Maxi to Midi

photo 1After the success of the maxi I made from McCalls 7121 (as blogged about in this post), I knew I needed to make this again in a print that was a little more summery and more casual looking, and with a few alterations that would make this a perfect summer dress. WHOA DOGGIE, this make did NOT disappoint! I made this dress, start to finish, in 3 hours and 15 minutes last Sunday afternoon. I feel like I have been unwittingly training for a speed sewing competition (where I am the only competitor), getting faster and faster at simple projects. I love it because, unlike when I am intentionally trying to sew something up quickly, I am not rushing and making silly mistakes. Instead, I am getting more proficient at tasks through lots of practice, and therefore completing things more quickly. THIS IS AN AWESOME THING TO ME.

photo 4

Anyways, here are the changes I made from the first version of this make:

  • altered the bodice pattern to trim the extra room off the original fit
  • gave it a curved neckline instead of angled
  • cut the front bodice on the fold instead of in two separate pieces
  • made a lining out of the same material so that I could wear the dress without a bra (the double material in the bodice gives it a bit more support and a lot more opaque-ness)
  • cut the skirt pieces with more flare and a few more inches of width at the bottom of the skirt, and I also cut it out for midi-length. I NEVER wear midi-length skirts or dresses cause I have always been convinced that they were unflattering on my short frame, so I am trying to get over it. And so far I am loving the length!
  • lastly, I made a little tie-belt to go with this dress like I did for the last one, cause I just love belts that are made out of the garment material.photo 2

I saw the fabric on girlcharlee.com and was immediately in love- I love the mint green in it (it’s my favorite color to wear) and I love the summery flowers and that it has a kind of faded, gray look to it. But mostly I love the drape of the fabric- it’s lightweight and perfect for hot summers, and it doesn’t feel too heavy or full at the midi-length. I am already imagining whipping this dress up again in another summery knit fabric, because, like the Schnittchen Hannah, I am nervous I am going to wear it out before long. But isn’t that the sign of a great garment, one that you wear so much it comes apart at the seams and you keep fixing it over and over again to keep it wearable? If even HALF of my makes get this kind of wear, I will be way ahead of the curve.

(Please forgive the dark photos- I took pics with my phone instead of making Claire put on her photographer pants!)

To Pimp A Butterfly in Knit Crepe

To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick’s new album came out in the middle of me making a dress and was on repeat long enough to finish that project and complete an entirely new dress. The album is called, as you can probably gather, To Pimp A Butterfly. If I am being honest, I wanted to call the first dress my “This. Dick. Ain’t. Free!” Muumuu and my second one the “Every N*gga Is A Star” Maxi, but I was afraid it would alienate my already barely existent readership, so I made what feels like a pretty decent compromise.

 

 

The Hannah Pattern

The first dress, here on out referred to as the muumuu, is from a German indie designer company called Schnittchen. When the pattern arrived, I opened it up to find a large sheet of pattern pieces and one page of instructions written only in German. FYI I don’t read or speak German. After tooling around on their site, I found that they provide an online version of their instructions written in English, which was great. And they were fine until it was time to construct the sleeves. The dress pattern and design are very simple and could probably be put together without step-by-step instructions, but the sleeve construction is unique (very pretty, but not as straight forward as set-in sleeves), and without thorough details or pictures to go off of (no line drawings or photos accompany the instructions), I was stumped for about 10 minutes trying to figure it out. There was a sew-along posted for this dress (which is called Hannah, by the way), but it was all in German, too. Fortunately there were pictures included, so I just stared at them until it started to make sense to me.

three piece sleeve construction

three piece sleeve construction

It took, like, 15 additional minutes. But it was cool cause Kendrick was in the background. The most confusing part of the sleeve is that there are two pattern pieces for the same thing (piece number 5, referred to as the “ruffle”). One pattern piece says “uncreased” and the other doesn’t; both pieces are of very similar (though not exact) shapes, but printed out on the paper in opposite directions. I still can’t figure out which one I was supposed to use or in what important way they were different from one another, so I just kind of eenie-meenie-miny-moed it, chose one, put the sleeve’s three pieces together and figured out how they should be attached to the dress. Pretty sure I did it the right way cause they ended up looking great, and all the edges and notches met and hit at the right places. But I definitely think they should have included a clearer set of instructions for the sleeves, or at least included some visual explanation for how the pieces should go together in the instructions.

Claire and I took a trip to the Huntington gardens today (it was my first time and her third) and it was so beautiful! I was hoping we could see some of Octavia Butler’s papers on display at the library, but they only bring them out of the archives when they are part of an exhibit, so instead we just wandered the grounds and took pics in the succulent garden (which is phenomenal, btw).

WE EAT WHAT WE LIKE!

WE EAT WHAT WE LIKE!

This fabric is a soft, medium weight cotton with different designs woven and stitched onto it- it is described as a native/ethnic cloth at Michael Levine’s, and I recognize the motif as such, but I am curious if there is an actual name for this type of fabric, and if so, what it is (pardon my ignorance!) Anyways, this dress, because it is so free flowing and not-constricting at all, is a really nice design for LA spring, or as I like to call it, “Summer Part 1” (Summer Part 2 starts in May). Its the kind of dress that can be dressed up or down cause it looks good with flats as well as casual heels- in these pics I am wearing my braided leather clogs- not good for walking around the gardens for any length of time, but perfect for a photoshoot.

so casz

so casz

 

I shortened the length of this dress considerably because there is so much material in the muumuu and I was afraid that making it knee length would look too overwhelming on my frame. This dress has no zipper and slips on over your head, so the neck hole is fairly wide to accommodate a noggin. Because of this, the neck sits a little wider on the collarbone/neck than I am used to, but I can live with it (and adjust it just a bit if I ever make this again, which I think I will). In general I am happy with this make, and I am thinking of making it in a nice chambray so that I don’t wear this one out too much- it’s the perfect house-dress-cum-grocery-store-run-cum-let’s-go-to-the-mall-for-fun garment and it’s gotten plenty of use so far.

red_back_2

knit crepe from McCall's 7212

knit crepe from McCall’s 7212

The second dress I made has been a bit of a revelation. It is McCalls pattern 7121 and not something I would normally buy. I tend to avoid most big company patterns because I think the sizing and fit is usually off on me, plus I like the idea of supporting indie pattern designers. But last week I actually took the time to sit down and look through the books at JoAnn’s with Claire while we searched for an outfit to make her for a wedding we are going to next month, and I was surprised to find myself bookmarking tons of patterns that I wanted to add to my collection. This maxi dress pattern caught my eye because it is designed for knits, and thanks to The Colette Guide To Sewing Knits book which came out last year, sewing with this fabric type is pretty much my new favorite thing. Knit garments just sew up SO quickly, and they are so versatile and wearable for year-round sunny LA weather. Also, after discovering the girlcharlee website, I have been inspired by a seemingly endless array of beautiful knit fabric for purchase. The fabric that I made this maxi out of was not purchased at girlcharlee, though- it’s a deep steel colored knit crepe that I bought online at fabric.com for another pattern I had planned to make (and opted out of). This fabric is kind of unreal. Against your skin it feels really fancy and chic, but it doesn’t appear to be precious at all- I pre-washed it in my machine and dried it in the dryer, and it came out feeling exactly the same without any pilling or dullness. One side is smooth and matte while the other side has the identifying crepe texture with a bit of shine while still feeling very soft and silky. This dress was meant to be nice and casual, but after I sewed it up in this fabric, it felt really decadent and much more fancy than I was anticipating- I would absolutely make this dress out of this fabric again and make it long enough to wear with heels- it could translate to evening-wear like a dream. The way it moves around your body when you walk is fantastic- it holds its shape without looking stiff, and sewing it was lovely- very easy to work with, it didn’t stretch out at the hems while I sewed double lines of stitching, and it has great recovery.grey_frontal_4
I like the design of this pattern, but the fabric is the real MVP here. After sewing it up, I learned that the bodice is drafted with no negative ease whatsoever, so it just kind of sat on top of me, puckering in weird places as opposed to hugging my curves the way that most knit fabric patterns are designed to do. It was an easy fix, though- I just re-serged my front seam about 2 inches in, and when I tried it on again, it was perfect- it looked like it was painted on without looking too tight or like I was busting out of it. I split the 2 inch difference on my front and back pattern pieces so that the decrease was shared between the two when I made this again, but for this dress, I didn’t think the difference was that big of a deal. I love the racer-back style of this bodice a lot, cause it works so well with my tattoos and is just a flattering look in general. grey_side_2I already have the fabric to make this again, and I am going to use the altered bodice pieces but cut out a short circle skirt for the bottom instead. I might decrease the allowances on the skirt pieces so that they match up perfectly with the new bodice pieces, but as it is, the skirt fits perfectly- not too tight, barely skimming across my hips and butt. The bodice and skirt are sewn together to create a channel for a narrow strip of elastic to be inserted, and that gives the dress just enough stretch at the waist to pull on over your torso but not so much that the waist looks gathered and has a lot of excess material. It’s one of my favorite things about this dress- the silhouette is so sleek and makes me look (relatively) long and tall. I sewed a very simple, quick belt to go with this dress out of the same material cause I don’t like the slight gathers at the waist on it’s own and I didn’t have a belt that went well with this look. I like it the fabric belt- I think it makes it look a bit more casual. I’ll try to share the replica I make of this dress in the new (much more playful) fabric I got from girlcharlee…til then, here are a couple of my favorite pictures that Claire took at the gardens…!

moss_bonsai

The above picture is from the bonsai exhibit that was on display, and the trees were breathtakingly beautiful, but it was this unexpected glimpse at the tiniest of sprouts growing up from the moss that I loved the most.

 

cypress_bonsai

BONSAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!

 

pink_flower_cacti

And this one is awesome just because it shows that nature knows how to throw in a pop of color in the most perfect amount. Style inspiration in the purest form!

The “Bitch You Guessed It” Dress + Getting Read

As someone who is rarely if ever caught up on pop culture and media hype, Crissle and Kid Fury’s podcast The Read has allowed me to become someone who might be able to possibly participate in water cooler conversation at the office…if I had a regular job, of course. I am often painfully unaware of what the general American public is doing and talking about at any given time, and this wouldn’t be so embarrassing if my career wasn’t in entertainment. I don’t watch many shows, I am averse to reality television unless it’s airing on HGTV/hosted by Tim Gunn, I never listen to the radio on purpose, and the only movies I usually pay to see in theatres are independent films with limited runs. For a professional entertainer, I can be pretty clueless about what is happening in my field. So initially, listening to The Read felt like due diligence.

Crissles and Kid Fury are two friends who discuss all things pop culture related- the good, the bad, and a LOT of the ugly- with the perspective of being people of color, queer, socially aware, and feminist. There is no dearth of humor in their hour+ long episodes, which is why I imagine they have garnered such a massive following so quickly, but for me, the most enchanting thing about Crissles and Fury is that they have created a podcast that is LISTENABLE. Normally I HATE this genre of podcast. I can listen to stories being told and I can listen to information being given. I can listen to news coverage and music discussions and readings of fictional work. But listening to people just talk to each other for an hour? It makes my skin crawl. There is something so uncomfortable to me about listening to people with big personalities talk all over each other and tell jokes that fall flat and conduct asinine interviews and attempt to be hilarious for an audience that isn’t responding to them in real time (see: almost every comedy podcast in existence). It’s nails on a chalkboard for me. So I listened to my first The Read podcast with considerable trepidation. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only do Crissles and Fury have an easy and honest repoire with each other that doesn’t feel rehearsed or too polished, but that their coverage of hot topics is often tied in with their views on social justice and observations of the harmful effects of the patriarchy and capitalism. They are progressive, outspoken and silly, but also capable of recognizing their complicated relationship with pop culture; they allow themselves permission to ridicule the machine of the entertainment industry while acknowledging that they care enough about it to devote a couple hours discussing it each week. What’s more, Fury and Crissles don’t claim to have it all figured out, and they seem to be in the process of learning just like the rest of us. I can recall an episode where the term “spirit animal” was mentioned for some reason or another, and Kid Fury somberly responded “I don’t think we’re supposed to say that anymore…”, which made me more than a little overjoyed- he wasn’t admonishing or judgmental, rather, he was trying to be sensitive and mindful of an experience outside of his own. I personally didn’t understand how harmful the term “spirit animal” was til I read a post about it on tumblr a couple years ago, and I like to imagine that same post coming across Fury’s dash and enlightening both of us in the same way. Crissles and Kid Fury are an example of our generation’s ability to maintain humility while still being unapologetic of ourselves and our histories. They demonstrate brazenness and their show is provocative, but they also give their listeners examples of how to be flexible and open to new ideas. They they talk about loving themselves, they make us laugh out loud, and they also offer sharp commentary on the injustices of the world without mincing words or trying to appeal to any specific demographic. Together, Kid Fury and Crissles are a force to be reckoned with.

Listening to The Read is one of my favorite things to do while sewing, and when I first learned of the podcast, I had tons of episodes to catch up on, so there were projects I started and completed that seemed energetically tied to certain The Read episodes and themes (like my “Caught Up In My Light-Skinned Feelings Carry-On” bag). If you are already a fan of the show, you will understand the significance of “Bitch You Guessed It!”, and me and Claire laughed so hard at Fury screaming this lyric as the new title for one of the segments of The Read that it was impossible to not to use it as the name for the dress I was working on at the time. This garment is Frankensteined together from two different dresses in Gertie’s Vintage Casual book, resulting in the Summer Dress With Flared Skirt pattern (seen below, an image from Gertie’s book).

Summer Dress With Flared Skirt pattern by Gretchen Hirsch

In the past I have had limited success at pattern hacking, so I was nervous about how this would turn out. I was so in love with the gorgeous fabric I got from The Fabric Store that I didn’t want to screw it up (as I have with so many other beautiful yards of fabric), but I also didn’t want to spend the time making a muslin of this dress BECAUSE I AM VERY VERY LAZY. Fortunately for me this dress came out about as perfect as I could have hoped for.

the "Bitch You Guessed It" summer dress

the “Bitch You Guessed It” summer dress

I prefer full circle skirts on my frame more than the flared skirt called for with this pattern- I think they look better with my waist to hip ratio- but I didn’t have enough fabric to do a full circle skirt (fyi I bought this fabric before I resolved to only purchase material that I had specific plans for, so I had no project in mind when I chose it and therefore only bought a couple yards). But even with the flared skirt, I am pleased with how it falls on my frame, and I think the shape of the skirt works well with the fitted bodice. I didn’t make a conscious decision with how the pattern pieces would get cut from the fabric, so the fabric design that falls across the front at the waist seam was an entirely happy accident. With a little tweaking and adjusting, this was a simple and fairly quick make, and it was perfect for this fabric, which seems to be a cotton linen with a wax print inspired design- very breathable and with a little bit of give.

blowout_crop_back_look2

Thanks to Claire for taking these awesome photos (trying to get better at planning nice, intentional photoshoots instead of snapshots of me in a mirror from instagram). On the way down our uneven concrete stairs in our backyard to take these photos, I scraped a sizable sliver of skin off my foot, so the pained, pitiful faces in all of these photos can be attributed to my clumsiness.

I love that you can see my blood in this photo!

I love that you can see my blood in this photo!

Here's an outtake that I couldn't bear to leave out of the post; Rosie the pit bull threatening to upstage me as soon as I turn my back...

Here’s an outtake that I couldn’t bear to leave out of the post; Rosie the pit bull threatening to upstage me as soon as I turn my back…

 

First Foray Into Lingerie

I certainly never imagined that I would successfully accomplish, yet alone be interested in, making a bra, but after sewing a pair of the world’s most perfect skinny jeans for yourself, you start to feel like anything in possible. Truth be told, I generally focus on sewing things I can’t find easily in RTW, but my boobs are an easy size and shape to find bras for, and for most of my adult life I have made an annual trip to whatever Calvin Klein outlet was closest to me, stocking up on well-fitting bras in neutral colors that would last me til the next year. I have never been one to sacrifice undergarment comfort for the sake of prettiness, so all those bras with the lace overlays and the funky colors and the cute ribbon bows rarely if ever made it into my bra drawer. I had been tempted by the gorgeous matching bra and panty sets in the windows of lingerie boutiques in the past, but after balking at the outrageous price tags one too many times, I learned to roll my eyes and keep walking.

It wasn’t until the lovely Gertie of Gertie Sews released a lingerie and panty pattern for Butterick that I began to reconsider my strict stance against beautiful undergarments. The pattern consisted of a pretty slip that could be converted to a camisole and matching full coverage undies with a pretty lace detail on the edges, but the real kicker was that she was selling kits with everything you needed to complete the ensemble and posting a sew-along, too. Nothing shouts TRY THIS NEW THING to me more than a kit and an online support group! So I bought the thing, I read the thing, I made the thing, and it was beautiful.

Butterick B6031

Butterick B6031

Unsurprisingly I have not worn the slip once, other than to try it on after I finished making it. I’m just not a fancy lingerie wearer, and it’s not the kind of slip that works easily under clothing because the lace catches on fabric really easily and the design has too many details for the sake of pretty rather than the sake of function. Which isn’t a complaint at all; the slip is so pretty! It’s just not something that would ever be a wardrobe staple for me. But the underwear had me intrigued after I made my first pair. I might not find many opportunities to wear a fancy lingerie slip, but I have PLENTY of space to work with cute undies! I like my cotton HANES that are good for everyday wear when I don’t plan on leaving the house or wearing anything other than my sweatpants, but I have always been stumped on how to include pretty panties in my rotation because most pretty panties I find in stores either 1. don’t offer full coverage in the back so that I have to walk around with a perpetual wedgie, 2. leave ridiculous panty lines in an otherwise smooth silhouette because they are made with the world’s most chunky elastic or 3. a horrific combination of both. And before you ask, I avoid thongs like the plague whenever possible.
There were a few issues I had with this panty pattern. The glaring one was that the instructions included in the pattern (and in the sew along) made no mention of using light tension when sewing the stretch lace to the edges of the panties. So when I completed them and tried them on for fit, I pulled them over my hips and heard a whole row of stitches bust open. Without stretching the lace while sewing them with a zigzag stitch, they had no give at all! I tried making a larger size thinking that was the problem, but the same thing happened, with the additional problem of the undies hanging off of my waist cause they were too big. Next, I re-sewed the lace onto the smaller sized panties, but I created tension in the lace while sewing them, which gave them more room to stretch, and of course they fit perfectly. I can’t imagine I was the only person who had that issue when making this garment, but whatever- at least I figured it out. The other problem I had with the design was the lace. It’s beautiful and a really nice, delicate touch to the aesthetic, but it’s not very functional. I wash all my handmade items on a delicate cycle and line dry them, and items like panties and bras go in a lingerie bag, but still, after a few washes, these underwear were pilling and the tiny elastic ends from the stretch lace were breaking and sticking out. The underwear are still wearable, but the lace hasn’t held up to consistent wear the way I thought they would. Lastly, the design of these undies does not include a separate gusset; the lining of the panties is sewn onto the bottom pieces of the back and front on the sides (leg openings) of the undies, so the lining is unattached in the front and back, and it has habit of moving around a lot when I wear them and causing a bit of aggravation/discomfort. It’s funny, you never know how important certain design elements are in the things you wear on your body until you’re without them- then their importance is glaringly obvious!
I still love Gertie’s underwear pattern, and somewhere on my queue of things to do in the future is adapt it so that it works better for me. I LOVE the full coverage the panties provide and I love that they rest lower on the legs without being too constricting (although I hate this term, I think they would qualify as “boyshorts”). Mainly I want to try regular lingerie elastic with them and see how they hold up.

After the excitement of Gertie’s panty pattern, I kept my eye out for another similar project and was ecstatic when I stumbled upon Cloth Habit’s blog. I think it was Heather at ClosetCaseFiles that introduced me to the new Cloth Habit pattern (if you don’t read Heather’s blog, you should- Closet Case has wonderful patterns, sew alongs, and tutorials, and her “What’s Doin'” weekly wrap up of all things sewing-blog related is my favorite thing to wake up to on Sunday mornings!) Anyways, Cloth Habit’s Watson Bra and Bikini Pattern is a 70’s inspired design with the option for a low-line or regular bra and a pair of bikini-style underwear. True to my overly ambitious self, I dove into this project without waiting for the sew along to begin, and I paid the price for it.

from top to bottom, bras number 1, 2 and 3

from top to bottom, bras number 1, 2 and 3

Bra #1 was made of a black stretch mesh for the cups and cradle and a black powernet for the bands. This was my first time working with tiny seams at length, and stretch mesh is NOT the easiest fabric to start a brand new project with, so there was a lot of seam ripping in the process, which was difficult to accomplish with the black thread on black fabric. Eventually the fabric was looking so worn and tired from all my mistakes that I decided to put it in the Butthole Bin™ and start over from scratch with a better fabric.
Bra #2 was made of a fabric called Venezia 4 way stretch jersey lining, which I used for the cups, and I learned about it from the kit I got when I made the Gertie pattern. So far it is my favorite fabric for undergarments; it’s lightweight, has an excellent stretch, and has a very light shine on one side while matte on the other. It’s also pretty easy to sew with. It doesn’t handle seam ripping very well, which I learned the hard way, but it isn’t too slippery or out of control when under your sewing foot either. The band was made of the same black powernet from Bra #1. The fabric was way more forgiving and because it was silver/gray, I could see and rip my seams out a lot more easily. When I got to the point where I could try the bra on though, the back barely reached across my shoulder blades; it was definitely too small, and I wondered if my powernet wasn’t stretchy enough and that’s why it wasn’t meeting all the way across my back. I was so disappointed, but not far enough along in the process to merit taking the bra apart to fix it. I 86’ed it and started from scratch.
Bra #3 was made of milliskin fabric as suggested in the Cloth Habit sew along (which by this time had been posted). It wasn’t my favorite material, but it was the easiest to work with of the three. It’s a little heavier/denser than I would like; more like the weight of swimsuit lycra than lingerie. But I was still knee deep in the learning curve and I didn’t mind experimenting with this new fabric. This time I went up a size in the bra in the hopes that everything would fit better around the rib cage, and I also made my band out of two layers of the cup fabric instead of the powernet. I was so convinced that this would fix the problem that I didn’t bother trying her on for fit before I finished her. So when the moment of truth came, you can imagine my annoyance at my own optimism. This time the bra was gorgeous, and it fit, but not well. graybrafront IMG_2184I could clasp it in the back, but it was not comfortable, still just a bit too tight to actually be wearable. I tried all sorts of things to get it to work without taking the entire thing apart. I added two pieces of powernet to the back bands where the bra clasps were to give it more length, I pulled the elastic a little tighter when sewing it to the edges for the second time- eventually I even bought a bra extender to give it more room in the back. Unfortunately, none of those things made it more comfortable. But at least now I knew exactly what I needed to do to make the pattern work. Started over from scratch. AGAIN.
Bra #4 This time I made the cups/cradle/band out of the same 4 way stretch jersey lining that I liked so much, and I stayed with the new size but I altered the band pattern piece by adding about 3/8″ to the length.

BRA #4, Y'ALL!

BRA #4, Y’ALL!

That did the trick. You would think that after 4 tries on the same bra pattern I would be able to sew the thing practically in my sleep, but no- I still made some ridiculous mistakes. The most time consuming one was when I topstitched the cup seam in the wrong direction and had to rip out the tiny straight stitches, destroying the fabric on one of the cups. So then I had to remove that cup and make a brand new one and then sew the new one in and then topstitch it again in the right direction. BUT, my patience paid off because once the bra was complete, it fit perfectly. And not only was the fit great, it was also COMFORTABLE. It offered the kind of support that a good bra offers without feeling like you are wearing a bra, the fit I have when I wear a well made, light weight sports bra, but prettier, and without the uniboob effect. FYI, this bra does not have underwires or padding so it might not provide the support or oomph needed (or wanted) for people with a larger chest.

After my four bras, it was time to make a matching panty. After all, that was my main goal from the beginning, to have a pretty bra and panty set that didn’t cost a fortune in case I never actually got some good wear out of it (and also because I have a million other things I would rather spend a fortune on than a bra and booty cover). Bikini panties are my least favorite underwear to don aside from the dreaded thong, so I altered the pattern a bit, adding more coverage in the back and bringing the leg openings down so that they were not so high on the leg. The alterations worked out perfectly and I was pretty thrilled when they were complete. The instructions included the use of tension when sewing the elastic to the knit fabric, so they didn’t rip apart when I tried to sew them on and they were comfortably snug without being too tight. I wore the underwear and panty set together as soon as they were complete, and I kept smiling to myself all day long at how great they felt underneath my jeans and sweater.

dyed and drying on the line.

dyed and drying on the line.

As you can see from the pictures, I used a nude colored fabric and pink elastic, which I dyed myself. I have found a lot of great websites that offer the notions necessary in bra making, but unless you are shopping for all white or all black, it’s tricky to find the right sizes in the color elastic you need.

dyeing, dyeing, dead.

dyeing, dyeing, dead.

The Watson bra and panties call for 4 different types of elastic, and although many websites offer really beautiful colors in one or two types of elastic, it’s hard to find the same color in all of them, so unless you buy a kit that comes with a certain look/design and all the right types of elastic you will need for a pattern, dying is definitely the way to go. It’s also a lot cheaper than the kits (although the kits can be really awesome with hard to find fabric and color combinations you would never have been able to put together for yourself). I was going for a dusty rose with this batch of dye, and I got a pretty and bright colored pink instead, but I don’t mind. I don’t dye fabric often, so this, too, is a part of the learning curve for me. Plus, I LOVE virtually any shade of pink.

 

 

After the success of the Watson Bra and Bikini pattern, I started to look around for other indie bra patterns on the market. There are lots of patterns available to purchase online, and sewsassy.com has a decent collection of patterns available, as do a few other bra and notions supply companies, but I was drawn to Ohhh Lulu for pretty obvious reasons. She sells her patterns on etsy as PDFs, and her patterns are not only vintage-inspired, but also true to vintage functionality, often made as replicas of vintage bras using the same types of materials that were available back then, before mass produced 4 way stretch knits were affordable and available to the public.

Ohhh Lulu’s Vintage Inspired Lili Bra and Rose Panties

It was hard to pick just one pattern set to start with because they are all SOOO BEAUTIFUL, but I ended up deciding on the Lili Bra and Rose Panties patterns to start. As compared to the Watson bra, this is a much quicker make, perhaps because it is considered a bralette and doesn’t have as much structure to it as the Watson bra does. The most intriguing thing about this pattern is that it calls for a woven fabric that is cut on the bias as opposed to a 4 way stretch knit. It doesn’t really get any more authentically vintage than that, right? The cups, sides, and front center are lined with a lightweight knit fabric, and these patterns are pretty awesome in that you can use up a lot of your scrap material to create them. The only thing I purchased for this make was foldover elastic- everything else I already had tiny bits of in my fabric stash.

first attempt at Lili Bra

first attempt at Lili Bra

My first attempt at this bra used a cream colored woven silk that I had 1/2 yard of, and sewing it up was quick and easy- the instructions were clear and there were great pictures that accompanied the pattern booklet. I tried it on and it fit on my body, but it just looked too small- the cups were doing this boob-squash thing where, since the cups didn’t really stretch much because of the material they were made of, they made my boobs flatten to fit inside them. It wasn’t the most flattering but it also wasn’t terrible- it was just kind of meh. So I decided to make the bra again, this time going up a size (I had actually read a couple of reviews on etsy from people who needed to go up a size to get the right fit despite what their measurements called for) and trying a different fabric, one that was suggested for the pattern. These two changes were the bingo. In addition to the stretch lace overlay I used in the first bra, I also used a gold sateen, which already had more give on the bias than the silk I initially used, and when I tried the completed bra on, the cups fit beautifully without scrunching my boobs down at all. This is probably not a functional bra for super busty people looking for good support in their undergarments, but I was surprised to find that it worked fine under my clothing- I guess I thought it was just gonna be a pretty wear as opposed to a functional wear. It’s not the kind of bra I would wear under a slim fitting blouse or dress- the bralette doesn’t really lay flat because the fabric isn’t a stretchy knit, so it doesn’t cling to your body, and it has more bulk in certain places at the seams than the Watson bra does (think of a sleek sports car compared to a beautiful vintage convertible). But under a sweater or loose button down or a billowy shirt? Works great!

vintagebra_inaction

vintagebra_pucker

Here you can see where the band puckers a little in the back because of the type of fabric, but it didn’t end up bothering me while wearing it.

Finally, I made the panties in the Ohhh Lulu set, and they were not as successful as the bra was, but I think that’s all my fault. I should have taken a cue from my experience with the bra and gone up a size; I didn’t and the panties are a little on the too-small side. They are also tight as shit in the waistband and the leg openings- this being my first encounter with foldover elastic, I didn’t realize that the stretch was different from lingerie elastic, and I should have used less tension when sewing it to the edges. All in all, I am not a HUGE fan of foldover elastic- I would say I am much more inclined to use lingerie elastic, so I think I will make a go of these panties in a larger size and with my preferred elastic type.

Rose Crossover Panties

Rose Crossover Panties

The fit of these panties is not as great as the Watson bikini pair that I made, and I don’t like the look of panties with such a high cut leg, but I am so in love with the crossover detail on the front that I am willing to put the work in to make them perfect for my body. I used the stretch lace from the bra overlay for the back piece of the panties, and I love how they turned out, so I will use it again for the next pair I make. My next project, after I refine the design and fit of these babies, is to buy some more of Ohhh Lulu’s panty patterns that call for a woven/knit combo of material. She has some truly gorgeous designs, and I am ready to have a couple of tried and true panty patterns to pull from for whenever I have extra hours in my day and feel like making something quick and easy.

More, more, more

A few days after this last new year I came up with some goals with which I wanted to challenge myself. I am not a big proponent of inventing New Year’s Resolutions just for the hell of it, but after a busy holiday season spent creating elaborate homemade gifts for every single person on our Christmas list, I was left feeling overwhelmed and depleted when the new year rolled around. I had to ask myself why I had done so much. Why was I investing so much of my time and effort when no one expected that much of me? I had come up with a simple, manageable idea for homemade presents, but at some point I kept adding more, more, more to the packages til plastic tubs and tins and cardboard boxes covered the floor of our office and required an assembly line to get everything ready to mail out.

I recognized that this “more more more” mentality had seeped into my life in other ways, too, and I wasn’t proud of it, so I decided to challenge myself to stop spending money on what I referred to as “non-essential items” in an attempt to dissect this weird shopping habit I had acquired over the past several years. My wife joined me in the challenge, and for the month of January, we limited our spending only to necessary items like food, toiletries, bills and gas. I was interested to see how much I actually needed in my life, and interested to see when the urge would hit me to start my daily perusal of searching on amazon prime for…any and everything. I had a feeling that my spending, though unconscious, was probably an attempt to occupy my time and brain space; it was filler. It was buying into the notion that things could make me happy and satisfy me, even though that “satisfaction” was temporary and not very fulfilling. January’s goal was achieved successfully, so we set another, more long term goal: to give our personal spending a budget that would allow us the space to purchase the things we wanted, while also giving us the opportunity to be more mindful of how and why we spent.

And it was at this point that I realized how big a presence fabric was in my life.
FAAAAAABRIIIIC!
It’s weird- in all my years of knitting, I have never been a yarn hoarder. I only go to yarn stores when I have a specific project in mind to make. I don’t fall in love with a skein of yarn and then buy it to keep in my stash just to have it, and I never buy several skeins of yarn in the hopes that it will be perfect for some future project I have yet to choose. If I don’t know exactly how many skeins I am gonna be needing for a project, then I wont spend my money on it. In fact, my yarn stash is only comprised of leftovers from projects I have already completed, or single skeins I have gotten as gifts (which I have never used because there aren’t any one-skein projects I am interested in knitting up). I would have expected this yarn-purchasing mentality to carry over into my sewing with fabric, but somehow it didn’t. And I blame it all on sewing blogs!
Okay, not really, but I think that in my excitement to become a part of the online sewing community, I started taking on some of the habits that everyone would write about in their blogs; visiting their favorite fabric stores a few times a month to see what new items had been stocked, falling in love with a beautiful fabric and buying a few yards of it just in case they found the perfect project for it later on, purchasing the last few yards of a textile that they new they would never come across again, even though they had no idea what they would use it for. There is something so romantic about this relationship between sewers and fabric, and reading about it in blogger’s posts, it seemed like a love affair. People would be drawn to a particular textile, and whether or not they knew if the fabric was going to work out, they would succumb to it anyways, in the hopes that love would prevail and they would create something beautiful. In all honesty I think the majority of these bloggers do find love with the fabric they store in their stash, keeping a mental count of all the fabric they have purchased and cross referencing it with every new (or old) pattern they come across. For many, this is a very efficient way to sew. But I don’t think it works for me. I followed the lead of all these amazing sewing bloggers and found myself waist-deep in so much fabric that I didn’t know which way was up. I would go to my favorite local fabric store frequently, sometimes twice in one week if they announced a last minute sale, and I would buy a couple of yards of everything that caught my eye, with only a hazy strategy of how I would use the fabric. Maybe this might make a cute blouse for that perfect pattern I have yet to find? Or, this would be great for that dream skirt I want to learn to drape! And my favorite, surely two yards of this will be enough for something beautiful, which it almost never is. My intentions are good, and occasionally I have created a successful garment with a fabric that I bought on a whim, but generally my sewing projects come out best when I know exactly what I am shopping for and I have a pattern in my hand of precisely the thing I want to make. I wish I was more flexible like the bloggers I admire so much who make gorgeous garments with fabric they bought five years ago and patterns they stumbled across at flea markets. But I can’t make myself into the kind of seamster I want to be, I can only embrace the kind of seamster I actually am, which is the kind who is tired of being wasteful on merchandise that meets only some of her criteria.

  • JASIKA’S FABRIC CRITERIA:
  1. The fabric must be beautiful.
  2. The fabric must feel good/comfortable to the touch.
  3. I must know how to sew with the material.
  4. I must know what I am going to sew with the material.
  5. The material must be at a price point worthy of the finished garment.

Which brings me to my other goal for 2015: no purchasing of any fabric that doesn’t meet all 5 points of criteria! I have discarded too many beautiful yards of fabric by not adhering to these 5 rules, and although one can’t expand their knowledge in sewing without pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, I still think I can find a balance in the middle, somewhere between more, more, more fabric and the  strict scrutinization of every last detail of my sewing process. And to get me prepped for this goal, my current challenge to myself is to not buy any more fabric until all the fabric I have purchased in the past several months is utilized, ensuring that I forge all the way through my sewing queue. When I pulled out all the yards of fabric I had accumulated over the past many months, I was surprisingly enthusiastic about the task. I hadn’t put all that fabric on the back burner because I wasn’t excited to make things with it- I had put it on the back burner because I kept buying new fabric that made me forget about the stuff I had already bought. And I am happy to report that in the short time I have dedicated myself to this challenge, I have gotten SO MUCH ACCOMPLISHED!

creamarcherI finished an Archer shirt for Claire that was meant to be a Christmas present last year.

clairepinuppinupsweaters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I fixed the too-tight sleeves and bottom hems on a Pin-up sweater that I also made her for Christmas, and I sewed two more knit Pin-up Sweaters that were in my queue, one for Claire and one for myself, although her wool sweater (the one in the middle in the right side picture, made of 100% New Zealand wool) accidentally got washed with the rest of the laundry over the weekend and has now morphed into a very wide and unwearable crop top 🙁

fullgolddress cropgolddress

I transformed a problematic, frustrating dress I made that weirdly came out too short into a blouse that I will probably never wear…but at least I can make an attempt at it! I also let out the zipper in a pink wool crepe skirt I made that was a teensy bit too tight (not pictured).

polkadots4I (correctly) made another pair of cigarette pants after I accidentally cut my Jaquard Print fabric on the wrong grain and couldn’t pull them up over my booty cause the stretch was length-wise instead of width-wise.

 

valerievonsobel2

I sewed a snap into a long silk dress I made last year so that I could wear it for the first time to an art exhibit. It’s not really my normal style preference- I think it’s a little too full and overwhelming for my frame, which tends to get dwarfed by long dresses that aren’t fitted, but it’s nice to step outside your comfort zone sometimes and shake it up a bit. The fabric is breezy and lightweight, and kind of perfect for beach weather.

pajamapants

I can’t believe I bothered to take a picture of these old rinky dink pajama pants.

I fixed the elastic waist band in a pair of pajama pants I made for Claire.

waxprinthackAnd I made a successful pattern hack of Gertie’s (flared skirt + fitted bodice) out of a gorgeous wax-print-inspired cotton I found at The Fabric Store (one of my only successful impulsive fabric purchases in recent memory). And I have completed these projects all in the last two weeks! And I guess this is the real goal of my attempt to buy less fabric and add less stuff to my queue; without so much piled up fabric to work with, I am forced to deal with the stuff I already have- the piles of projects that were mostly complete but still needed a little altering. The fabric that I loved but hadn’t taken the time to work out what I could actually make with it. The pieces that needed re-working to be wearable. The garments that sat on hangers in my craft room feeling unloved and uncared for til I spent the 30 minutes necessary to bring them to life again. Without taking time out from buying more stuff, who knows when I would have sat down to tie up all these loose ends. And that’s the crux of it, I guess- by buying less, I bought myself time to add more to my wardrobe (and Claire’s, too).

fabricpile1
And with the remainder of my pile of unused fabric, I have selected patterns/plans  for everything else in my project queue, as seen above. Not pictured is the stretch denim I have on deck to make another pair of Ginger Jeans, but I can’t make those til I replace my broken heavy-duty sewing machine, and in the spirit of no more more more, more, I am making myself wait til my birthday in April for that purchase.

The only fault I have in my stash is a pile of fabrics I bought online that I intended to make yoga pants out of, but the material ended up being more suitable for swimsuits.

swimsuitpile

 

I have a swimsuit pattern to use for this fabric, but making swimwear is not really a priority right now since it’s February. Once I get through the pile above, I might consider that to be the end of my queue and will be able to start buying more, more, more fabric again. As thrilled as I am to be whittling away at my current line-up of projects, I have to admit that I cannot WAIT to start planning for new stuff with new fabric again…adhering to my budget and criteria of course 😉

 

A Walk Down Knittory Lane

I got into knitting almost 10 years ago when I was playing the title role in a musical called Chasing Nicolette at the Prince Music Theatre in Philly. Some time before I was cast in the show, I had been gifted a hardcover knitting book called Weekend Knitting, and I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous photos inside. There were close-up shots of textured, furry wools and shiny wooden needles with loops of squishy yarn lined all the way down to the tips. The models in the photos were beautiful and diverse, and they just looked so happy, like the only thing they wanted in the whole wide world at that moment was to be wearing a meticulously knitted garment while smiling at a camera. There was a really sweet (albeit completely unrealistic) shot of a woman soaking in a huge clawfoot tub while working on a long thin scarf that piled up on the floor next to her (I know this activity is unrealistic because I tried it, and steam from a hot bath makes woolen fibers feel sticky on moist fingers, especially with the added effect of fine condensation that collects on the needles; for me, tub knitting was totally weird/gross/unweildy, but the photograph was inspiring enough for me to give it a try). When packing for my nearly three month long stint at the Prince, I decided on a whim to bring the book with me, even though I didn’t know how to knit. I figured that once we were done with rehearsals and were in full performances, I would have time to learn (I ended up buying a copy of Stitch N’Bitch to aid me in the process) and time to make one of the seemingly simple and beautiful patterns from the book. I wanted to wear my own knitted things that would turn out looking just as exquisite as the projects in Weekend Knitting, and I would be so very happy, smiley, and proud of myself, and I would also be, of course, very warm, which was important when I was living in the northeast.

It was quite the rude awakening to realize, after successfully teaching myself  how to knit and purl on two straight bamboo needles, that jumping from garter stitch straight into a fingerless mitt pattern was going to be very, very difficult. I worked on my project for weeks, taking the stitches out and starting over so many times that my merlot-colored yarn became garbled and knotted and stringy. I threw my glove and needles across the room. I insisted that something was wrong with the pattern, that it was full of mistakes since it made absolutely no sense to me. I am pretty sure I shed some frustrated tears at least once. I flipped through my Stitch N’Bitch book over and over again, re-reading the same passages and trying to apply the clear steps in the pictures to the confusing instructions in the pattern.
But I didn’t give up.
I took breaks, and I got angry with myself, but I didn’t give up.
Eventually I finished my first glove. I was simultaneously elated by my success and devastated that I had to start the whole process over again to make a second one. But I did it. The glove on one hand was smooth and pretty because it was the second one I made, and the glove for the other hand was twisted and warped and imperfect, but I didn’t mind. I could see my learning curve spelled out across my palms, and it was proof that my patience with myself, however stilted, was worthwhile.

It didn’t take long for my knits and purls to become very uniform and consistent, but I was pretty stumped at figuring out how to read patterns so I just stuck to making the same 6 foot long scarves over and over. Years passed before my next attempt at trying another pattern, and interestingly enough, the impetus to dive in again came in the familiar form of a gifted book. This time, our friend Rahul had opened up an amazon package that sat unclaimed in his building’s foyer for months, and he gave it to me, his crafty-ist friend, thinking that I would make good use out of it. It was Stefanie Japel’s Fitted Knits, and, like before, I was immediately entranced by the photos in the book. I chose what looked like the simplest pattern in the book to tackle, a top down V-neck sweater in the round in stockinette stitch with knit2 purl2 ribbing at the edges. I bought my first pair of circular needles and a bright blue soft wool with a bit of shine that didn’t itch my skin. And I just dove in.
And I threw it across the room at a wall several times.
And I know I cried more than once.
And I convinced myself yet again that the pattern directions had major flaws in them, since they didn’t make sense to me.
And I wondered furiously why pattern writers insisted on using so many abbreviations. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH FULL SENTENCES?!?! And I stuffed the project in a bag deep into our closet a couple of times, waiting weeks before my fury had dissipated enough to trick me into picking it up again. But I did pick it up again. And my time away from the project worked. And at some point during this off-time, I had my first aha! moment, where suddenly the pattern instructions were understandable, and I knew how to get past the place where I had been stuck (increasing at the yoke to make room for the shoulders and sleeves had me so stumped my first time through), and I kept knitting and kept knitting, and I actually (finally!) successfully finished knitting my first sweater! I couldn’t believe it! I was so, so proud of myself! Once it was finished, I wore it all the time, with all it’s dropped stitches and wonky uneven seaming at the sleeves, and tension that zig-zagged all throughout the garment, depending on the level of frustration I was experiencing at the time of knitting. But honestly, no one could see how many flaws it had, and my friends were impressed that I had seen the project through to the end. But nobody was more impressed than me. And maybe Claire, who stifled her laughter at my rage and instead offered consolatory hugs and affirming pats on the back after each battle I lost with the sweater.

first knitted sweater, and a baby face

first knitted sweater, and a baby face

At the time, I had no friends who knit and there weren’t as many tutorials online as there are these days, so figuring out how to read a knitting pattern was a solitary, aggravating job. But it wasn’t impossible. It took hunkering down and fierce-dedication-bordering-on-obsession to figure it out, and more than a little patience with myself, and trust that not every single pattern was completely wrong and full of typos and miscounts. But it was absolutely achievable. After the success of the V-neck sweater, I made another one for Claire, to get the kinks out and right all the wrongs I had made in my own sweater, and it came out GORGEOUS, and is a sweater she still wears seven years later. Next I started going through all the patterns in Stefanie Japel’s book, choosing more ambitious projects each time, learning new techniques and challenging my burgeoning skills. And then I had another aha! moment; not all knitting patterns are created equal. This seams so obvious now that I have been knitting for so many years, but after making 6 sweaters in a row that were knitted fairly well, yet still came out kind of weird and ill-fitting, I understood that fit was just as important an element in sweater making as learning how to read the patterns. So was yarn choice. So was making swatches. Just because a sweater looked beautiful in a photograph didn’t mean that it would look beautiful on me in the yarn I bought in the size I made with my particular stitching personality. So the learning curve continued. After some online research, I realized that the talented knitwear designer was quite a bit more buxom than I was, and therefore her patterns, with the exception of the V-Neck sweater which had a tighter fit, left way too much room in the chest area on me. I wasn’t adept enough yet to know how to adapt patterns to my own measurements, so I decided to branch out and discover patterns by different knitwear designers, and then a fateful conversation with a knitting makeup artist from the first season of Fringe led me to ravelry.com, and the rest is history (I am HYMagic on ravelry in case anyone wants to follow).

I thought it would be fun to walk down knittory lane (that is so corny and I am sorry) and take a look at some of my earliest sweater knitting projects. I would never call them failures because it’s only a fail if you learn absolutely nothing from it, and that has never been the case with anything I have knitted…although it has definitely taken me several attempts at the exact same mistake to finally learn the things I am supposed to learn.

Here, we have the Puff-Sleeved Cardigan, a really cute sweater that made me look kind of like a marshmallow when I put it on. It’s too baggy in the chest and under the arms, the silhouette is frumpy, and the peplum is too short and lays down funny. My buttons were so bomb, though. I should have used smaller needles to get a tigher fit, and perhaps a different kind of yarn, because I wanted the look to be fuzzier and look more like fabric rather than a garment where you can see the distinct stitch definition.

Puff-Sleeved Cardigan

Puff-Sleeved Cardigan (I realize that this picture/angle doesn’t look all that terrible, but I never ever wore this sweater after spending months on it, so just trust me that I didn’t feel confident in it AT ALL.

This Back-to-School U-Neck Vest was another one that fit poorly- again, much to loose in the chest area and the arms, and also just kind of baggy all around. I loved the color of this yarn, and the details within the pattern were really cool, but it needed to be much smaller. I usually knit the smallest sizes available for a pattern, and it was around the time of making this sweater that I started to learn (it took many more projects to fully comprehend this lesson) that my personal tension, though very even, is pretty loose. By going down one or two needle sizes, I get the correct gauge.

Back to School U Neck, baggy-style

Back to School U Neck, baggy-style

From Stefanie Japel’s other book, Glam Knits, I fell in love with this BoHo Blouse, knitted it up quickly in a chunky wool, and was immediately disappointed. Too big. Again. Frumpy. Again. I wasn’t sold on this yarn choice either, but in my early knitting days, I found it difficult to envision what a garment would look like in different colors and yarn choices, so I tried to stay within the ballpark of what the photograph showed, in this choice using a heathered wool with different flecks of color in it. Look at how it sags so much in the back and drapes down in the shoulder area. For a better fit I should have gone down in needle size, but in general, I have learned that flowy blouses are just not my thing, and a sweater that conceals my shape on top doesn’t really suit my style. This sweater, like the first one, was never worn and was gifted to my sister-in-law.

ugh.

ugh.

blergh.

blergh.

Okay, I think this sweater is the very first one I made that wasn’t a Stefanie Japel pattern (and for the record, I don’t want this post to seem like I am Stefanie bashing- I LOVE her vintage inspired designs; she is clearly VERY talented, and without her book, I would never have been inspired to try and tackle knitting my own sweaters! One of the sad truths about making your own clothing is that not every pattern is meant for every figure unless you are willing to put in the work to adapt the patterns, and Stefanie Japel’s work was how I learned to pay attention to my personal needs and preferences regarding knitwear designs). The Minimalist Cardigan was the first sweater I made that wasn’t knit in one piece, and although it is a very straight forward and simple pattern to make in all-over moss stitch with the lapel bands in stockinette, there was STILL room for learning. I am so embarrassed to admit this, but once the whole thing was knitted up and blocked and I was supposed to sew all the pieces together, I went to the store, bought matching green thread, and I USED MY SEWING MACHINE…

greensweater_web

greencardi_web…TO SEW THE PIECES TOGETHER!!!! I didn’t realize my mistake until I tried the garment on and stood in the mirror with a puzzled look on my face. Why were the shoulders so bulky?? Why didn’t the seams lay flat like they did in the photos for the pattern? I don’t know how or why I figured it out, but as some point I realized that I was supposed to hand sew the pieces together with yarn and a thick sewing needle made for knitwear. DUH. So embarrassing. Let me tell you, ripping sewing thread out of a knitted garment is painstaking. But once I figured out the right way to do it, the garment fit beautifully, and it is currently my oldest sweater that I have made (I threw out my first blue sweater once I got better at knitting and knew that I didn’t have to wear with holes and knots in them, and all the other garments I made in between were eventually gifted to friends/family).

Almost all the sweaters/knitted items I made after this one are wearable and still in rotation. I still had a lot to learn about my personal relationship to knitted garments and what kind of things I liked knitting the most, but I finally found my knitting groove. I learned to either go down in needle size or make swatches before every new project. I learned that I prefer neutral colored, unfussy wools to bright, funky colors and wild textures. I learned that I like simple stitches with minimal details, and laces only knitted up in flat hues. I learned that I am not crazy about tweed yarn. I learned that I don’t like sweaters with bust and waist shaping, and that I really love working with cables. I hate fuzzy yarn. Knitting socks is my worst nightmare. I prefer the Magic Loop Method to DPNs. And so on and so on.

This has been a ridiculously long post that took days for me to put together, but I get a lot of questions on tumblr about my history with knitting, so now I have a post to link people to should they have any specific questions about how I got into the craft. Oh, and the sweater in the picture used at the head of this post? It’s one of my favorite sweaters that I have ever made, even though I never really wore it much cause it has some fitting issues. I wish I had used a thinner yarn, and had made the sweater longer, and decreased the neckline stitches even more so that the neckline wasn’t quite so wide. This was the first lace repeat I ever used in a pattern, and it took me a long time to get the hang of it, but the result was stunning. I hardly ever wear this garment because it doesn’t work well with a regular bra and is a little too wide in the body, but another thing I have learned over my years of knitting is that sometimes a garment is worth fighting for; I am learning to ignore imperfections and focus on the beautiful qualities of my work more often, like the soft texture and the warm shade of the wool, and how delicate the lace pattern is coupled with the solid look of the neckline ribbing . This sweater works best with a belt and a strapless bra, and it looks really cute over skinny jeans or a pencil skirt, so I am dedicating myself to wearing it more often, despite the changes I wish I had made to it. I forgot how satisfying it is to wear my learning curve, spelled out across my shoulders.

©Robin Roemer

©Robin Roemer

Praise for the Archer Pattern

Button downs are a staple in my wife’s wardrobe, and several years ago I tried to sew one for her from a Colette pattern called Negroni. The Negroni pattern is meant for a (typical) man’s frame, and although the sizing was way off, I thought I would be able to fudge the shape a bit to make it work for Claire’s figure. It was super fun to construct a button down shirt for the first time, so in that sense the project was a success-

clearly so huge in the shoulders, even with some adjustments.

clearly so huge in the shoulders, even with some adjustments.

photo 5

The shirt is fine but Claire’s beautiful face kind of upstages everything else in the photo.

 

I now had firsthand experience with all the little doo dads that made this type of garment come to life. But as a wearable shirt, it was kind of a disaster. It was just way too big for her, and since I didn’t know much about grading pattern pieces, my only fitting “trick” was to make some darts in the shirt, which gave her several inches of extra material bunched inside of the shirt to swim around in. And it STILL didn’t fit well. Thankfully, Claire is very sweet and appreciative, and she still wore the shirt a few times and told me how much she loved it before quietly tucking it into the bottom back of her drawer. On a trip to Birmingham to see my family a few months later, we ended up gifting the shirt to my dad, whom it fit almost perfectly, so I was happy that the whole garment wasn’t a wash. But I was still interested in finding a more flattering cut of this shirt that would fit a woman’s body without being so fitted that it sucked things in and pushed things up (think androgynous button down for a curvy female figure). At the time, Colette patterns were the only indie brand I was familiar with, and there were not as many competitive brands offering other patterns and designs as there are today, so I didn’t really think my dream button down pattern was going to be realized.

And then, several months ago, I got sucked into the sewing blog rabbit hole. I was introduced to SO many indie pattern designers who were offering PDF downloads and printed versions of their patterns for sale online, and it was as if a whole new world had opened up to me. Now big company pattern brands (McCalls, Vogue, Butterick) were not the only options available for a home seamster, and the indie designers were creating things that were a lot more interesting/fashionable/unique than most of what the big companies were offering (don’t get me wrong, I love a classic Vogue pattern as much as the next person, but I also love versatility and detailed pattern instructions and also, NOTHING BEATS A BLOGGER SEW-ALONG)! Indie designers seemed to have such fresh perspectives on sewing and pattern making, so you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across indie company Grainline Studio’s Archer pattern, a simple button down (or button up, depending on your personality type, I guess?) pattern fit for a (typical) woman’s body. Claire’s measurements fit into a straight size with no extra grading required, and once she picked out some fabric (pink ladybugs on a white lightweight cotton), I whipped it up for her in time to wear to my brother’s wedding in late summer, with an unintentionally gigantic matching bow tie and handkerchief.

the dapperest.

the dapperest.

The fit was absolutely perfect, and she felt comfortable in it. Compared to the men’s Negroni pattern, the fit was slimmer in the shoulders and chest while still allowing room for boobs, and there was a slight curve in the waist to make room for hips. In general, the shirt just kind of skims over her figure without providing so much room that it overwhelms her frame. After the success of the first Archer, Claire immediately wanted to pick out lots more fabric so that she could have a closet full of them, but so far I have only gotten around to making one more version of the shirt, this time long sleeved, which she received on her birthday last year. IMG_1733I love this pattern, and I actually plan on making one for myself…someday. Aside from the fit being so flattering, the pattern instructions were good enough that I didn’t need to follow the accompanying sew-along…well, up until it was time to sew the sleeve cuffs and pleats. That part was brand new to me and I needed extra visual help to figure it out, but the sew-along provided all the info I needed to finish those details. Highly recommended pattern, A++, two thumbs and two big toes up, yay, team, etc. etc.

Pants: A Pain in My Ass

After making some very cute mid-to-high waisted shorts from a vintage Simplicity pattern a spring or two ago, my interest in making pants sky-rocketed. I have always hated shorts on myself; I felt like my legs were too short and curvy for them to be flattering, which looks even dumber written out on my computer screen than it sounds in my head (there is no such thing as “too” anything when it comes to bodies, but whatever, body dismorphia strikes again, etc., blah blah blah). But the simple, non-pocketed silhouette and high rise of the shorts made me feel like my body was proportionate in them and I became pretty infatuated with the look, leading me to believe that I might be able to make the perfect fitting pants for myself that I never seemed able to find in stores. I generally don’t like pants. Skirts and dresses are my go-to, and now that I live in Los Angeles I can almost get away with hardly ever having to wear pants except on the chilliest of winter days (think 50 degree-age, which is about as low as it gets in the day time). That said, I have come to appreciate the ease and functionality of wearing pants more often now that I have a dog that needs walking three times a day. It took me years to finally cave in and invest in some skinny jeans, and even then I wouldn’t consider a pair unless they had a good stretch content and a high waist (the low rise, butt-crack threatening, boot-cut fit of the late 90’s and early 2000’s was a real travesty). But sometimes I don’t want to wear jeans! Sometimes I want to wear bottoms that are a little more classic, that don’t leave seam lines up and down the sides of my legs after several hours of wear, that feel comfortable AND slimming, but don’t leave a 3 inch gap in the waist area from the difference in size between my waist (small) and my booty (not as small). Perfecting the Simplicity shorts pattern was the first inkling I had that I could make an awesome pair of pants for myself that would fit well and make me feel like I looked great, but I didn’t actually take action til Gertie’s second book came out. In it was a pattern for a pair of slim fitting cigarette pants, which I think is pretty similar to a pattern she released through Simplicity before her second book was available. I adore Gertie’s patterns, and have been hooked on her work ever since I got her first book of vintage patterns a few years ago. Hers was the first set of patterns I used that seemed to fit my body right out the gate- they required little to no adjusting, unlike the patterns from the big companies which always seemed to run at least a size too large and never fit my proportions very well. Gertie’s waist-to-booty ratio was a dream come true for me (her pencil skirt pattern fit me so beautifully I think I teared up when I first tried on my wearable muslin), so I had high hopes for her pants pattern to work well for me, too. Fortunately, it did not disappoint. The fit was incredible, and I didn’t have to grade between sizes or anything. That, however, was only the beginning of my pants learning curve.

Cue dramatic music.

The first muslin I made was out of some leftover wool herringbone with a slight stretch, and I was secretly

these don't look nearly as bad as they feel

these don’t look nearly as bad as they feel

hoping they would be wearable, cause the material was great, and who doesn’t love a wearable muslin?! I finished the pants, held my breath while I tried them on, and squealed cause they fit so beautifully- no gap at the waistband! comfortable! slimming! go, team! But holy shit, they were itchy as all get-out. Which is no surprise since they were made out of WOOL. ‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘no big deal, I will just line the pants with a silky type fabric and I will be good to go!’ I bought some inexpensive lining material and looked up some tutorials on how to line a pair of pants. But umm…lining slim fitting cigarette pants isn’t actually a “thing”. photo 5

Like, maybe people have done it with success, and kudos to them, but for me, it just wasn’t happening. Nevermind the fact that my lining wasn’t the right kind of material and didn’t have enough give in the right directions to fit comfortably over my legs, but they also just kind of bunched up inside the wool and twisted around and got caught in all the wrong places, even when tacked down to the wool pants’ seams. It was kind of like trying to wear a slip under a pair of tights; the pants were too slim fitting to allow room for what was essentially an entirely new pair of pants.So the wearable muslin was obviously not gonna work (and no, I was not the least bit interested in wearing pantyhose underneath my pants to reduce the itch factor- what am I, my mother??) but at least I knew that the pattern fit perfectly.

I decided to try the pants in a better fabric, this time a high quality stretch denim, which worked much better, except that now, with a thinner material than the wool, I started to obsessively over-fit the legs of the pants, taking them in more and more, over and over again, so that when I finally finished them, they were so tight that not only could I BARELY stuff a foot through the leg opening, I could also barely bend over. The calves of these pants looked like they were painted on. Which perhaps is fine for a photoshoot or something, but not very realistic or functional for every day life.

admittedly weird choice in zipper color.

admittedly weird choice in zipper color.

I’m not sure if these jeans are wearable cause I haven’t worked up the energy to spend the 5 minutes it takes to put them on, I am guessing no. I am considering cutting them off below the knee to turn them into a 50’s style capri, and maybe the fit will be better then, but so far they are still folded on a hanger, mocking me in the corner of my craft room.

Okay, so THIRD pair of cigarette pants! Moved onto to a green stretch cotton twill, kept the pockets (although I hate pockets on trousers) and this was my very first success, except for one weird adjustment that needs to be made: the front seam

no idea why the color looks messed up in the photos- in person you can't see it, i swear!

no idea why the color looks messed up in the photos- in person you can’t see it, i swear!

dips down a bit, and rides on my waist slightly below the sides and back, so I am going to add just a touch more material to the front seam allowance to see if that helps at all- it’s not the rise or crotch cause everything fits perfectly everywhere else, and if the crotch were any higher I would feel like I was wearing a front thong. Otherwise, the pants are perfect!photo 7

With the success of this pair, I decided to try another in a fabric with the same amount of stretch made with a beautiful paisley pattern. I fall in love with pants like this all the time at JCrew, but their bottoms consistently fit me so terribly that I stopped even trying them on years ago. Anyways, by this point I was an old pro at making this pattern, and I was super excited to add these perfected pants to my wardrobe, so in only a few hours over a couple of days during the Christmas holidays I was able to sew them up and give them a try. I waited to attach the waistband to make sure there were no fit issues and…I…couldn’t…even…pull them up…over my KNEES! In horror, I stretched and ripped the pants to try and pull them at least up to my waist, but I couldn’t even get them past this here booty, despite the fact that I had made this pattern several times by this point and I knew that the sizing was perfect. And then I realized my (HUGE) mistake…in my haste to get this pattern started, I didn’t pay attention to the direction of stretch in the fabric, which just happened to run perpendicular to the selvage as opposed to parallel to it, the way most knit fabrics I have worked with run. So my pants could stretch real long from top to bottom, but there was practically no give whatsoever to go around my legs, meaning it was nearly impossible to pull them up over the widest parts of my body.

see?

see?

Oh, was I mortified! But also kinda sorta happy to have learned a valuable lesson in all of it- ALWAYS CHECK TO SEE WHICH DIRECTION YOUR STRETCH GOES WHEN SEWING WITH KNITS. Perhaps, dear reader, this can be a lesson to you (if you haven’t learned it already, which you probably have, because NO, DUH) so you wont have to waste some beautiful fabric on a really silly oversight like I did. I should have KNOWN something big and terrible was about to happen with this garment. In hindsight, I realize that I have a tendency to make lots of little mistakes before I make big ones. Case in point: with this one pair of pants which, as I mentioned, I had already made SEVERAL times, I managed to sew the back of the pants to the front of the pants with the wrong sides together, AND THEN, once I took out all my stitching, I managed to sew the two front legs together at the inseam, effectively created a long, very ugly denim skirt. Quick and fast sewing is just not really my forte, and the bigger of a hurry I am in, the more mistakes I am apt to make. Coincidentally, the more mistakes I make, the less likely it is that the garment will actually be wearable. It’s all in the math, I guess.

So. In total, we have one pair of jacquard pants ruined, one (possible capri) denim that I most likely wont be able to sit down in without getting a yeast infection, one perfect, pocketed pant in green khaki, and an itchy herringbone wool w lining that, having tried on again so many months later with new eyes, I’m thinking might actually be salvageable. The lining inside is too tight around the calves, making the fabric pull when I walk, but I think I might have enough seam allowance left in them to take them out just a bit more. If I can get them to *comfortable* status, I will definitely wear them, because the fit is great and not as funky looking as I remember them being (although this last try-on has further convinced me that I need to take the zipper in just a touch). WOW! Another lesson learned! All garments thrown into the BUTTHOLE BIN should be tried on no less than seven weeks later to reassess fit, functionality and likability. This wont be the first time I reacquainted myself with a discarded unfinished garment, only to find out that it was indeed worth rescuing. I like doing that. Cause I HAAAATE throwing disasters into the BUTTHOLE BIN.

Oooh, that’s a really great idea for a future post, eh? Taking a walk down BUTTHOLE BIN lane?

New year, new rack.

COAT rack, that is! (ba dum ching)

When we first moved to LA, my wife and I rented a really cute house across from a beautiful, hilly cemetery and started to try and build up our pitiful collection of furniture. We had lived in furnished spaces for our previous four years in Vancouver, and everything we had kept in storage in NYC was cheap and ugly and falling apart. It was the need for a nice, big, solid dining room table and my disgust at how expensive furniture can be that inspired me to try and learn how to build it in the first place. Anyways, as you can imagine, in our first few weeks in Los Angeles making our new home, there were tons of trips to Home Depot, and just as many to the Rose Bowl flea and Ikea and World Market and Target and vintage home goods stores, where we could fill in all the holes of what we needed but could not make for ourselves. Our unfurnished rental had a large living room with a fireplace and a tall, arched ceiling, but no foyer or entryway space, so on a whim, I purchased a ridiculously (and unsurprisingly) overpriced iron coat rack from World Market. expensive ass coat rack

Full disclosure, I love/hate World Market. Their aesthetic is awesome, but their quality is shitty. Sometimes I just go in there for a little inspiration and a root beer, but I complain the whole time about how we shouldn’t buy anything cause it’s just gonna break unexpectedly.
So anyways, a few months after moving to LA, we bought a house and had to move again, with all the furniture we had made work for our rental space. Most everything translated well in our new home, including the the cute antiqued coat rack, which has provided an excellent space for us to put all our leaving-the-house shit for the past couple of years. However, this year when we got our Christmas tree, we had to move the coat rack out of the way and into the office to make room for it. And holy shit, what a difference the absence of a coat rack made! Our house is bigger in square feet than our old rental, but the living room/dining room is much smaller, and the ceilings are normal height. It was only through living a few weeks without the coat rack that we realized how awkward it had been in the room and how much space it took up.

photo 1The above photo doesn’t really do it justice, so you will just have to take my word for it- it crowded the area and ruined sight lines to the big window we have in front. So we got rid of the thing, kept it in the office for the holidays, where it continued to be in the way and take up too much space, but was less obvious. I needed a solution, something to house our bags and scarves and jackets, but something that didn’t involve having to use that bulky (expensive) coat rack. You see behind the rack to the wall next to the chalkboard? All the empty space on the left side? I hated that about as much as our huge rack (!). It was only apparent when you closed the door, but that space was usable and felt weirdly empty with nothing there. So, problem solved: get rid of the coat rack in the house and make a wooden something-or-other to hang on the wall in that empty space.

The next part was pretty easy; assembling some hooks and proper screws and finding a nice old piece of wood to reuse (this was from a shelf that had mostly fallen apart in the backyard when it flooded/ rained for the first time in a year). photo 2Claire sanded the board down but kept most of it as is cause the color and distress in it looked nice, and I screwed in some hooks on the front, and a few smaller ones on the bottom side of the board). photo 3

Positioned her on the wall, screwed her into the stud (!!)) and voila! Bye, bye, iron coat rack. The hooks used don’t all match each other, cause I couldn’t find four of the same ones, but I kind of like the mishmash look of them all together- plus, you can’t really see the hooks when they are covered in chilly weather accoutrement.

Final look: photo 5

Cleaner, opens the space and makes it much brighter, and provides a better spot for our armchair (not seen in the pic) which used to be shoved up next to the coat rack. The room looks so much bigger and less cramped, and I love being reminded of how important it is to rearrange furniture every once in while. Sometimes it just takes new eyes to recognize old problems. And speaking of old problems, I have a bulky expensive coat rack to give away if anyone wants it.