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 . . .