Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Tale of Two Skirts

In between jeans muslins, I've been sewing skirts.  And other things.  But mostly skirts.  Skirts are what I live in all summer because a skirt, a tee, and a pair of sandals is the coolest, most comfortable outfit in summer.  I realized this week I don't even own a pair of shorts, and went to buy McCalls shorts pattern, number 6930, because it was on sale for $ 1.99, but Hancocks was out of stock. I'm actually wearing a pair of The Carpenter's cut off jeans today, but I digress.

First up was Simplicity 1541, which is a basic straight skirt:

I've been meaning to try this one, not only for it's basic style, but also because it is part of Simplicity's "Amazing Fit" line and I wanted to find out if it was really "amazing".  It also allowed me to use my leftover pink denim that I used for my latest incarnation of the Gertie pants.  I made view B, the middle length version.

One of the features of the pattern is that is allows different pattern pieces for different figures: the choices are slim, average, and curvy.  Sort of the same concept as cup sizes for the bust that many patterns have these days.  And the pattern sheet provides detailed instructions to determine what you are, but let me save you time:  if you have less than 10 inches between your waist and hip measurements, you are slim; if you are 10 inches you are average; and if you are more than 10 inches you are "curvy".

More helpfully, the pattern provides detailed hip finished garment measurements for each size and each "fit".  This allowed me to determine that, unlike most Big Four patterns, there wasn't a lot of ease in this skirt.  My measurements put me as size 14, and since there are 10 inches between my waist and hip (depending on whether I've eaten pizza or not), I am "average", not surprisingly (I have pretty standard figure).  The finished hip garment measurements for a size 14 average is 39, which seemed too tight, since that is my exact hip measurement, but this pattern is drafted with 1 inch side seam allowances for better fitting.

I went with it.  The instructions seemed to create more work than necessary, but I reminded myself that I'm trying to do things new ways with new techniques so I don't get bored, so I did it their way.  You are instructed to baste the front yoke to the front of the skirt, and then baste the back yokes to the backs of the skirt, and then baste the side seams with a 1 inch seam and try it on.

My skirt was tight, like indecently tight.  The pattern instructions have all kinds of fitting tips, like what to do if you side seam pulls to the front or to the back, but my side seams were completely straight, the thing was just too tight.  The instructions tell you pull out some of your basting stitches and pin until you get a straight seam, but I couldn't remove the side seams while standing in it, so I eyeballed it and decided the whole thing would fit better if I used 3/4 seams instead of 1 inch, thus giving me 1 inch more of ease in the skirt.

I basted the 3/4 inch side seam, and then removed the 1 inch seam and tried it on.  Very good fit.  But of course, by doing it this way, I then had to remove the 3/4 basted side seam, and remove the yokes from the skirt, sew the front and back yokes together for real, and then sew the side seams for real this time, using the 3/4 inch seam allowance.  Then attach the yokes to the skirt. Whew.  A lot of work for a simple skirt:

Once I got it all done, though, with the yoke facings and zipper and everything, the waist felt a little loose.  Grrrr.  Did my waist stretch while putting in the yoke facing?  Was it the lycra in the denim?  I don't know, which just goes to show, no matter how much you fit as you sew you never really know until you are done, done, done.

I made the front seams a mock felled seam since I have been doing that on my jeans muslins:

The inside view of the mock felled seam:

And I put in my first lapped zipper, which I've never done before, but again, I'm trying new things so I don't get bored:

A pretty good first effort, but I'm not convinced of its superiority to the centered zipper.  

The skirt has a back kick pleat:

All in all, I'm very pleased with this skirt (its an excellent work skirt) although next time I might try a 7/8 inch side seam and see how that works.  I think it depends on your fabric and its stretch, so I won't know until I make it.

Next up was Vogue 1247:

Where have I been?  This pattern was named one of the top 10 patterns of 2011, I think, but I was totally oblivious.  Everyone on the interwebs seems to love, love, love this skirt, with the front in-seam pockets, although most sewers are adding 5 to 8 inches to the length.  As drafted it finishes 15 inches long.  Which is fine if you are a teenager, not so good if you are over 45 years old.

I knew I wanted to make this in a soft cotton twill - the kind you would use to make a great pair of chinos.  I knew I also wanted to make this skirt so I could wear it at the beach, so I chose a soft grayish blue (or a soft bluish gray, I can't tell) from fashionfabricsclub.com  The color reminds me of bleached-from-the-sun beachwood.

I made a size 14 but added 5 inches as I figured 20 inches was a good length on a summer beach skirt.  I didn't add the length to the pattern pieces; I just chalked it out on the fabric since it was a pretty straight forward alteration.

Here's the hands-in-the-pockets obligatory photo that everyone who has made this skirt has posted:

And the back:

I used a centered zipper and a button in the back, rather than a hook and eye closure.  I also put in a top-stitched hem rather than the blind hem as instructed. The pattern called for some serious seam binding that included the side seams and pockets - the photos of some of the insides of the skirts on everyone's blogs are neat to see, but I wasn't inspired to rise to that level of effort - I just used my overlock stitch on my Bernina to finish the seams and called it a day.

A lot of the sewers who made this skirt have made multiples, but strangely, I don't feel the urge, even though I ordered another cotton twill in anticipation that I would want to.  I might make this in corduroy or wool come this fall, adding another couple inches.  We'll see.

Vogue has a reputation of being slightly more difficult that the other Big Four, and I admit that while this is a simple skirt, more than once I had to think about how things went together, and not every little step is illustrated in the instructions.  But there was nothing anyone will some sewing experience couldn't figure out.

More on the jeans project to follow, but that's all for now!

Parting Shot: The Carpenter and some of his brothers before we were evacuated from the island due to Hurricane Arthur:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My New All Consuming Project Where I Neglect Housework and My Husband

So after the Grinder Dress, I needed a project that paradoxically provided a challenge and would be a probable success . . .

So I returned to Gertie's high-waisted pants/jeans, Butterick 5895.  As you might have guessed, I absolutely love this pattern:

(If you ever wanted to make pants, this is the pattern to use!)

Counting the two muslins, the two pairs of pants of cotton sateen, and the skirt I made, I've made 5 garments from this pattern.  This time (the sixth!), to provide the challenge, I wanted to 1) make it in actual denim and 2) I wanted to make the pockets deeper, and more like jeans pockets so that the pocket bags aren't made of the fashion fabric, but of lightweight cotton.  I don't normally make clothes with pockets, but if I am going to have them, I want them big enough to put my whole hand in.

I recently had purchased this 3 oz stretch denim from Gorgeous Fabrics as an impulse buy (It was on sale!  And it was pink!), a cotton and lycra blend which was a fabric I have never sewn before, so I was all set.  And I successfully drafted new pattern pieces to make the pockets deeper.  Here are the original pattern pieces: # 5 is the pocket facing and pattern piece # 7 is the front side piece.  

The pattern envisions that you cut both from your fashion fabric.  I wanted to take these 2 pieces, make them longer to deepen my pockets, and also draft a new front side piece that would be considerably shorter which would be the only one cut from the fashion fabric. This is what I ended up with:

I lengthened the pattern pieces # 5 and 7 by two and half inches, which is the amount I figured I needed in order to get my entire hand into my pocket.  You can see the difference here:

I cut the first two pieces from an old pillow case which had suffered an unfortunate hair coloring stain incident not worth mentioning.   (I discovered that pillow cases make excellent pocket bags - the thread count is high enough to create a strong pocket and the pillow case has been washed about a hundred times, so there is no chance of shrinkage.  Plus, the pillow case is already doubled thickness - very handy for cutting out!)  The last piece was the only one I cut from the pink fashion fabric.  I finished the bottom edge and lined it up with # 7, and assembled the pants front and pocket as usual.

The pants turned out great:

 That's a lotta pink!

 This time I used a button and buttonhole as my back closure, rather than a hook-and-eye.

I did all the topstitching that the pattern contemplates, and I made mock fell seams, which I had never done before.  No problems:

I'm thrilled with how these turned out and the denim I used works better than the cotton sateen I used previously - it wrinkles and stretches out less in the wearing.  I wore these to work on "Jeans Friday" and a coworker remarked how much slimmer they made me look.  I think it is because the high waist emphasizes where I am the slimmest (the waist, duh!).  And, of course, any time you have a pair of pants that fit you perfectly, you are going to look your best.

My success with these denim pants allowed me to admit to myself what I had been trying to deny:  I want to make jeans.  Perfectly fitting jeans.  Of cotton.  Real cotton - no stretch.  Today's jeans all have stretch in them and are lower rise (that's why your jeans need the stretch, so your jeans stay on your body since they aren't held up at the waist - the narrowest part of your body).

I've had a devil of a time finding 100% cotton jeans.  I finally found some Levis, but Levis in the 21st Century aren't the jeans I grew up with.  The denim is thinner and comes "distressed".  That's not what I want.  

So what do I want???  These are my idea of the perfect jeans:

 These are the jeans I wore in college until I was about 26 or 27, when I "grew" out of them.  Yep, I have kept my 32 year old pair of favorite jeans, no lie.  I just love them too much, even though I will never, ever fit into them again.  (I was 105 lbs in college.  I am not 105 lbs now, and let's just leave it at that.)

These 505 Levis jeans are a heavy cotton twill that has been washed and worn to the softest, but substantial, cotton you will ever feel.  They even still smell like college.  And they were naturally "distressed" by me just by wearing and washing them:

 They didn't start out this faded blue color; you can see the dark blue they once were:

They were made in the USA.  Let's just say that the Levis I've bought recently were . . . not.  

OK.  So that is the dream.  Taylor has achieved my dream.  He made a fantastic pair of jeans from real American denim woven in North Carolina.  It was his fourth sewing project ever, his prior projects consisting of an apron, a vest, and a shirt. (I'm trying to be inspired by Taylor, rather than hate him.)

So where to start?  A great pair of jeans is going to require the right fabric and the perfect fit.  And a fly front.  And real flat felled seams.

Every major pattern line has a jeans pattern.  (Jalie has an extremely popular pattern but it is for stretch jeans.) Taylor drafted his own.  Or you can order a jeans sloper based on your measurements. 

I decided to start with Butterick 5682, mostly because it was on sale at Hancocks for $ 1.99:

In addition to being cheaper and immediately available, the pattern had the added advantage of having different leg styles:  straight, boot cut, slim, etc.  I decided if the pattern worked, I could use it for straight jeans (in the summer, more likely) or for boot cut (for winter when I wear boots, of course).  Also, because it was Butterick, the crotch curve was identical to Gertie's pants pattern and I felt that was good omen.

I bought a 100% cotton twill fabric at Hancocks as my muslin fabric because I thought it would important to mimic the weight and feel of denim.  The Butterick instructions were very good; I blindly followed the fly zip instructions, having no clue as to what I was doing, and I think it worked.  (It's my first fly zipper so it's hard to tell.)

I'll save you the suspense; the pattern did not work for me.  Here it is with the side seams sewn to the outside for fitting purposes:

 I made a size 14 which matched my body measurements, but a size 14 was too big.  Also, the rise was too low for me.  Here's a back view:

I learned a lot from this pattern; in addition to the fly front, I practiced my topstitching for all the seams you would topstitch on a real pair of jeans.  But rather than muck about with this pattern, trying to make it fit right, I just moved on.  Next up was Kwik Sew's pattern, 3193:

I didn't have high hopes for this pattern, but I decided to give it a try because Peter hosted a jeans sew along using the men's Kwik Sew pattern, and I discovered the instructions for the women's version are the same, right down to some of the mistakes.  I could follow Peter's sew along instructions, which I felt would be helpful and I thought would learn a lot.

For this version, I decided to use real denim.  I ordered Robert Kaufman's denim fabric I bought from, which was a good muslin fabric, but I don't recommend for "real" jeans.  (The denim suffers from the same problems as today's modern denim - it's too lightweight and has a loose weave.)  

In trying to decide on size, I was in the "medium" category, but laying both Gertie's Butterick pattern and the Butterick jeans pattern pieces on top of the Kwik Sew pattern indicated I am probably in between a medium and a small.  So I cut a medium everywhere but the outside seams where I cut on the "small" line. I also added two inches in length because they finish 30 inches long, and I usually prefer a 32 inch inseam.

I used regular thread and a 70 needle to sew the denim together, but I used topstitching thread and a 100 needle for the topstitching. (I used regular thread in the bobbin even when I was topstitching.) I wanted to practice topstitching on real denim even though this was a muslin.  Again, I made mock fell seams rather than real flat fell seams since it was only a muslin.  For my regular seams, I used a 3 mm stitch length; for the topstitching, I went longer at 4 mm.

The only issue with this pattern was switching the needle and thread out with nearly every seam.  This is definitely a situation where having two sewing machines would come in handy.

Peter's instructions were excellent, and I had a good time putting it together.  I had no confidence in the fit, however, after the Butterick muslin, so this morning, I finish up to the point where the jeans are assembled, but the waistband had yet to be put on.  I was pleasantly surprised:

 The Carpenter said, "Those fit better than your store-bought jeans!"  Yep, that's the goal.  Here's the back:

 No pockets, of course, it's just a muslin:

The fit isn't perfect, of course, as I think the legs, especially the back legs, are too roomy, but they can be narrowed in a future version so these jeans look less farmer-like.  

I give my topstitching solid marks:

Although not everything went smoothly.  Here's the backside of some of my topstitching.  Sometimes this would happen:

Ick.  Not pretty.  But most of the time it went fine.  Kwik Sew's fly front was a little confusing to me, even with Peter's instructions.  The fly had cut-on fly extensions, rather than the sewn on instructions that Butterick had.  I'm not certain I did it right since the outside topstitching on the front of my jeans didn't line up with my zipper.  Something to work on.  

OK.  This post is long enough, but you get the drift of my current obsession.  More to come . . . .!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

McCalls 6891 - The Grinder Dress

You know when you are totally engrossed by your sewing project, so much so that you become obsessed, unable to sleep because you are thinking about cutting layouts or buttons?  And where you think about it at work because you just can't stop thinking about it?  Well, that was NOT the case with this dress. I probably started this dress over six weeks ago.  It is linen (of course), and it is a shirtdress (of course).  But inspiration was totally lacking, and I just managed to finish this one by grinding it out.  So I'm calling this the Grinder Dress.

It started out innocently enough.  McCalls released this pattern this spring, number M6891, and it looked sorta easy:

If you look closely, you can see that there is a one-piece collar (no separate stand), no waistband (although there is a waist for easier fitting), no front bands, and only six darts; if you make the sleeveless version (the blue dress in the upper left corner), it should be easy-peasy.  Right?

Blog reader Rachel emailed me back in March, asking me for a recommendation for a shirtdress pattern, as she was planning on making her very first shirtdress, and I recommended this one. (I regret that now, and Rachel, if you are still reading, I am REALLY, REALLY SORRY!  Go make the Colette Hawthorn instead - not only is it easier but there is a sew-along that will help tremendously.)

Still thinking this would be quick 'n easy, I decided to use the wonderful periwinkle linen I got at Mood in December:

So how did it go wrong?  Well, as I was working with the fabric, I decided at some point that this linen was probably a little too light for a dress - it is more blouse weight.  So it wrinkled even worse than what linen is supposed to wrinkle.  It wrinkled just lying on the ironing board.  That isn't the pattern's fault, however, but given that I had already cut it out, I just continued muddling through.  I ground it out.

No, the problem was the collar/front/facing pattern pieces.  So many symbols:  squares, circles, triangles, dots, lines - you get the drift.  The construction technique of this collar was previously unknown to me, and I had a frustrating time trying to figure out how the whole sha-bang went together.   I can't imagine a beginner trying it.  
A sleeveless shirtdress shouldn't be this confusing/difficult.  I finally managed to get it together, and then it sat for several weeks, needing buttonholes, buttons, and hemming.  I procrastinated on all fronts because I knew the hem was going to be a huge PITA and I was right.  The skirt of this thing is a half circle skirt, so it is on the bias at the sides.  Combined with this fabric being a lightweight loose weave linen, I had serious side stretch.  My attempts to put in an even hem were unsuccessful.

So it hung on a hanger for even more weekends, sucking my quality sewing time because I have this completion complex:  I can't work on another project until my current one is done.

Last Saturday, to save my sanity and my hobby, I finally decided to throw money at the problem:  I took this dress to the woman who hemmed my wedding dress and begged her to hem it for me.  Despite her look of horror (she knows bias stretch when she sees it), she only said in her Bulgarian accent, "Next Saturday."

I skipped out of the shop before she changed her mind.  This past Saturday, I picked it up and happily paid her for her trouble.  I wore it to Mass this morning and got the Carpenter to take a photograph before we left and the winkling began:

She did a great job and the twenty bucks I paid her was worth every penny - not just so this dress got done, but because once I subcontracted out the hem, the floodgates of creativity and sewing came pouring out of me and I finished three, count them, three projects since the day I left this dress with her, plus I did a muslin (gasp!) for a project I HAVE become obsessed with. 

Otherwise, there isn't much to say about this dress; I made a size 12.  I added 3/4 inch to the hem for some unknown reason.  I added 1/4 inch to the front side seams of the bodice and skirt, just to make sure the waist was big enough, and I sewed the waist seam just a little less than 5/8 inch just to make extra-super-duper sure there was plenty of room in the waist.  The color is wonderful, and I enjoyed wearing it today, complete with the Gertie-slip I finished Friday night.

So ultimately, what was the problem?  I think I was just bored.  This isn't what I really wanted to be sewing.  (Plus that collar thing really was objectively insane.)

So I'm on to new projects that I keep researching, and compulsively buying supplies, and I'm in the grip of happy obsession.  Fortunately, the Carpenter is tolerant - I haven't been this sewing-crazed since the Tippi Hedren suit!

More to come . . .

Sunday, May 11, 2014

McCalls 6696 - Take 2

As you can tell from the Gabriola skirt, I'm obsessed with linen.  While it wrinkles in the wearing, it is a pleasure to sew and wear - it takes high heat steaming/pressing well, and drinks in topstitching beautifully. was having one of their "get one yard of linen for free" sales so I bought three yards of their color "Meadow" and made another McCalls 6696 shirtdress, this time view "D" with the more narrow skirt with pockets:

I had been waiting to make this version since I saw Handmade Jane's denim dress.  Here's my version:

(Not thrilled about the slightly uneven hemline at the front.)  Here's a closer shot:  I made the cuffs as drafted which The Carpenter described as "Star Trek":

 I've made this dress before, with the pleated skirt, in a quilting cotton, but I don't remember the back being quite this blousy before.  The linen really accentuated the blousy-factor:

 Next time, I will definitely remove some of the width in the back pattern piece to cut down on this poofiness in the back.  It's a little ridiculous.  

In addition to sewing view D this time instead of view B, I used the "C" cup front pattern piece because I felt like last dress I made was a little short in the front, and this might be due to the fact that I needed a larger cup size:

In the end, I don't think I need the "C" cup - I think this dress has a tendency to pull to the back at the shoulders and neck area, causing the front waist to rise up and I don't know why.  I don't know if it is how the dress is drafted, or if there is some alteration that I need to make that I don't know about:

Other than that, I cut and sewed a size 12.  I found, though, that the skirt was a little bit tight, so I let it out as much as I could in the hips, given that I had already trimmed the side seams and finished them with an overlock stitch, so there wasn't much I could let out. It fits, but I want to remember to add a little extra in the hips next time.

I added 1 inch to length, and hemmed with my favorite method, which is using a strip of fabric cut on the bias and then folded in half like french binding.   It gives a nice clean hem, and is an easy way to provide length.  This time, unlike my last version, I remembered to lengthen the front bands so I didn't have to piece them:

 While I had this dress done for ages, it took me awhile to get the buttons on it; all that topstitching and pressing of this wonderful linen ended up being a goodly amount of work, and I really didn't want to put plastic buttons on this dress.  So I splurged for real pearl shell buttons I got at Chadwick Heirlooms:

They weren't cheap - these 10 buttons cost me about $ 18.00.  I can definitely say that when I wear this dress out, I'll be saving the buttons for another project!

 Just like my last version, I added an enormous amount of topstitching that the pattern didn't call for.  As I said above, linen just drinks in topstitching.  It makes for a lovely finish, and helps with subsequent pressing, by keeping everything in place.  All and all, this project was an experiment in using's linen and it was nice to work with.  I'm looking forward to wearing this dress this summer!