Monday, December 3, 2012

A New Laura Ashley!

I was really taken with McCalls 5972 - a Laura Ashley sheath dress with a retro collar:

I  made view "B", with a plaid that looks like a wool, but is really a synthetic blend I found at Hancock's.  It was perfect for this pattern:  soft drape for the collar, but enough body for the dress.  I don't know what possessed me to choose a plaid for my first rendition of this dress - all that extra matching at the center of the dress, and the skirt sides took more way more time, but I just liked the look of this plaid.  The collar rolled perfectly, and this synthetic was more of a pleasure to work with than I had anticipated.  I made a size 12 with no alterations, except for the side seams which I varied based on the finished pattern measurements.  I sewed the side seams with a 5/8 inch seam allowance above the bust darts, and then narrowed the side seams to 1/2 inch to the waist.  I made the skirt with 1/2 inch side seams and got a very good fit.

(This fabric really is wrinkle resistant - I had been sitting all day at work when this photo was taken.)  My only other change was that I used silk shantung bias strips to finish the armholes, rather than single fold bias tape the pattern called for.  There is a side seam zipper and a back vent.  The bodice is lined, and I used some light pink cotton batiste I had leftover in the stash.

All and all, this turned out to be a very comfortable and professional dress and I recommend the pattern.

Parting Shots: My wedding present from VickiW!
Vicki started piecing this pink-and-brown churn dash quilt years ago and I staked my claim to it early on.  She finished it as my wedding present last week!  Check out the awesome quilting on the back:
Vicki quilted feathers in the blocks and cross-hatching in between!   And here is the all-important label:
This quilt means so much to me.  I love the colors. I love the quilting.  And it is big!  The Carpenter said it was "too good to use" but we have been sleeping under it every night!  Thank you, Vicki!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Christmas Party Dress - Early!

I went on a Sewing Retreat the weekend of November 11th, but haven't been blogging because my computer wouldn't turn on.  At all.  And I'm not talking about the blue screen of death, I'm talking about the black pit of darkness that was my lap top screen.  I finally submitted to the ultimate fix - I took my lap top to work.  I don't know why this works, but as soon as I got it to the office and pushed the power button, it fired right up.  I guess my lap top just likes to get out of the house from time to time.  It's evil that way.

I really don't need to go on a Sewing Retreat to sew - The Carpenter lets me sew any time I want to, but my friend Maria really wanted to go, and Maria is like so many quilters - to really sew all weekend, she has to run away from home and let her family fend for herself.  Maria is a new sewer (which I like to believe I somehow helped inspire), so I joined her at a 4-H camp about an hour and half from home.  It was very productive and I met wonderful women, all quilters.  I was the only garment sewer.  I decided to spend the weekend making my dress for my company's annual Christmas party, which was renamed the Holiday party, for political correctness.  I still call it the Christmas party because if it wasn't for Christmas, we wouldn't been having it.

I normally make my dress every year but I never blog about it because it is the busiest time of the year, plus my dress is usually not my best work - I cut major corners sewing it.  Mostly because I don't have a lot of time.  And I am fine with that because the dress is going to be worn once, maybe twice, three times tops.  I don't worry about finishing seams or any imperfections.  The party is large, dark, and most everyone there is at least slightly tipsy.  No one is noticing whether my hem is perfect.

But this year I set aside an entire weekend in November to focus on the dress.  I like to make my Christmas dresses with circle skirts so I can wear a big crinoline underneath because if it ain't poofy, it ain't a party.

I was inspired by this book by Mary Adams that I bought this past summer when I wasn't sewing but I was reading about sewing:

I love her designs - she makes my kind of dress.  Poofy, feminine, and dramatic.  I was particularly taken with this one:
I love the white/dark blue combination; it looks very classy and chic.  The book comes with patterns for three dress variations, so I used her circle skirt pattern which I traced.  For the bodice, I decided to go with the Kwik Sew pattern 3760 I love so much:
The pattern has the waistband that I added to the circle skirt, and I knew the bodice would fit me well.  I made the skirt and waistband from some royal blue/violet taffeta someone in my sewing guild gave me several years ago.  I don't know the fabic content (although I am pretty certain it isn't silk), but it is stiff and rustles like taffeta.  For the bodice I dithered for weeks about what to use.  I thought that silk shantung would be too sheer (something I learned while sewing my wedding dress), and I didn't want to try to wrangle something like silk charmuse for this dress.  I finally went with a man made fabric I found at Joannes that shimmered a little, even though I usually hate working with synthetics.  The Joannes fabric ended up being very easy to work with, although it  raveled like crazy.  By the end of the retreat, I had a completed dress that only lacked a hem:

Sorry about the poor quality photos - the lighting wasn't great.  But you get the gist.  Here are some photos that show the fabrics a little better:

 I ended up binding the armholes with silk shantung bias strips (silk was leftover from the wedding dress project):
I have found that silk shantung is awesome for binding armholes.  It is thin, presses well, and is very strong, but flexible.  I cut my bias strips 2 inches wide, then folded them in half, wrong sides together, and then I sewed them to the armholes using a 5/8 inch seam.  I then trimmed the seam allowances to 1/4 inch, and pressed the bias strip to the inside of the bodice.  Because I had the time, I hand sewed the binding to the bodice.

So I took more time with this Christmas dress than I usually do - I finished the seam allowances.  When I have the time, I can't NOT do it.  : )

Once I got home, I hemmed it.  The taffeta is very stiff, and because I had such success with the silk shantung in binding the armholes, I decided to use the same process to hem the circle skirt as well.  I used hot pink silk because I had more of it (and the hem of that skirt is yards and yards long).  After I got the pink silk on the skirt, I liked the way it looked, so instead of pressing it up into the skirt, I just pressed it down so it shows.  So now I have a thin strip of hot pink at the bottom of the skirt and it made me so happy I had to dance around in my dress.  I love it when that happens - it is one of those happy accidents that makes my design better.

I'll post a good photo of me in the dress taken at the party, which is on December 8th.  But next up:  I'm working on McCalls 5972.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Ashland Dress

I loved the Schoolhouse Tunic so much, I made Sew Liberated's Ashland Dress as well!  Here's a photo of the bodice:

And here's the pattern photo:

 I ended up buying the kit for the dress from Sew Liberated's website, along with the pattern because it saved me from having to choose the fabric for this project.   I know, choosing the fabric is the most fun part, right?  I agree, but in addition to trying brand new patterns, I'm trying to break out of my rut and try new kinds of fabrics that I wouldn't ordinarily try.  The fabric in this kit was a cotton chambray with some lycra in it - something I have never, in the past ten years of sewing, ever used.  I'm somewhat of a natural fabric snob, so sewing with stretch fabrics hasn't appealed to me.  So this was my opportunity to give it a try.

I've also discovered that I am a ditherer - I could spent months trying to figure out which fabric I wanted to use to make this dress.  Frankly, I wanted to just get on with it, and I figured that if Sew Liberated was selling this particular fabric for this pattern, it had a likely chance of success.  We all know that matching up the right kind of fabric with the proper body and drape is the key to successful sewing.

The kit came with four yards of the fabric, a navy invisible zipper, and some interfacing.  I was first puzzled by the color of the zipper, as I thought the fabric was grey:
But it turns out that the fabric is made of navy and white threads, rather than black and white.  I was concerned that the color and dress style would look a little too pilgrimy, but then I decided it was a pilgrim time of year, so I went with it.  The fabric ended up being a pleasure to sew.  Yay!

I also discovered that the interfacing included in the kit isn't enough for this dress, so I used my stash interfacing and I used the kit interfacing for my practice buttonholes.  Interestingly, there were no buttons included in the kit, but much to my suprise and elation I found five one-half inch navy buttons in my stash - and the chances of that happening is right up there with winning the lottery or losing weight on a cruise.

Let me say upfront that I really like this pattern and this dress.  But despite my efforts to move this project along by ordering pre-selected fabric, it still took me over two weeks to make the dress.  The first hurdle was tracing the pattern.  This took significant time and trouble.  Normally, I'm not a tracer kind of gal, but the pattern cost $ 15, and it came with different bodice pattern pieces depending on whether you were an A cup, B cup, C cup, etc.  I had no idea as I wasn't completely sure whether I should make a size 6 or 8, or what cup size I should go for, so tracing made sense in case I was wrong.  But with so many sizes, the tracing was confusing.  Here is a dart in one of the skirt pattern pieces:  
The Carpenter remarked that it resembled an electrical diagram on construction plans, and he was glad it was me and not him who had to sort it all out.  There was at least one pattern piece where I traced the wrong pattern size, but I figured it out before the mistake was irrevocable.

Of course, after tracing, I had to cut out the traced pattern pieces.  Then I had to cut out the pieces in the fabric.  (I'm apparently a slow cutter-outer.)  I ended up tracing a size 8, with a C cup.  I don't normally think of myself as a C up, but the finished measurements of 37 1/2 inches was the same as the Kwik Sew pattern I liked so much. 

The second reason this dress took so long was because there were a lot of pattern pieces to it.  I ended up cutting out enough pattern pieces to complete a step or two in the directions, and then going back to cut out some more.  I eliminated the in-seam pockets and the waist ties, mostly because I didn't want to bother tracing and cutting them out.  The other reasons are that I generally avoid in-seam pockets as my hips don't need extra fabric around them, thank you very much, and I thought the waist ties were unnecessary and this fabric seemed a little heavy for them.

The third reason it took so long was the invisible zipper.  The invisible zipper isn't completely unknown to me - I've managed it before - but its not my go-to preference.  I'm much more comfortable with the centered zipper application so it takes me much, much less time.  So with the invisible zipper, I spent more time putting it in, and even more time dithering and worrying about it beforehand.  I had to rip one side of the zipper out because it got twisted before sewing, even though I thought I had carefully placed it.  But I got that rascal in, and while it isn't perfect, I decided not to worry about perfection.  What I need is practice, so I've decided to use invisible zippers hence forth, and so make myself practice.

One thing I really like about the pattern is the fact that you make your button holes right away while fashioning the bodice.  I think this is an excellent idea - if you muck it up you can just cut a new new bodice and you haven't ruined your dress. I'll think I'll start doing that in the future, to the extent it is possible with other patterns.

Since I had made the Schoolhouse Tunic previously, I understood how the back facing and front bodice go together and it wasn't a problem.  I like it, and it makes for a nice finish on the inside of the bodice:

In the end, I think the C cup was a bit big on me, and if I make it again, I'll try the B cup.  The front gaps a little bit, so I pulled out a white collared blouse I made from an old bedsheet, which gave me more coverage and warmth for this time of year.

This pattern is well drafted, meaning, the sleeve caps weren't drafted with a ridiculous amount of ease like the big four patterns.  Between the nice sleeve caps and the lycra, the sleeves went it easily.  The only problem I had with the pattern was that the sleeve cuffs were somewhat tight on me.  I don't think of myself as having heavy arms, so it is entirely possible that I got confused in tracing all those pattern lines and traced the wrong size.  I might have even traced the cuffs for the three-quarter sleeves rather than the elbow length sleeves.  Who knows?  By the time I was done, I was too tired to find out, and I just let the sleeve cuffs out by a quarter of an inch and they fit fine now.

I ended up putting a one inch hem, rather than two inch the pattern called for since I want more coverage (I'm not in my 20s anymore!).  I give a big thumbs up on this pattern, and I can envision making it in a baby cord fabric with the three-quarter sleeves for winter.  You can see all the summery versions at Sew Liberated's website.

I think I'll make this one again, but this weekend I'm going a Sewing Retreat where I plan to make my dress for my company's Christmas party.  I'm excited about spending the entire weekend with other sewers - sewing and eating constantly!  I'm taking several patterns and several pieces of fabric, so I don't know what exactly I'll end up with.  I never underestimate the power of Sloth in my creative process.  : )

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Schoolhouse Tunic

I finished another dress, but let's talk about what really got me excited this past week:  the Schoolhouse Tunic.  Which apparently everyone in the blog world has made since 2009 but me.  I was completely unaware of this great pattern until last week and I not only bought the pattern, which was pretty pricey, but I bought the "kit" that consisted of fabric to make the tunic.  Here's the pattern:

I received the pattern and fabric on Thursday; the fabric was 3 yards of double gauze which I had never heard of before.  One of the reasons that I ordered the fabric was that I wanted to branch out and work with fabrics I normally would never choose. 

This fabric was 14 kinds of awesome.  It is so soft it feels like something babies wear.  And it was wonderful to work with.  I can't wait to buy more and make a dress to wear next summer - it is so cool and soft, I want to make everything out of it - nightgowns, dresses, tunics, you name it.

None of this was cheap; the pattern, the fabric, and the shipping cost me $ 82.00.  So it was an expensive tunic, but worth every penny because I so enjoyed sewing it.

I cut it out Friday night and finished it up Saturday afternoon.  I got the Carpenter to take photos:

Based on the pattern sizing, it appeared that size 8 was the closest to my measurements; the pattern itself has sizes for 2/4, 6/8, 10/12, etc.  I cut out the 6/8.  I didn't bother tracing the pattern, even though it cost $ 15; I was just too excited to get started. Fortunately, it all worked out.  I tried on the bodice before attaching the skirt and I was concerned it would be too tight.  I altered the side seams from 5/8 inch to 1/4 of an inch, to give myself an extra 3/4 inch around.  In hindsight, this probably wasn't necessary, but I wanted to make sure that I could get it over my head and bust.  Since I only received three yards of fabric with my order, there was no room for error, no opportunity to re-cut some pattern piece. 

Let's talk about the awesomeness of this pattern:  it is simple, it is comfortable, and it lends itself to all kinds of ideas for embellishment and fancy alterations.  I love that the front tucks were placed right where the facings are top-stitched to the bodice.  This pattern would be great for a beginner sewer because there are no buttons or zippers to contend with.  Even the sleeves are easy to install.  The instructions tell you to do the double row of gathering stitches thing, but trust me, this isn't necessary.  The sleeve cap is so shallow that you can just pin it to the bodice and sew it on:

I think the single most important element to success with this pattern is choosing fabric was some drape.  I've seen some renditions on the internet that were made from quilting cotton, but I think most quilting cotton is a little too stiff for this project and a beginning sewer will be more pleased with the end result if she selects voile, double gauze, lawn, rayon blend, or some drapey linen, if possible.

I added more edge stitching than the pattern called for.  The instructions have you top stitch 1/4 inch around the neckline and bodice front, but I edge stitched instead and I like it better:

I also edge stitched the sleeves as well.  The instructions have you press the sleeve seam towards the sleeves; I edge stiched them to keep this seam allowance in place:

I also edge stitched the waist seam; the seam was pressed down (so it wouldn't show through the bodice opening), so the edge stitching keeps the seam allowance in place and re-inforces the bodice opening.  I also ended up making the waist seam 1/2 inch instead of 5/8, just to give me 1/4 inch of length in the bodice, which I think was necessary to make sure the waistline was under the bust and wouldn't creep up on me.

The only problem I had with the instructions was step three where the bias binding was applied to the back neck seam.  This fantastic tutorial helped emormously.  Muchas gracias, Ana!

When it was all done, I wanted to make 6 more so I would have one for every day of the week.  But I'm practicing restraint, I already have the next pattern picked out!

Parting Shot:  Nature's pumpkin carving. We bought this pumpkin several weeks ago and little by little, a squirrel is eating the outside rind, effectively carving it for us!  Come Halloween, we will probably hollow it out put in a candle:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Red Poppy Dress

I finished the McCalls 6503 dress, or as I call it, the Red Poppy Dress.  I made view A which has a ruffled collar and a gathered skirt.  Above is a not-so-great photo (I'm half in sunlight and half out), but I ended up loving the dress, despite some trepidations while making it. 

Here's the back:
 Mostly what worried me during the construction of this dress was the Liberty of London fabric; not only was it expensive (I bought it in 2004 on a trip to Glasgow, Scotland and I made no muslin), but I feared that it would have the same tendancy to wrinkle like my Easter Dress.  While making the dress, it seemed it wrinkled every time I looked it; I was ironing it constantly.  But strangely enough, it doesn't wrinkle nearly as bad while wearing it.  I don't know if this fabric is Liberty's "tana lawn" or not.  But it wears very well and has a wonderful sheen to it.

The pattern is well drafted and the finished dress measurements are very helpfully printed on the pattern.  Size 12 has a 28 1/2 inch waist, so I added a half inch to the waist.  The waistband on this dress makes waist alterations easy:  I just made the front waistband a half inch larger and adjusted the gathers according; no alterations to the front bodice were necessary.  Another change I made was to use scrap fabric bias strips to bind the armholes rather than using purchased bias binding as called for in the instructions.  I also didn't bother to add the facing to the waistband.  I cut it out, but by the time it came to apply it, I was sort of aggravated with this dress, and I realized that the facing was just to make the inside look pretty and really had no structural purpose whatsoever. 

This dress seemed to take me a long time to put together.  Which suprised me because one blogger said that the dress only took her two hours to sew (not counting cutting out).  I don't see how this is possible -  it took me about that long to make the neckline ruffle, attach it to the bodice, and sew the bodice facing.  Having finally learned my lesson while making my wedding dress, I took the time and sewed three lines of gathering stitches on the skirt to make the gathering process easier. 

But in the end it was all worth it:

You can see my "slip" peeking out from my collar above; my "slip" is really a simple Kwik Sew nightgown that I use as a slip if need be.  Because the cotton fabric was a bit thin, I decide an undergarment wouldn't be amiss. 

The sweater is from Lands End and the color matches the red poppies pretty well!

Overall, a very good pattern.  But I'm putting it away and resisting the temptation to make another view in accordance with my new resolve of no repeats - onward to the next project!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Back to Sewing!

 Not only did the Carpenter and I get married, but we bought a house.  And renovated it in ten weeks.  And I put my townhouse up for sale.  My real estate agent recommended a stager, who said, "You need to pack up and remove all your sewing stuff.  And store all your quilts."  (Buyers aren't excited by decor that includes quilts.  Who knew? )

I followed her advice because she's sold way more houses than I have.  My townhouse sold in four days.  (Whoopee!)

What this all means, of course, is that I haven't been sewing, due to everything being in storage, and, you know, moving.  But now we are in the new house and I will now have my very own sewing room, as opposed to sewing all over the house.  I had my new sewing room painted pink because I like pink, and if you can't have your sewing room the color you love the best, where else can you do it?

Right now it is a colossal mess: 

I can't figure out where to put everything because I'm overwhelmed by choice. At my old townhouse, I was limited by space so I made do.  Turn me loose on a clean canvas and I am discombobulated.  I'm confident, though, as necessity is the mother of invention, I'll pull it together eventually.  Friday, the Carpenter installed four recessed ceiling LED lights that light up the room like a Christmas tree. 

I've also been wrestling with a lack of inspiration.  I knew I needed to go a different way on my sewing, but I wasn't sure where.  Should I just stop garment sewing and return back to quilting?  I finally figured out no, I just need to try new patterns and techniques in my garment sewing.  I usually just use the same old patterns because I know they fit, but I was inspired to try a totally new pattern, Kwik Sew 3760, that I saw on a blog whose name I can't recall.  I really liked the green version, but I decided to try the orange version first:

I used a rayon/polestery linen-looking fabric that I bought at Hancock's for $ 4.99/yard.  I love this fabric; I've used it before.  It sews beautifully, it takes high heat during pressing, and it a breeze to wash and wear (no ironing required).  Ignore the wrinkles in my photo above; it was taken after a full day of work.  

This is a wonderful pattern.  I've shied away from Kwik Sew patterns after trying one nine years ago where it seems that it was drafted for someone with a large bust and small hips, and most women aren't built that way.  But this one fit perfectly.  The pattern contained the finished garment measurements on the pattern pieces, which is crucial for figuring out what size to make; I made the size Small straight up, no alterations.  The pattern went together wonderfully; all the seams and notches lined up exactly the way they were supposed to. 

(Again, ignore the wrinkles, this fabric really is nice and wrinkle-resistant.)  Normally I am a natural fabric snob but this very reasonably priced fabric at Hancocks is a pleasure to sew.  This pattern miraculously renewed my excitement in sewing!  And then I decided that I needed to pick another brand new pattern for my next project:  no repeat projects, is my new rule!  (But if I do, I'll dispense with the armhold facings and just use bias binding instead.)

I saw McCall's 6503 dress on Gertie's blog and went out and bought it the same day:

Moving has allowed me to be reintroduced to my stash!  I found a Libery of London print that I bought in Glasgow, Scotland probably around 2004.  I decided it would be perfect for view A. Fortunately, enough time has past that I have forgotten how expensive this fabric was or I would be afraid to cut it.  But in my renewed interest in sewing, I've also decided that the time has come to use the "good" fabric rather than saving it for some mythical perfect project.

My progress:

Can't wait to get this one finished so I can pick another new pattern!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Easter Dress

Here's my Easter Dress, which I finished just in time:

These aren't great photos, but here is the back: I used a cotton voile I got from Chadwicks here in town. It's a delicate floral print:

This shirtdress gave me fits. Which I don't understand because I this was the fourth time I had used this pattern, from the 1950s:

I've used it to make the Crab Dress:

And this one:

Clearly, I made some changes: 1) I put a gathered skirt on it instead of a three panel skirt; 2) I made elbow length cuffed sleeves that I borrowed from this pattern; 3) I made a shawl-like collar instead of the notched; and 4) I made the bottom bodice darts to be tucks instead.

Still, this dress shouldn't have been this hard. I couldn't figure out how to get the collar on properly and I had to visit VickiW to get it sorted out. This made no sense, as I have made this dress several times before. While trimming the sleeve allowances, I nicked the front bodice with my sissors, which I repaired with a little fusible interfacing; I don't know how long it will hold. Finally, for whatever reason, the waist ended up too big, so I used a lace scarf as sash. All these issues caused me to wonder if I had used up all my sewing knowledge on my wedding dress, and now I have become a sewing idiot - it was all so frustrating.

I think one of the problems was that I was too ambitious for this fabric. I think this delicate voile wanted to be a summer blouse and I tried too much and made it a dress instead! The fabric wrinkles like crazy, so in retrospect a blouse would have made much more sense. I originally made the skirt ankle length, aiming for a Downtown Abbey sort of look, but I ended up more with a Christian Fundalmentalist Ranch sort of look instead, so I took more than ten inches off the length, hemming it just below the knee so as to diminish dowdy factor.

I love shirtdresses, but I realize this isn't the most chic look, and the gathered skirt makes it less so. Still, I think this will become a good Saturday-running-errands dress - it will be very cool and comfortable. Next time, though, I'll make it more like the Crab Dress!