Brillant Bouquet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Inner Debbie Allen

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A few months ago I had a really grand idea for a dress design. It was comprised of a strapless bodice attached to a fitted pencil skirt with a sheer, flowy overlay at the waist- the dress equivalent of a mullet, but with business AND a party on the bottom. I knew that this dress wouldn’t be difficult to make because I had all the pattern blocks I needed, each tested and tweaked from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book: a strapless bodice, a pencil skirt, and various versions of a full-bodied skirt depending on the fabric I decided to use.

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On my August trip to The Fabric Store I came across this really cool mauve-colored cotton that I fell in love with (I am sure this type of fabric has a name, but I don’t know what it is). Essentially it has a sheer cotton background with appliques made of the same sheer fabric and cut in the shape of flowers that are placed on top. I thought it would look beautiful as my sheer overlay skirt, so then I searched the store for the perfect accompaniment fabric from which to make the fitted dress. I came across a polyester blend in Barbie pink- it had a tiny bit of sparkle and what I thought at the time was a nice, stable body, but it turns out that was just wishful thinking; the pink polyester was much more suitable as a lining, but I didn’t figure this out until the entire dress was made and I stood in my mirror with a dispirited look on my face. The bodice was fully lined with several tracks of boning attached to the lining, but the outer fabric was just too thin and showed each pucker, nip and tuck of the structure underneath. It gaped and folded at odd places and looked cheap (not as a fabric by itself, but in the way I had tried to manipulate it). Add to this my lack of care in working with the synthetic fiber (read: I TRIED TO IRON POLYESTER) and you can imagine the frustration it brought me. But the pink polyester fabric for the bodice/pencil skirt was not the only ill-fated choice I had made in the construction of the dress. The mauve overskirt fabric, while gorgeous on it’s own, either wasn’t sheer enough (or the Barbie pink fabric not bold enough) to show the details of the pencil skirt of the dress underneath, so my shiny pink fabric ended up getting lost anyways. My choice of using a circle skirt for the overlay pattern was also misguided- the shape didn’t serve as a big enough contrast to the pencil skirt underneath. From far away it looked fine, I guess, but up close, and in comparison to the dress I had imagined in my head, it was a disaster.

But I didn’t consider it a total loss- I had a good idea of what I needed to do to make this style of dress work, and step one was to abandon this pink failure and start over from scratch. On my next trip to The Fabric Store I immediately found the perfect fabric to use as my overlay, a completely sheer organza- type fabric with colorful bold stripes printed across it, and then I searched the shelves for a more appropriate fabric to use for the bodice/pencil skirt combo underneath. A midnight blue, full bodied (yes, like wine!) fabric that is apparently called Noil Silk, but looks like an imprint of woodgrain to me, ended up fitting the bill for my underdress, and this time, I made ALL the right decisions and the dress is a success! But more on this project in a future post!

After all that work, I was stuck with a pink polyester mess attached to a beautiful overlay skirt. Like most sewers, I hate to throw away nice fabric that I have inadvertently sewn into a disaster, but the overlay skirt was particularly difficult to think of getting rid of. It had taken me a couple of hours to figure out how to eek out a circle skirt from my cut of fabric (I seem to always err on the side of too little rather than too much when determining yardage) and I had just BARELY managed to make it work. And then I had spent a lot of time creating beautiful french seams for the inside since they would be seen through the sheer fabric. And it was all for nothing! But alas, I realized a few days later after heaving the pink dress into a corner of my craft room that if I had enough fabric leftover, I might be able to create a waistband for the skirt and just wear it as a separate… and I could maybe even get some semblance of the original silhouette I had in mind, depending on what I wore with it.

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During my first trip home after almost a month in Savannah, tackling this project was the very first thing on my mind! I carefully removed the polyester bodice/pencil skirt dress from the overlay and the zipper it had been attached to and proceeded to cut out two simple rectangles for the waistband (one for the outer band and one for the facing) in the width I wanted, plus seam allowance. Because my fabric is sheer, I lined it with some organza silk I had in my stash to give it stability instead of using interfacing, then I sewed everything together and attached an invisible zipper. I was worried that the fabric would be too lightweight to hold a zipper without puckering at the seams, but it held it’s shape just fine. Since I had re-sewn the pieces of the circle skirt and the edges seemed to be a little uneven, I let it hang overnight so the bias could re-acclimate to it’s new shape, and I evened out the edges and hemmed it the next day.

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To complete this look, I paired it with a Nettie bodysuit I made from a Closet Case Files pattern a couple of years ago. I was hoping the deep color of the bodysuit would give just enough contrast with the mauve to show through the skirt so that I could fully channel my inner-Debbie Allen, and I think it works beautifully. This is another look I have always loved and never found the RTW items to pull off: a maxi dress/skirt with bloomers underneath. The look came back on my radar after I saw a few scenes of Netflix’s show The Get Down. In all of the big disco scenes they shot, there are TONS of stunning outfits on the actors, but the all white maxi dress with the hip-high slit in the middle and the white bloomers peeking through was PERFECTION. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and this skirt and bodysuit for me is a much more casual iteration of that look. Eventually I would love to go full out and make a dramatic RedCarpetDIY version of that dress, but for now, this is a nice, safe stepping stone to the look.

 

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Even though this dress didn’t turn out the way I intended it to, it feels like a massive success. For one thing, I was able to learn from all the mistakes I made on this dress and apply my knowledge to a new version of the dress by starting over (if at first you don’t succeed, trycurious again!), and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the make was not a total loss. I have talked about this before on the blog, but figuring out how to salvage my mess-ups, how to Tim Gunn it and make it work, how to make lemonade out of lemons, has shown me exactly how far my sewing has come in the few years that I have made it my main hobby. Sewing requires such a vast array of knowledge and techniques that it seems impossible to ever to get to a point where anyone knows it ALL, so to be reminded that I haven’t hit a wall and am continuing to learn more feels really good.

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My film Suicide Kale will be screening in Atlanta this weekend (check out www.suicidekale.com to find out more info!) and this outfit will be making it’s debut there! When filming a show, particularly on location like Underground, it’s rare to have opportunities for red carpet and PR events, so it seems a little ridiculous that I have focused ONLY on #redcarpetDIY makes in the past couple of months. But at the same time, if fancy fabrics are what grab you, it only make sense to go with them. So excited to high kick in this getup at the panel discussion after the screening, just to make Debbie Allen proud!

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Linen and Loose

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

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

Butterick 4485

Butterick 4485

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

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

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

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

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Girlfriend Fit: The Morgan Jeans by Closet Case Files

This is a three-in-one post since I want to show off this very simple but very excellent tank top I am obsessed with in addition to the pairs of Morgan Jeans I have made over the past months; thankfully I wont be the only model showing these makes off!

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I first made these jeans many months ago and for some reason never had an opportunity to get good photos of them other than some snapshots on Instagram. The Morgan Jeans pattern is described as having a “boyfriend” fit, which most of us I am sure are familiar with, but for obvious reasons I will be referring to them in this post as “girlfriend” jeans 😉  I don’t wear relaxed-fit pants very often unless you count my house clothes (does anyone outside of the south refer to loungewear as “house clothes”??), but when I saw this pattern released by Closet Case Files back in the spring, I knew I was going to have to start. I was of course already in love with Heather Lou’s skinny jeans pattern, Ginger, so adding a more casual pair of denim jeans to my wardrobe seemed like a brilliant idea. I have tons of breezy summer dresses that can be dressed up or down for summer, but my winter casual wardrobe was pretty non-existent. In the colder months I am either very dressed up or in sweatpants, and there was barely anything in between- until now!

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The other reason I was into this pattern was because I knew that they would be a great staple for my wife (aka former girlfriend!), Claire. I made her a pair of Ginger jeans last year for Christmas which she loves, but in general she seems to prefer a more relaxed, comfortable fit than skinny jeans allow. She was immediately into the idea of a pair (or three) of Girlfriend Morgans for herself, but she asked if I could make them as shorts instead of pants. Of course, turning this pattern into shorts was a totally easy adjustment since they just get lopped off right at the knee, and per her request, folded a couple of times at the bottom. Alas, the Morgan Jean Shorts were born!

For our first pairs of Morgans we bought denim from The Fabric Store, which was exciting because all the denim I has bought previously had been from the (awesome) denim kits that Closet Case Files and WorkRoom Social occasionally team up to offer for sale. It was fun to get up close and personal with the selection of denim that The Fabric Store offers, seeing the subtle differences in color, texture, and weight, and since this denim didn’t need to stretch, it took a lot of the guesswork out of how the fabric would ultimately fit when sewn up. Claire settled on a gorgeous sturdy selvedge denim with tiny little flecks of lighter thread woven throughout, and I chose a deeply hued, lighter weight denim for myself. Initially I intended to make my jeans raw, forgoing the pre-wash before cutting into my fabric and opting instead to get the natural whiskered effect that you can only get from wearing them over time, but the smell of the processed fabric ended up lingering for far too long, and I stuck them in the wash a few weeks ago to get rid of it- thankfully they didn’t alter the fit and now they have no smell!

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There is not much to say about the construction of these babies- since I had made several pairs of Gingers already and the technique for the Morgans is exactly the same (save for the option to make a button-fly instead of a zip fly), the makes were easy and were completed pretty quickly. As I have mentioned in other posts, I highly recommend Closet Case Files’ Jeans-Making eBook if you haven’t tackled jeans before. The eBook provides great photos, step by step instructions, and lots of helpful tips on everything from how to source the best denim to how to install your rivets properly. I don’t even read the instructions for making jeans patterns anymore, I just pull up the eBook on my iPad and follow the steps that are laid out there.

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I am excited to play around with the design of these a bit; if I make them again, I might try to combine the high-waist of the Gingers with the relaxed fit of the hips and legs of the Morgans. I used to have a vintage pair of Levi’s with a high, fitted waist and a wider, more comfortable leg, and they were SO CUTE, so it would be fun to try and recreate that look on a memade pair.

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My favorite detail about the Morgan jeans is the addition of the little leather patch on the back, which allows you to customize your jeans even further.

Here is my pair:

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and here is Claire’s:

❤️ S A V A G E ❤️

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

I recently found out I was going to have to leave town for a few months for work, so the past couple of weeks have been spent trying to wrap up all my in-process sewing projects- unsurprisingly 90% of them were for Claire, who has a tendency to buy almost as much fabric as I do (without, of course, the actual interest in sewing, LOL). First on her list was another pair of Morgan Jean shorts in a really cool cotton twill we found at The Fabric Store. It’s a medium-weight, very soft fabric with a dark gray/black camouflage print on it. I had not made the Ginger or Morgan Jeans patterns with anything other than denim, but using twill didn’t make a noticeable difference in how the garment was constructed, other than that topstitching was a bit easier in certain places because the twill is not as bulky as regular denim.

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I stuck with classic gold top stiching thread and double line placement on the camo shorts but I omitted the rivets, and I love how they came out. The fit on her is excellent, and the look of the print with this pattern is really cool to me- I haven’t seen anything quite like it in stores, which is always a plus. We are in the process of arranging a barter system for the items I make Claire; sometimes she pays me actual money (we operate with a monthly personal budget to curb excessive spending on frivolous items), and sometimes we trade services- for this pair of shorts she gave me a carwash, so it seemed only fitting that I snap photos of her shorts while she was in the middle of doing the deed. And now, please enjoy Claire in some pin-up inspired photos modeled in decidedly UN-pinup attire!

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(Oh, and FYI, the above shirt is one of the MAAAAAANY Archers I have made Claire in the past few years in a cool spider and web print from Cotton and Steel).

Last but not least, I want to gush about this cute top I have been mildly obsessed with wearing all summer. It’s probably the LA heat that has turned this top into such a staple for me, but if all I am doing is hanging around the house and working in the craft room, I want to be wearing as little as possible.

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The pattern is McCall’s 6751 and the design includes 4 versions, although I have only made one of them because it’s clearly my favorite. The back criss crosses and connects at the shoulders on each side which keeps the back open, and it has a wide silhouette so it doesn’t cling to the body (I am wearing an XS with a redrafted neckline that is about an inch and a half higher than the original pattern). Because of it’s open back, it’s the perfect shirt to wear with a cute bralette underneath. I made it with a lightweight, heathered jersey cotton knit from The Fabric Store, and although I am sure this top looks really cute in stiffer woven fabrics, I am in love with the breezy look of this design and knit fabric combination.

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This top was a lifesaver during the past month or so when temperatures got so high in LA, but now that I am working in Savannah, it has proven to be even more essential- it’s the perfect thing to wear in a makeup and hair trailer so that you can remove your clothes without destroying any of the work the hair and makeup artists have done. I have also worn these tops to my yoga classes, which cover me up without stifling me in the warm studios. It’s a super quick make- less than an hour- therefore an easy addition to your end of summer wardrobe if you’re looking for some quick, easy things to wear before bundling yourself up in warmth for fall!

 

Deer & Doe & Denim

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elephants on a Vintage Blouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Campus Pride Speech/ Autostraddle Article

I mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago that I recently had the opportunity to give a speech for Campus Pride, an organization that does a lot of important work in the LGBTQ community and beyond. It meant a lot to me that they gave me a platform to speak a bit about my own experiences living as an out and proud queer woman, and I am thrilled that autostraddle.com has published the essay on their site. If you care to read a bit more on how intersectionality, class, and race play out in one queer girl’s childhood, click here for the article! As always, thanks for reading!

 

Sophie Swimsuit by ClosetCaseFiles

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The first swimsuit I ever made was three years ago, and I didn’t use a pattern. Blame it on complete ignorance or unfounded optimism or both, but I, like many veterans of the sewing community, have a tendency to jump headfirst into difficult projects without realizing how unlikely I am at being successful with them. This is one of the best benefits of being a newbie at something: often your lack of experience keeps you from telling yourself “no”, and before you know it, you have learned a whole lot of lessons to help you on your next try.

My first attempt was far from perfect, seeing as how I had no pattern or instructions to follow. I took apart a beloved vintage-style two-piece that I got from a store called Unique Vintage and had worn til it was nearly threadbare. I drew pictures and made notes on the order in which things were put together, tracing the carefully deconstructed pattern pieces onto new swimsuit lycra and re-constructing the pieces bit by bit. My biggest obstacle was not quite understanding how to apply elastic properly- I had never made a bra or underwear before, and my tension when inserting it onto the edges of the lycra was always either too tight or too loose- I had to pick the zig zag stitches out and start over several times. But the end result was still pretty successful: I made a complete two piece bathing suit that was wearable and, dare I say, flattering! The only thing I didn’t like about it was the crotch- my pattern piece for the gusset was off for some reason, and it looked loose and had a weird shape to it. But that didn’t keep me from proudly wearing it all two times that I went swimming that season (I am not a water baby but I love me a cute bathing suit)!

Next I tried the same technique on a vintage swimsuit I found at a thrift store that was too baggy from previous wear but had really cool design lines and a super flattering fit. This attempt was much less successful, probably because the template I was using from the deconstructed suit was already misshapen, but I got a much better understanding of how to use my elastic successfully.

A couple years after that, I tried my hand at finally using a pattern by turning an Ohhh Lulu bra and panty set into a bathing suit, exchanging the recommended fabric for swimsuit lycra and mesh lining and making a couple of adjustments with the elastics. It came out even better than my first suit, and this time the bottoms were a perfect fit, but the top wasn’t quite right. Again, still wearable and flattering, but without that perfect professional fit that I was looking for. The good thing about all these swimsuit attempts was that I had learned a lot on my own through trial and error and experimentation, and by the time I started making bras and underwear from indie patterns, I was already familiar with a lot of the techniques so construction was ultimately a breeze.

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When Closet Case Files announced her new Sophie Swimsuit pattern on instagram a couple of months ago, I made a tiny yet audible scream in the back of my throat- I was so thrilled because I knew I was ready to tackle a well drafted swimsuit pattern and fill in all the holes of my lacking knowledge! As usual, the pattern did not disappoint at all. Heather Lou clearly spends a substantial amount of time drafting all of her patterns to fit well for a variety of body types, and the difference in fit compared to other patterns is always obvious. CCF patterns are designed with curves in mind, and all the details are beautifully attended to, but the pattern instructions are also well written, precise, and easy to follow. This is the biggest difference to me in her patterns versus the Ohhh Lulu line- the designs of the latter are always beautifully executed and styled, but the wearability of them (for my body at least), seems to be lacking more often than not. If you don’t have a perfectly proportioned body that looks perfect in the OL patterns as-is, then it’s essential to have good knowledge of how to alter and adjust to make them work for your body. Sometimes I am totally fine with that kind of pattern, willing to put in the extra work and figure stuff out on my own, but other times I want a pattern that I know has already made considerations for the intricacies of our bodies; it’s the difference between making a pattern that comes in a XS-XL size format compared to one that ranges from 0-20 with a comprehensive size-chart for multiple cup sizes.

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Construction of this swimsuit was an absolute breeze, and I was most excited that it gives the option of using molded cups. While I am not a push-up bra kind of person, I do appreciate what a little underwire and textile support can do to a bust that is small like mine- it makes me look more hour-glassy without making me feel like I have a construction site at work around my boobs. I had never worked with sheet foam before, so it was really exciting to form the cups and see all the pieces come together, but I will suggest that, if using the sheet foam and underwire option, LABEL THE FABRIC AND FOAM PIECES FOR YOUR CUPS! Separately the pieces all look different, but once sewn together, I had a really tough time deciphering which side was the inner cup vs. the outer cup, and the addition of the foam cups made it even worse- I had to rip my seams out twice because I kept matching the wrong foam piece to the wrong fabric! Despite my issues with keeping track of all my pattern pieces, the three-piece cup is cleverly designed and gives you the maker a lot of options for how to play around with fabric placement. I ended up following the styling of the original pattern photos pretty closely because I just love the effect of the solid fabric hugging a bright print on either side, but if I make this suit again, I am sure I will be bolder with my fabric choices. I was pretty smitten by this Ankara-inspired peacock print because I rarely see this style on spandex fabric, and on my last trip to NYC, Renee and Marcy made sure that Spandex House was on our list of fabric stores to visit so that we could pick some up (Renee got some, too!) I love the pink and yellow colors together, and I knew it would suit my skin tone really well, plus, two of my previously made bathing suits are made with this dusty-rose lycra, and I love the idea of being able to mix and match all my swimsuit pieces.

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I graded between two pattern sizes for the bottoms, which is always tricky because my waist is smaller than my hips and if you aren’t careful, you can make either a pair of bottoms that don’t quite fit over your hips because the waist is so small, or a pair of bottoms that are baggy in the waist to accommodate pulling them over the hips- thankfully I think I achieved the right ratio with these. When cutting out my fabric, I totally forgot to shorten the length of the swimsuit bottoms- because I am short (5’3″), I thought that they might be too long on me as drafted, and I was right. Once they were completed and I tried them on for fit, they reached halfway up my ribcage. But it was an easy fix- I just lopped off the top two inches and re-attached my elastic and they are appropriately high-waisted now without bunching up on my back.

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This suit is comfortable, I feel gorgeous in it, and I LOOOVE the molded cups for the top! This is unlike any bathing suit I have ever worn before, whether store bought or handmade, and I really love the design and ease of wearing. I actually wore these bottoms in a short that I recently filmed that included a beach scene (I was still sourcing my sheet foam so the swim top had not been finished yet) and I am excited to see what it looks like on camera!

Peaches N’ Cream N’ The Fabric Store

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For those of you who grew up in the 80’s like me, you might remember a special Barbie Doll that made her debut wearing a floor length ruffled gown in a gorgeous shade of peach. The dress had a white sparkly bodice with sheer layers of polyester that cascaded into a wave of gathers at her feet, and a long, peach colored boa wound through her arms, the perfect accessory for this doll made in the era of TV’s Dynasty.

I was obsessed with this doll, and I didn’t get obsessed with toys very often. I knew we were poor and, from a young age, I understood it’s implications- asking for things that I knew my parents couldn’t afford seemed not only pointless, but also hurtful. I felt sure that they would give me the world if they could, so why make them feel worse than they already did? Still, this doll’s aesthetic tapped into some deep need I had, a need to exude wealth, class, and importance, to appear to be like all the other girls that I went to school with. Peaches N’ Cream Barbie represented the kind of woman who didn’t worry about money or holding down two part time jobs to make ends meet- otherwise she would not be dressed so extravagantly. She seemed confident and capable, the life of the party, good at holding court with esteemed individuals, which was something I aspired to. Why wouldn’t I be obsessed with her?

Although I never imagined that my wish would come true, Peaches N’ Cream Barbie ended up on my Christmas list, which, since my parents were not together anymore, needed to be duplicated so they could each have a copy. My mother, pragmatic as she was, must have sensed the magnitude of having this doll in my life, because on Christmas morning of that year I tore off the wrapping of a box to find, instead of the sweater or package of underwear I usually got (she, like many Moms without much disposable income, used Christmas as a way to replenish more of my needs than my wants), a beautiful Peaches N’ Cream Barbie Doll! But…she was black. For some reason I hadn’t been expecting that. To be honest I am not even sure I knew that Peaches N’ Cream Barbie CAME in black, because the black dolls didn’t end up in the commercials very often. I was thrilled that my Mom bought her for me, but I also had conflicting feelings stirring up inside that I had no idea what to do with. My Mom, (who is white), had always made it a point to buy me black dolls. I think she was trying to make up for the fact that I went to a predominantly white school, lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I only got to see my Dad (who is black) two weekends out of the month because that’s the way the custody battle went. She didn’t want my Southern white surroundings to damage how I felt about myself, and she understood the importance of me seeing myself in the things I played with. I know that now, and I appreciate it deeply. But at the time, I hated it. It was simply another reminder that I was different from everybody else in my life.

I pet my news doll’s beautiful dress and combed her dark hair that was straight and glossy and not like mine at all and waited for my Dad to pick me up and take me to my grandma’s house to celebrate Christmas with him and my cousins. There, I joyfully opened up toy after toy after toy- not an item of clothing in site- and stared in disbelief as I ripped the paper off my last present and found yet another Peaches N’ Cream Barbie, this time the one with blonde hair. My white Mom had bought me the black Peaches N’ Cream doll and my black Dad had bought me the white one (clearly my parents were not on speaking terms at this point in time). There was a sense of relief that I finally had the “right” doll, the one I had been hoping for all along, but in the coming weeks, as I held the two dolls in my hands, each exactly the same save for their coloring, I was suddenly faced with the real root of my dissatisfaction. I liked the white one because that was the one that all my white friends had, and that made me feel normal. But the doll itself didn’t make me feel normal- she looked nothing like me. It was like playing around with a fantasy that I had no say in creating. And the black doll didn’t look like me either; her skin was darker than mine, and she still had hair like the white doll, just in a different shade. I didn’t see myself in either of the toys, but I felt shame for liking the white doll better and frustration for not understanding why. Of course now I know that this is what happens when you live in a white supremacist society, but back then I just felt alone. I decided to make my dolls be cousins related by marriage for a while, but eventually they started kissing and became secret girlfriends, which is what happens when you also live in a homophobic society, but I digress.

Growing up, leaving Alabama, spending my 20’s in NYC- all of it helped me start unpacking the harmful rhetoric that I learned as a kid and replacing it with values that embraced all my different identities. I am still in the process of forgiving myself for not being prouder of who I was at a young age, which is hard- it’s even difficult to write these words here on my blog. But I do it because, if I have learned one thing since leaving Alabama, it’s that I am not alone at all. There are so many people around the world who have struggled to name their identities, to find a place that feels comfortable, to accept that this place might not be comfortable for others, and to not apologize for it. And if my words can make any of those people feel less conflicted about living their lives proudly and boldly, then it makes talking about it completely worthwhile.

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So here I am decades later, a grown, Barbie-less woman, when I enter The Fabric Store and come across the extraordinary textile you see here. I am immediately drawn to it and I realize that it’s because of the colors- the peach and white combination of my youth holds the same amount of power over me now. And when running my hands over the soft material on the roll, I flip over a corner to find that it’s reversible! Well, maybe it’s not reversible- it’s possible that one of these sides is meant to be the “right” one and the other is meant to be the “wrong” one. But see, I know better than that now. Barbies don’t have “right” skin tones and fabrics don’t have “right” sides. Which is why I used both.

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I thought that the graphic print and stable weight of this fabric would look really cool with a structured bodice, and then I remembered how great the cut-outs on the Bonnell Dress from Dixie DIY were. So I coupled the top from that dress with my circle skirt block, drafted with instructions from Gertie’s first book, Gerties’ Book for Better Sewing. The result is a perfect fit’n flare design that looks absolutely phenomenal with the body of this fabric! I don’t normally combine prints or think outside the box with my fabric choices, but this fabric made it pretty easy. It is so soft and airy and has an almost quilted feel to it because of the way the fabric is made- it looks a little like a double gauze, with two lightweight pieces of fabric tacked together through the lines of graphic print, the colors reversed for each side.

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The bodice from the Bonnell Dress is a very straight-forward make with great instructions- a fully lined bodice with cut outs on each side that connect to a waistband, closed with an invisible zipper in the back.

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Trading the gathered skirt that goes on the original dress with a circle skirt was easy, and I omitted the pockets to save time. I used french seams for both the skirt and bodice to keep the insides tidy since this fabric has a tendency to fray, and when it was all done, the completed dress looked almost reversible! The only thing to give it away is the invisible zipper, which isn’t so invisible on the inside, but I could probably still get away with wearing it inside out if I danced the whole time that I wore it. Which is not outside of the realm of possibility for me.

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I debuted this dress a couple of weeks ago at an event for an organization called Campus Pride, which promotes creating safe spaces on college campuses across North America for LGBTQ students through education, leadership and community. As you can imagine, it was a huge honor for me to accept the Voice and Action award along with the other recipient, Miss Lawrence, and it was a pleasure to meet so many amazing students, mentors and staff at the ceremony. In my speech, which Autostraddle will be publishing later this week, I talked about intersectionality and how my various identities as a queer, biracial woman of color sometimes inform one another; it was a happy accident that I wore this particular dress to the event, which seemed to embody a lot of the things I discussed that night.

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Thanks again to The Fabric Store for the gorgeous textile, to Campus Pride for giving me an opportunity to speak, and to Claire for the lovely photos!

Bees on a Dress

This is a dress from deep in the vault! I made it in late summer of last year and never photographed it, although I’ve worn it a bunch, but the timing seems right to share it now after last week’s blog post about a pattern that I had to work really really hard to make right for me. My process with this pattern was very similar, but took even more time to get right (it actually sat on my dress form for about a month as I schemed up ways to fix all the problems it gave me).

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The dress began as a pattern from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing, an alternate version of her Shirtwaist Dress which I had successfully made before. Most of the pattern blocks for the two dresses are the same, but require a bit of re-drafting for the neck and sleeves and omission of certain of the original elements like the shirred back bodice.

Seems simple enough, right? Yet somehow my version went downhill VERY FAST. My mistakes can usually be attributed to the wrong fabric choice, and this dress was no exception, but it was definitely not the only thing that went wrong. I spotted this blue floaty cotton fabric at one of my fav online retailers LA FinchFabrics some time ago and immediately purchased it because- well look at it! It’s just so cute! Tiny bees??? Come on! The fabric did not disappoint when it arrived at my door days later. The cotton is incredibly soft and light, but it has the teeny tiniest nubbly texture to it which makes it feel great against your skin and keeps it from being too transparent. Gertie’s 1940’s Zip Dress (above) is made with a firmer silk, which probably weighs down the gathers of the skirt a little bit and supports the silhouette more than my fabric choice.

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Because I made this dress so long ago I don’t remember every obstacle I ran into, but the bigs ones were the sleeves, the neckline, and the waist. Which I guess makes sense since those were all the parts of the pattern that got changed from the original one. The ruching for the back bodice looked bad with the soft flowy fabric, so I omitted it and left it loose. The sleeves are supposed to be petal sleeves with a slight gather in the top and the gentlest flutter at the curve, but I looked like a linebacker in them and I have no idea why. I inserted and removed the sleeves two times before finally just giving up deciding that no sleeves was a better look. Part of the issue with the sleeves was getting them to hit the right place on the shoulders, which was dependent on getting the width of the shoulders correct, which also proved to be difficult.

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The shoulders are supposed to be slightly gathered but I had way too much fabric at the shoulders, even with excessive easing, and this, coupled with my bulky, fussy-looking sleeves (and the ruching, which I eventually abandoned), just didn’t look right. After omitting the sleeves I ended up cutting the extra material out of the sides of the front bodice, which interfered with where the neckline landed. And the neckline! UGH! There were no clear instructions on how to finish the neckline of this alternate pattern since the original pattern had a button band. I tried to insert a zipper on mine as the 1940’s Zip Dress calls for, but it looked terrible, maybe because of the delicate hand of the fabric. So then I had to go back to buttons and basically Frankenstein the leftover scraps of material to create a sufficient button band. It was a mess. The whole process was a mess, but I still persevered because bees are cute and I refuse to buy additional cuts of fabric after original purchase because I am stubborn as hell.

 

waist on the loose! waist on the loose!

waist on the loose! waist on the loose!

To be honest, I have no idea what actually made this dress work out in the end. Most likely it was just an acceptance that this garment was going to be less-than-perfect and a commitment that I would love it anyway- which I do! I omitted the gathers in the waist and decided not to try and make it fitted, instead leaving it loose and blouse-y in the hopes that a belt would do the job I wanted it to, which it does- it also hides the unsightly unevenness of the waistline and the waist gathers. I used black bias tape for the neckline which just kind of stops abruptly when you get to the buttons, but you can’t tell how ramshackle it is from the outside. One thing that I think is noticeable is the “hidden” snap I stuck at the V of the neckline to keep the dress closed, since my button placement wasn’t very effective. But the snap doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, and it certainly hasn’t kept me from wearing it.

This dress is a piece of heaven in the summer when it’s a hundred degrees outside and I want to dress up- the sheerness of the material allows breezes to flow through and cool you off pretty quickly, and since it’s not fitted at all, it feels comfortable. The rich blue of this fabric is also pretty phenomenal- the bees just put it over the top! This is actually my second attempt at making this 1940’s Zip Dress, and I still haven’t successfully achieved it. Maybe third time’s a charm? Next time I promise to make it in a textile suitable for the pattern!

 

all photos © Claire J Savage