Friday, August 29, 2014

McCall's 6891 Shirt Dress in Silk Noil

Sewing by the numbers, checking off my "needs, wants and requirements" list:
  • Solid color
  • Pockets
  • Collar
  • Stash fabric
  • Appropriate for summer to fall transitional wear


Making up a new-to-me pattern is always more exciting than embarking on a proven winner, and I loved the collar shape of McCall's 6891. Although you wouldn't know it from the envelope of this Palmer/Pletsch pattern, the instructions note that this dress is based on a 1947 Dior design.



From the fitting perspective, I found the dress very straightforward. I compared another well-fitting darted bodice to the tissue and found the necessary changes to be fairly minimal and easy to execute. This is a size 8 in the shoulders and neck, tapering to about a size 12 at the waist and through the skirt. I shortened the bodice one inch and took a generous swayback tuck in the back.


A more significant change was reducing the flare of the skirt to fit within my three yards of 45" wide silk noil fabric. I used another pattern as a guide, which helped me to adjust the curve of the waist to match the flare of the skirt. Do you always remember that the wider the skirt, the more extreme the curve of the waist? I don't. At any rate, the skirt is much less full than as drafted--maybe as much as 25" to 30" less circumference at the hem. But I used up nearly every scrap of the fabric even so. I had to piece the inseam pockets, using a strip of the garment fabric as a facing at the edges, but switching to lining material for most of the pocket bag.


The biggest challenge of all was deciding what to do about buttons. Nothing at Hancock Fabrics was exciting me, self-covered buttons seemed too boring and I was having a terrible time picking out a button online. I wanted to try out a mixture of different vintage buttons, but I wasn't sure how to handle making different-sized buttonholes for varying sizes of buttons. Some of the ones I most wanted to use were really too big for a dress anyway. The solution was snaps sewn invisibly under the edges, with the vintage buttons applied on the outside. Wow, that was a lot of hand stitching--eight snaps on the right, eight snaps on the left, eight vintage buttons on top--at least to my mind.


I'm not positive how I feel about the buttons, but the good thing is I can change them out, since there are no buttonholes. It would be hard to make myself cut off all that hand sewing, but it wouldn't hurt the dress at all.

The only review for this pattern I found online is over at Cotton Creek Sewing--love her blog and her finished dress is gorgeous!--but she was, oh, shall we say, not a fan of the instructions for sewing the collar and facing. I consulted Claire Shaeffer's Book of Sewing Shortcuts (my enthusiasm for which I have mentioned before), which had some good points on this method of sewing collars. I took a few construction photos, but I just don't have the strength (or really the thorough knowledge) for a full tutorial. I am including the pictures, and the encouragement that I found the collar construction achievable. Just a different point of view from someone who is a booster for the convertible collar style and who would hate to see this pattern passed over entirely.

Under collar applied to bodice

Upper collar applied to facing

Inside corner detail, upper collar applied to facing, trimmed and pressed
This is actually my second version of this dress--I will show you the first just as soon as I get it hemmed and photographed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kwik Sew 2935 Birthday Shirts

My sweet stepfather turned 75 a few days ago, and I decided to repeat a popular past gift: a short sleeved camp shirt. How lovely that he wore his first Virginia-made shirt (from 2010, according to my note on the pattern), to his party today.

Version One of Kwik Sew 2935 in crinkle rayon

Holding up the card I stitched for him
These photos of this year's shirt don't do it justice. I took some other shots this morning while wrapping it, and then just a few minutes later my phone was, well, I don't know what it was. Hijacked? By porn vendors? My husband declared that only a complete reset would do, so the photos were lost. Here is the shirt after it had been passed around the party, and then hastily flung onto the pool table as my son was trying to drag me out the door.


The fabric is a dreamy cotton shirting from the late, great Waechter's. It was so cooperative. The main challenge of the project was matching the plaids. I think that turned out pretty well.


And here are the pictures of me wearing Butterick 5925, as promised. These photos, too, are not quite what I would like them to be, but my camera remote seems to have given up the ghost, so my husband kindly took some shots. His composition is good, but the light was so flat and gray that it's difficult to see much detail in the lace in the wide shots.

Being silly, but you can see how the back side panels wrap around to the front in this shot.



Wearing a lace camisole from Coldwater Creek underneath


And here I am just showing off one of my big pumpkins, along with my shorter haircut.



Friday, August 15, 2014

Lacy Butterick 5925 Tunic


From the black hole which has been my summer emerges a lacy white tunic top! As bloggers say, I've been sewing but not photographing and consequently not blogging. I plan to wear this top to my stepfather's 75th birthday celebration on Sunday, and I hope to have some photos of the top on me from that day. But I decided to strike while the iron was hot and go ahead and show this top now, modeled photos be damned!


I have made this Butterick 5925 Katherine Tilton top once before, that time in a limp black rayon jersey which didn't survive long. The top was very comfortable and served its purpose as a muslin and short-lived pullover. 

This one is a combination of views A and C: the back and sides from view A, minus pockets, with the front of view C, but cut on the fold rather than with a center front seam. 

Side view, showing curved points and raised front hem
The pointy lower edges were rounded off after the top was assembled, allowing me to attach a ruffled strip continuously around the lower edge. I cut this strip on the lengthwise grain (it had a better edge for rolled hemming on the lengthwise rather than the crosswise grain, and both were quite stretchy), finished the edge with a serger rolled hem, gathered it slightly and attached it to the bottom of the top.

Back view, showing curved pieced back panels
I reduced the length of the sleeves by six inches and finished them with the same ruffled strip as the bottom.

The neck edge is finished with a strip of the fabric selvedge, which offered a convenient fold line. It was attached to the right side of the stabilized (stay-stitched) neck edge, then folded to the wrong side of the neckline and stitched into place in the ditch.

Other than the modifications described above, this was made as size XS with no alterations for fit. It's still very roomy. To my mind, the design needs either a fluid fabric or, as in this case, a sheer one. Otherwise it risks drowning a short figure. The way the side back panels curve around to the lower front is very cool, but it does cause the top to stick out in front, which could easily be frumpy in a more substantial fabric.

Speaking of fabric, this came from the yard sale of a very cool friend, a wandering musician and belly dancer. It is either nylon or polyester and it soaked in OxyClean a very long time before giving up its mustiness and stains. But I do think it is so pretty, and it cost all of one dollar.

Can't wait to wear this frothy new top. I'm very much in love with ruffles right now.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Better With Bernina? I Got A 1090S

Friends, I am fickle.

Fickle, fickle, fickle.

My constant is a love of sewing machines and a deep curiosity about their different forms. But my sewing partners--well, I love them all for different reasons, but I am not "in love" with them forever. I'm not sure whether I even want a committed, long-term relationship.

I've been playing the field--by which I mean scanning Craigslist--for a while now. Yes, I was looking for trouble, and I found it.



As a form of talk therapy, I want to tell you about my history with Bernina.

I first started sewing as an adult, when I had moved from North Carolina to Boston with my boyfriend (now husband). Right before I left the nest, my father produced a vintage Kenmore sewing machine from the 1970's from his vast horde of goods. That machine is now long gone and I don't know exactly which model it was, but it was a capable machine. Though my parents both sewed, I learned from books (because that's how people in my family did things, pre-internet). And I merrily made lots of skirts, jackets and dresses for my corporate jobs.

Along came plans to get married. I briefly shopped for wedding dresses, but I couldn't get into parsing the different options, pros and cons of what was available in ready to wear, so I decided to just jump right in to making my dress. I asked my mother if I could borrow her Bernina, a 1000S, and she dutifully packed up the machine and sent it off to me.

What a revelation! I loved that machine, and my sewing became instantly and magically much more precise and easier. Without that pretty Bernina, my wedding-dress-making adventure might have ended before it got properly started and I might have bought something off the rack after all. In retrospect I could have saved myself a lot of aggravation and expense if I had just secretly kept that machine and told my mother that it got lost in shipping or stolen from my house or some other dire fate.

Instead, I packed it back up and shipped it home to North Carolina after my honeymoon, and soon I found myself at a Bernina dealership in the Boston suburbs being talked into a newer, more feature-laden, more sophisticated, more expensive machine, the Virtuousa 160. What a ridiculous name, by the way.

I had big plans for my new 160--but two life events interfered. First, I unexpectedly got a new and very demanding job. Second, I got pregnant. Event #2 trumped event #1 when I became the mother of an extremely high-maintenance baby. Colicky is just not the right word. Not much sewing happened until my son started school (and then stopped school and started homeschool, but that's another story).

By the time I got around to using my 160 in any major way, I discovered that I really didn't love it as much as I had expected. And then the motherboard went out. And then the local dealership displeased me with their attitude. So I just felt mad that this Bernina, which was supposed to be the end-all and be-all of sewing machines, hadn't lived up to my expectations.

So I sold it on eBay. After it was repaired, that is! And I used the proceeds (plus some extra funds) to buy a Juki F600, which I have enjoyed very much.

And yet, there were things I missed about the Berninas: 1. The thing everyone talks about: the amazing, wondrous presser feet, especially the #10 edgestitch foot and the #35 invisible zipper foot; 2. The small diameter of the free arm; 3. The quality of the stitch. I can look at a garment and tell whether I sewed it on my old Bernina or on another machine. And I recognize that no one but me can see this or will care, but still, I do see it and I do care.

So I've been following Craigslist and eBay, and the prices the vintage Bernina 830 and 930 Record machines command are daunting. A beautiful, very complete 930 came up on our local Craigslist, and I certainly considered it, but it was $900. The 830s were manufactured from 1972 through 1977, so they are now between 36 and 42 years old. The 930s date from 1978 to 1989, now between 25 and 36 years old. Based on my experience with a nine-year-old Bernina needing a new circuit board, I felt worried about investing so much in a machine of this age, especially since Bernina is no longer manufacturing the boards.

And then this 1090S came along. The feature set is perfect for me--just enough electronics to satisfy my longings, but not too many. It has the heel-tap for needle-up or needle-down on the foot control, which my 160 did not and which I love. It has the extra-long basting stitch, which the 160 did not have and which I am hesitant to try (because the machines can get jammed in this position if the basting stitch has not been used in a long time and require service to unstick). It has the continuous-reverse stitching feature which the 160 did have and the Juki did not, and which is wonderful for darning.

The 1090S came with everything--case, manual, knee lifter, extension table, all original attachments--and it is in gorgeous condition. Sews wonderfully. The only things I don't love so far are those dated graphics (the pastel swoosh on the front) and the not-terribly bright light. The light is easily addressed, since I have a great LED gooseneck sewing light mounted to my sewing surface (the Reliable Uber Light). For what I considered a great price on a Bernina in great condition, $440, I decided I can live with the graphics. It was manufactured in 1995, so it is 19 years old. Still vintage, but half the age of 830s going for twice the price. True, its electronics are more complex than those in the 830, so we will see how we do.

I loved the Juki's buttonholer, and I also loved how well it started off sewing without sucking the threads into the bobbin area. I will just have to miss those, because the Juki is headed to a new owner off in California as I type.

Bye, Juki! It was fun!

Another thing I've noticed is that the Bernina does shake the sewing table more than the Juki--maybe a function of the weight of the machine, maybe the difference between the rotary horizontal hook of the Juki vs. the vertical oscillating hook of the Bernina. Might need to rethink my sewing surface!

So, it's being very fun to play with a new toy. Hope I don't live to regret the change, but so far I'm good with it.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

New Look 6143 Dress

Somehow I've never managed to make a successful version of this basic dress shape: darted bodice, sleeveless, full skirt. 

It's not totally been for lack of trying, but summoning the will to follow the fitting process all the way to a successful conclusion has taken some time.


I have to consider this dress a wearable muslin even yet. This cotton fabric--I really love the print--was originally a duvet cover, and I just have to think it is from the 1940's. I bought the cover for $3 at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store, which seemed like an amazing deal until I realized just how damaged, fragile and off-grain the cotton had become through its many years of service. Aligning all of the motifs wasn't going to be possible due to the warping of the fabric, so I decided to focus on lining up the center front and center back matches across the bodice to the skirt and to not worry about the side seams.

There is a discolored area on the lower front skirt piece. It was impossible to cut a front skirt portion in one piece without damage so I just had to accept that.


The background of the fabric is uncomfortably close to the color of my skin, so the dress looks much cuter with this short-sleeved cropped cardigan than without.


Fitting this dress was motivated by the notion of making one of the versions with the inset yoke and sweetheart neckline. I reasoned that I should work out the fit on the solid bodice pieces and then apply those changes to the yoked bodice pieces--but I haven't gotten that far yet. Just resolving the simplified bodice took three muslins: two unwearable, and this one.


Quite a few New Look patterns (including this one) start at a size 10, which I don't like, knowing that I will be needing to narrow the upper chest width at that size. But working through the fitting of this bodice, I realized that it hardly matters, since I would also need to narrow the size 6 or 8, though less. Now I think that starting with the 10 probably made the upper torso length and depth more appropriate than the 6 or 8 would have been.


So, what did I change? Here's your list:

  • Narrowed the back and front upper chest width 1" per side (total of 2"!) using the method I've shown here on the blog
  • Lowered the front neckline 1 1/4"
  • Made a small FBA of about 3/8" (muslin number one had no FBA, muslin number two had a larger FBA and muslin number 3--this one--had a just-right FBA)
  • Curved the bottom dart to take up a bit more fabric under the bust
  • Shortened the bodice 3/4" at the waist line
  • Made a 1" swayback adjustment to eliminate pooling at the small of the back. The back pattern piece looks truly bizarre with its radical curves to match my back!
  • Graded out to a size 12 at the waistline


Using the instructions from one of my very favorite sewing reference books, Claire Shaeffer's The Complete Book of Sewing Shortcuts, I fully lined the bodice by machine using self-fabric. She provides instructions for sewing the lining without turning the bodice through the straps, which would be quite a struggle with straps as narrow as these.

And to say a little more about this book: it is out of print, but there seem to be a number of used copies available through Amazon for the price of shipping ($3.99). The title is completely erroneous: the content of the book isn't about sewing shortcuts at all. Rather, Shaeffer provides a variety of methods for performing different sewing operations, allowing the intermediate or advanced sewer to choose the method that best suits her preferences or the needs of the particular project. There are no photographs, but the instructions are clear and concise and the basic line drawings help clarify the steps. I find this book much more useful in general sewing than the other, more lavishly photographed and printed, Shaeffer titles on my shelf (High Fashion Sewing Secrets and Bridal Couture, though I do like those and use them occasionally).

By the way, the pattern instructions show finishing the neck and armhole edges with bias binding.

I used the skirt from McCall's 6503, on the grounds that the pattern tissue was all cut out and I liked the way the pleats are arranged. But now I want to try the actual skirt for this dress, as I'm not too fond of the way the pleats are sticking out over my backside. Will report back!

I realize that this dress is not earth-shatteringly gorgeous or unique, but I am pretty excited about it all the same. I have never had a dress like this, since RTW versions of this style all gape and fall off my shoulders. It's not the fault of those dresses or their designers--it's the result of my narrow upper chest. My wedding dress, which I showed in the previous post, is a sleeveless dress with straps that required similar adjustments, but it is an empire-waisted style.

This style should be useful for creating basic dresses that pair well with cardigans. When I try to make a version with sleeves, I will add some width to the shoulder line, as I think it is too cut-in to accommodate a sleeve as it is now.

The great thing about a simple sleeveless dress is that I can shed the cardigan for hot summer evening dances. Then I will be cool and securely covered!

Friday, June 20, 2014

15 Years Ago Today


15 years ago today, I married my wonderful Eric, in a dress I made myself, on the lawn outside my mother's house.

I was so happy that day. And I am so happy now, for all that the day followed and led to.




Saturday, June 14, 2014

Simplicity 1887: Slouchy Silk Trousers

The jury is still out: will I actually wear "silky track pants"? Not sure, but I do like them!

I pretty much rely on the website You Look Fab for information on what is current in fashion. I don't say I necessarily act on this information, but Angie does a tremendous job of covering trends and helping women to think about whether and how they might incorporate different looks into their wardrobes. Even though I am not conscious of trying to follow trends and I don't buy ready-made clothing, I know that Angie's influence is at work in my sewing. Her posts Two Ways to Wear Silky Track Pants and The Skinny on Baggy and Slouchy Trousers are undoubtedly what got me thinking about this style of pants.


This isn't a new trend, but it seems to have picked up a lot of steam this year, with lots and lots of slouchy pants available online (and, presumably, in stores). The versions below are from Eileen Fisher via Nordstrom's website. From the customer reviews, the first pair have been very popular. I like all of these pants and fabrics but, while I think Eileen Fisher's prices are very fair for the quality, they are expensive--around $250 per pair.

Simplicity 1887 has been in print for three or four years, but I hadn't noticed it until this spring. If the style appeals to you, it's a good value, with shorts, a skirt and pants included.


The style has front pleats, a curved flat front waistband and a partial-elastic band. The pockets are very nicely drafted: they are large enough to be useful and they do not gape. Although I don't think the instructions mentioned this, I stabilized the pocket edge with 1/4" cotton woven twill tape for durability and to guard against sagging.




The elastic at the pant hemline turned out pretty cute, I think! Strangely enough, I did not shorten the length at all. I am 5'2", and these could maybe use to be 1/2" shorter, but not more. If you are taller than me and want a full-length pant, you will need to add to the hem before cutting out.

If I make these again, I need to increase the waistband by at least an inch. I had read that the pants were really oversized, so I made the size 10. I like the fit overall, but getting them over my hips is a real struggle! Once they are up, they are incredibly comfortable. Unfortunately, pants do need to go up and down over the course of the day.


The fabric is navy silk crepe de chine from FabricMart Fabrics, purchased some time last year. Two and a half yards of this 54" wide silk made this pair of pants plus another SBCC Mimosa top (just completed yesterday). Since the silk was on 30% off sale when I bought it, it was $7/yard. The pants therefore cost about $10.50 in fabric, $0.99 for the pattern and about $3.00 for two yards of 5/8" elastic, or under $15. Quite a bit less than the Eileen Fisher version, and very luxurious-feeling to wear.