functional for me.

I don’t have as much to say about the Ava dress because I gave up on it more quickly. Nothing about the pattern worked or fit the way it was supposed to, and the delicate fabric I used at the top of the bodice just got mauled in the process of all my seam ripping and re-sewing. This was the pattern where none of my notches and marks seemed to match up at all. I tried to turn the dress into a blouse by chopping off the bottom because I hated to have wasted all that time, effort, and fabric, but eventually I put this into the give away pile, too.

These reviews, of course, are not a reflection of anybody’s experience but mine: the pattern did not work for ME and the sizing did not work for ME. I made those garments probably about a year or so after diving headfirst into making a me-made wardrobe, so there was clearly still a lot to learn about construction, fabric choice, and alterations, all of which could have been handled more smartly had I been making muslins for every new pattern I made (I wasn’t a consistent muslin-maker back then). But at the same time, I have plenty of makes from that time period that came out beautifully and required a lot less work, so who knows if it was me or the pattern!

I figured that Victory Patterns, gorgeous as they may be, are simply not meant for me (much like the Colette brand). A pattern brand can’t be everything to everyone, and that is okay- I have found my peace with this. But then Heather wrote a whole blog post on her favorite things of 2016 and there was the Hannah dress again, listed with a few words about what an architecturally stunning design it was. Taking another look at the dress for the first time in months, I realized I couldn’t agree with her more. It is so modern without looking too utilitarian, and it offers such a cool and simple way to experiment with color blocking and pattern combining. And at the same time, while remarking on what an interesting build the dress had, I could not for the life of me figure out how it was made; there seemed to be a bit of magical construction incorporated in the design. I was intrigued!

So ok, yes I thought the dress was really cool initially, but being reintroduced to it months later by one of my favorite sewing bloggers/designers pushed it into Let’s Pin It On My Pinterest Page territory. But what about my unsuccessful history with this pattern company? And more importantly, what of the fact that this design will make me look like I am wearing a potato sack because I am short and curvy and I am not supposed to wear garments that minimize my shape, I am supposed to wear ones that define it?

Who came up with that “rule”? Who says it’s true? And who is enforcing these antiquated ideals, anyways??

Oh, right. Me. I am my very own self-appointed fashion police. And if I am the one to blame here, that means that I am the one who can change it.

So I made the Hannah dress! And you know what? I think I like it! Not gonna lie, I am still getting used to this shape on me. When I finally tried it on after completing it, I could hear my brain immediately trying to pick it apart and criticize the way it looked on me, but I realized that that talk in my head is a loop of recycled material; it didn’t really have anything to do with what I was actually seeing in the mirror. And what was a I actually seeing?

Well, the dress looked a little tight in the shoulder/bust area meaning I should have gone up at least one size there (this was an obvious oversight on my part since my past dresses with this company were also too small). But it didn’t feel uncomfortable. The length was perfect since I shortened the front and back pattern pieces by an inch, and I loved the way the dress dipped lower in the back than in the front- it gave me the chance to show a little leg without feeling too exposed. The excess fabric from the folds and pockets of the side panels gathers right around my hips, and since I have always thought my hips were out of proportion to the rest of my body, extra fabric weight in that area is not something I have historically felt comfortable with. But seeing myself in the mirror wearing the dress, it was impossible to say that it actually looked bad. The dress didn’t have so much ease that you couldn’t see and feel your body move around in it. And it didn’t look like a potato sack on me at all.

The only thing I would change would be to go up a size. I cut out a size 2 in the bust and graded to a 4 in the hips, but I would try a 4:6 next time (I could probably even get away with a straight 6). The other thing I would change is…the color.

I was inspired by this cool color combo I saw on pinterest and bought my tencel fabric online thinking it would be a close enough match, but you know how computer screens are. The blue was navy-er than I anticipated and the brown was WAY more yellow/gold. And what does that leave you with? A DAMN AUBURN TIGERS INSPIRED DRESS!!!! For the record I am not into football at all (although I was a cheerleader, and probably a terrible one at that!), but I do rep ALABAMA as a rule. ROLL TIDE ROLLLL! One is simply born into these rivalries, and though I had no choice in the matter, the loyalty still runs deep. I feel completely conditioned at this point in my life because whenever I see an orange and blue color combo, Auburn is what immediately comes to mind and distaste is immediately what I feel. It took me halfway to finishing this dress before I realized why I wasn’t liking it very much- it’s the colors! I felt both ashamed that I had picked them out and ashamed that they mattered that much to me. Although I like the way this dress design looks and feels, I have no idea if it’s going to actually get much wear since I have such a negative connotation attached to it. All I kept thinking as I was making it was “God, this dress would be so perfect in pink and grey!” Maybe if I can get my hands on some more of this beautiful Tencel fabric in those colors I can make it happen!

Anyways, construction of this dress was super fun! Even though the whole time I was making it I had no idea what I was doing, hahaha. This pattern is like a complicated road map that doesn’t really make sense until you are in the middle of the journey and putting all the pieces together. All the design elements and notches matched up on this pattern, even with me grading to a different size at certain parts, and the details are pretty fantastic. Making the hidden button placket was my favorite part. It’s got a lot of steps to it, kind of like a zip fly on a pair of pants, but once you get to the last bit of it and start to see it all come together, it feels so exciting. The sleeves and collar are finished with binding that is sewn to the inside which resulted in a very clean and professional look, and like many Victory dresses, the hem is faced and then folded up and sewn a few inches above the actual bottom of the dress. I think this is a cool design element but it doesn’t work for all fabrics- the flowy-er and more lightweight your textile is, the more puckered and wonky the stitching at the hem has a tendency to be (at least in my experience). Thankfully I used tencel for this dress which has a medium weight, and it handled all of the stitching for this dress really well.

Aside from that, there isn’t much to say about the make- it was a far cry better than the other designs I tried to sew from this line, which might be because this dress doesn’t have much shape to it so there is less room for fitting errors. As mentioned above, I definitely think there will be another dress like this in my future, which is exciting since I know I can go up a size, I understand better how it’s constructed, and I can find a more suitable color combo for my tastes. But the most exciting thing is that I have proved to myself that these arbitrary rules I have been applying to my sense of style for so many years don’t necessarily hold true. I think it’s a great thing to have a firm idea about what we think looks good on our body and what we feel good in- without these notions, TnT patterns wouldn’t even exist! But there is a murky line between the stories we have been told our whole lives and the stories that are actually true. It feels important to continue to test them, to never accept them at face value, to keep redefining what beauty means to us and to separate what we see and feel from what we have learned. Being an adult is sooooo hard. But I am determined to look REALLY GOOD while I struggle through it 😉

Vintage Givenchy Vogue Gown in Silver

I made this dress over a year ago and wore it to an event already, so the details of the make are unfortunately not very fresh in my mind. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get it on the blog, but better late than never, right? Clearly it deserves some space here because it’s so pretty! What I love most about this pattern is how simple it is- no darts and only a handful of pattern pieces (sleeves, front and back and collar)- yet the effect is so glamourous! Everytime I see it in my closet on a hanger I’m like, “meh”, and then when I try it on I feel completely wowed by how stunning it is.

I used a silver silk charmeuse from The Fabric Store that was purchased quite some time ago, so they might not have any more bolts of this particular textile, but rest assured, they have a ton of comparable gorgeous silks and blends to choose from. Before I made this dress I thought that all silks were created equal, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong I was. I’m about to commit a huge personal sin here on the blog, which is to use food descriptors to better explain to you what this silk is like. I’m normally against this sort of thing, but I don’t know if the english language has enough words in it to accurately describe it for you otherwise, so here goes. Y’all, its buttery. It feels delicious. Some might even say yummy. UGH UGH UGH, I hated to do that, but it’s all true! The silk really does feel so good in your hands! It feels thick in a way, but it doesn’t LOOK heavy at all- see that drape?

It’s even more dramatic in person! When the fabric folds, it captures all the deepest tones in the silver color and it feels so luxurious against your skin. The inside of the silk (matte, compared to the right side which is shiny) has a greenish tint to it, and that might be why this color works on me, because, much like black, I am not generally a “silver” person. Again, my pictures are not doing this dress justice for how stunning it is in real life, but my skin has undertones of yellow in it and tends to look glowier when it’s covered in greens, yellows, mustards and chartreuses. This of course doesn’t stop me from wearing head-to-toe pink, but it’s nice to know I can wear a section of hues that the rest of the world doesn’t think it can. Whenever Claire accompanies me to a fabric store, her eyes immediately find the yellowy-greeniest fabric in the joint and then she convinces me to buy it. Gotta love a girl who knows what your most flattering color palette is, right?

Construction of this dress, although a vintage Vogue pattern which can come with it’s cons, was pretty straight forward as far as I remember. The sleeves gave me a bit of trouble, because as you can see they are very dramatic and they simply weren’t sitting right on my frame; turns out the shoulders were just set too wide (note to self, this is not the first shoulder adjustment you have made on a Vogue dress- maybe plan for this in the future with every new-to-you pattern?) The fix was fairly easy, I just took out my sleeves, cut away almost 2 inches of seam allowance at the top of the shoulders and halfway down the sleeve opening, then replaced the sleeves. If memory serves correct, I was able to get away with just taking that width out and not having to adjust it beneath the arms, which seems like a miracle because my side seams were french and it would have been a hassle to have to unpick them to take out some of the seam allowance.

Aside from the sleeves, my biggest obstacle was learning how to work with the silk, which sewed up pretty easily but because of it’s light color I was so scared to get it dirty and was therefore constantly carrying it around in my arms as opposed to picking it up with my fingers. This fabric isn’t super delicate, though, and it handled my hand stitching around the front slit beautifully. When glancing at the slit I had to do a double take when I pulled this out of the closet for this photoshoot because they were almost invisible.

Hemming was another issue for me. I’m not sure why, but I decided to use black lace tape to tack up the hem underneath the dress- I think I had discovered it for the first time and thought it was cool…which it is, but not for this dress. First of all, black was too visible a color to match with the gown (no, duh!) and I didn’t think about this when I was making it. Also, when I wore it to the red carpet event I attended, the little rubber knob on the heels of my shoes kept snagging the lace from inside and pulling it! Thank God it didn’t trip me up, but it did come close, and at the end of the night I saw that I had a long trail of thread floating behind me on the gown from a place that got snagged and started to unravel. I gracefully made my way to the bathroom and then cursed at it as I carefully snapped the thread off. As you can imagine, the lace on the inside of the hem looked a HOT MESS by the time I got home.

Since then I have removed the lace tape and re-hemmed the dress using a straight machine stitch which actually looks just fine on the outside, but in taking out the tape, I ended up having to cut some of my hem allowance off. So the finish is just a little jaggedy-looking down there, but only on the inside. That is actually my main regret about this dress- at the time I wasn’t as into clean finishes as I am now, so even though I did use a few beautiful french seams, I also serged the edge of the facing of my collar, which I think looks sloppy on a dress as fancy as this, and I used an iron-on interfacing at the collar instead of sewing in organza, which is what I use for all my silks now. Thankfully this charmeuse has so much body that you can’t see or feel the texture of the interfacing popping through to the other side, but I still would have constructed it differently if I were making this dress today. This silk, like many others, frays like crazy, so there are a couple of areas on the inside of the dress (around the hem and the collar) where the seam isn’t finished and it just looks messy. But again, none of this shows on the outside of the dress. And it’s a nice reminder of how far my tastes and abilities have come! I’ve said it before, but this bears repeating- I am all for serge-finishing seams on everyday wear, but for #redcarpetDIY projects, I like to step my game up just a bit. Last thing I would change about the dress? Finding nicer buttons! I love the look and color of the vintage-inspired buttons I used, but they are actually plastic- I could not find any black glass buttons of the size I needed for this dress so I settled for these. I think they look fine but they just feel cheap, whereas the rest of the dress feels pretty fancy. The good thing is that changing out buttons on a garment is pretty easy, so I’m just waiting for the perfect ones to fall into my lap.

If you couldn’t tell already, I LOVE THIS DRESS! My favorite things about this pattern are the gorgeous tulip sleeves, the front slit, the elegant collar, and the amount of ease included in the pattern, which is just perfect for me- plenty of room for my hips, butt and thighs to move freely without feeling constricted, while still giving a figure-grazing silhouette.

Now, take a look at the shoes I am wearing in the photos. Although not my usual style preference, the color matches the dress pretty well and the crystals offer a little bling to contrast with the understated gown. But that’s not the point. The point is that these are are Badgley Mischka shoes, bought during a mad-dash to find appropriate footwear for this dress after I got a last-minute invite to the event from a friend. This is significant to me because I used to work at Badgley Mischka. Yep, waaaaay back in the day, when I was single and living in NYC and my heart was set on musical theatre, not film, and I had no agent, no manager, and no bigger goals in my life beyond paying my rent on time. I had been in an Off-Broadway musical which closed unexpectedly (as they tend to do) and I suddenly found myself in immediate need of employment. A friend suggested I call a temp agency to try and get work as a receptionist, which was surprisingly easier than getting a job waiting tables, and within a few weeks I found myself as a perma-temp fixture at the studios of Badgley Mischka. I manned the phones, accepted deliveries, buzzed people through the glass doors and chatted with my friends on IM for hours. The job was easy and Mark and James were kind to me, which is probably why I stayed there so long. I had moved to NYC to be an actor, but I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with my survival job and worrying less and less about how I was going to make it to auditions with a 9-5 job.

Sometimes if I arrived to work early enough, I was responsible for walking through the studio and turning all the lights on before the rest of the employees (mostly sales team members and a couple of assistant designers) showed up. I would pause at the racks of gowns that were dripping in crystals and run my fingers down them, completely enchanted. The dresses were not exactly my style, but there was no denying how exceptionally beautiful and well-made they were. I wondered if I would ever wear a thing of such beauty, if I would ever even have a need to wear it. Celebrities and stylists were popping in and out of the office all the time to borrow Badgley Mischka gowns for red carpet events- I remember the office being abuzz for a whole week because someone named Anna Wintour was stopping by for an in-person discussion with James and Mark. I had no idea who she was at the time, but when she stepped off the elevator it didn’t matter; her energy, her clothes, her demeanor told you everything you needed to know about her. A week later I picked up The Devil Wears Prada and devoured it in a matter of days, thankful that I had no idea who she was before I met her, as the chances of me embarrassing myself would have been multiplied.

I didn’t necessarily want fame, exorbitant wealth, or even celebrity-status, but it was easy to equate the gowns hanging in the back of the studio with fortune, substance, success. And I did want to be successful! I had made my way from Birmingham, Alabama to New York City by the skin of my teeth, graduating college with a degree in the arts and then working 4 jobs for 8 months to save enough money to rent a U-Haul and pay a deposit plus one month’s rent on a one bedroom apartment that I shared with two other girls, an apartment we were not even legally supposed to be living in. I hadn’t settled when I first started dreaming of living in NYC- I set my sights high and made it happen by any means necessary. So why was I settling now?

A few weeks later, I turned my notice in to Badgley Mischka, and they seemed genuinely sad to see me go. They supported my dreams of wanting to be a professional actor, but I don’t think they really believed it would happen. How many young girls had sat at that same reception desk with dreams for something bigger than that studio could hold? I had no idea. But I did know was that I was no longer going to be one of them.

I am intrigued by the intersection of what we dream for ourselves and what we make reality, because, as you fellow sewists and crafters know, we are only limited by what we are afraid of trying to do. Whenever I put these shoes on, I am reminded of the connection I had to that studio, of how Badgley Mischka introduced me to a world that I wanted to be a part of but which felt unreachable. I had no way of knowing at the time that I would be a part of that world in ways that I never even imagined possible. My connection to it isn’t necessarily through a calendar full of high profile events with paparazzi following me around and photographers shouting “who are you wearing?”, but rather through the ability to bring beauty into the world, for myself, with my own hands. I don’t have to rely on anyone to make me feel beautiful, or successful, or fortunate. I can do it all by myself.