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.  : )