Friday, August 31, 2012

Kwik Sew 3597 Tote Bag

Making this tote bag was part of my quest to test beginner sewing patterns.

Though simple, the Kwik Sew 3597 pattern is sophisticated in some ways I didn't expect. Instead of having rectangular pieces for the sides of the bag, the pattern pieces have subtle shaping that narrows the bag very slightly toward the upper edge. A facing piece finishes the top edge nicely.

A double interior pocket is attached beneath the facing. The upper edges of the pocket are subtly curved, which causes them to stand slightly away from the back side of the pocket, making it easy to slide items in and out.

I do have one complaint about this pattern. Though it contains three sizes of bag, they are nested together on the pattern tissue (which is a single sheet for the whole pattern). Cutting out the small or the medium would destroy the larger sizes. It hardly seems fair to make the sewer trace the smaller sizes, since this pattern goes for the same price as more complicated Kwik Sews. Could they not see their way clear to providing another half a sheet of pattern paper?!

Other than that, great pattern, wonderful instructions and a nicely-finished basic product.

This fabric is a misprinted Sunbrella-type knock off. I wish I had interfaced it, but I was again striving to test the simplest methods for making the bag. With just one layer of fabric, it's not very rigid, so it doesn't stand up on its own. But I love the colors in this piece--so autumnal!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Beginner Skirt: Indygo Junction Best Bias Skirt

 A couple of weeks ago, I was ruminating about the best patterns for a beginner's first skirt. My criteria included: two main garment pieces, elastic waist, no darts and from an independent pattern company. While I was shooting for simple, I also wanted the option to add a few different sewing skills so that a multi-session class could be built around the pattern.

Indygo Junction's Best Bias Skirt eventually seemed to be the best "fit" with my requirements. I liked the idea of the bias cut, and I thought the contrasting waist casing and hem binding would be appealing to the customers of the quilt store which will be hosting the class. If you've ever worked in a sewing store, you know that picking a technically sound pattern is only half the battle: people have to feel very drawn to both the pattern illustration and the store sample to get excited about making the skirt.

To add making buttonholes and installing a zipper to the skills taught in the class, I've added two features to the skirt. A drawstring (in addition to the elastic) at the waist casing to teach buttonholes and a zippered pocket. I am excited about the pocket, because it is a low-stress way to practice putting in a zipper. The whole pocket is completed before it is attached to the skirt, so any mistakes will be easy to correct or a second pocket can be made.

For my first version, I wanted to test the pattern with fabric I had on hand. This print, "Dagmar Plaid" from Alexander Henry, is a quilting cotton and just what we will be using in the class. It looks great on the bias. Alexander Henry offered coordinates in this same line that would have been perfect for the contrasting sections, but they don't live at my house. I didn't like any of my other options, so I decided to stick with a single fabric this go. When I make the shop sample, the store will pick the coordinating fabrics, so that will be a better time for testing the cute piecing options.

An elastic waist skirt is never going to be the most flattering choice. I'd far rather spend more time making a skirt with either panels or darts and a zipper than half the time on a skirt with an elastic waist casing, but the point here was to test a simple pattern. And boy is it simple!  Although front and back pattern pieces are provided, they are identical save for the lines for placing the criss cross bias strips in the version of the skirt that features them.

So it's one pattern piece. Strangely, the pattern claims to contain sizes XS to 2XL, but there are no lines for XS. The sizing starts with Small. That's what I used. I shortened the skirt 3 1/2" to hit in the middle of my knee. The instructions are largely text with few illustrations. I couldn't even make myself finish reading all the instructions for applying the bias waist casing, they seemed so needlessly complicated.

The pocket treatment comes from an excellent Claire Shaeffer book, Sew Any Set-In Pocket, which I recently stumbled across at a used-book store. To quote Shaeffer, "On fabrics which don't have a directional pattern, the pocket can be cut all-in-one-piece so the top and bottom of the pocket will be finished with folds instead of seams" (p. 102). It's an easy and very neat way of making a zippered pocket. I may do a photo tutorial when I make my second version of this skirt.

I mounted the pocket over the side seam for a little extra interest, and also because the pocket is fully 8" wide. To make it narrower, it would be best to have a very short zipper, which I did not. This is not a terribly functional pocket, but it would be useful for a credit card, a bill or two and a single key. Anything bulkier than that would look oddly lumpy on the hip.

The pattern has vents at the hem. 

Rear view much the same as the front. With a sway back and a substantial rump, this style is not the best fit for my rear side! There's plenty of puffiness at the center back below the waist.

Overall, this Indygo Junction pattern seems to be a good choice for my future class. Kwik Sew 3003 is another option for an elastic waist bias cut skirt, and it includes two nice knit tops.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Useful Item: Hanging Jewelry Organizer

Though I didn't seek out a hanging jewelry organizer on Amazon, somehow I found myself contemplating this one:

Why could I not just order this $13 item? I think it was because I knew I had scraps of vinyl, both clear and solid, and every other supply needed to make myself one. Because I didn't want to wait the two short days free shipping would require. Because I hated to think of consuming another plastic thing when it wasn't truly necessary. And because I have a cussed determination to make as many things as I possibly can, whether it makes sense from a time/return on investment standpoint or not.

My rendition:

Comparing the features of my organizer with the commercial item is really a matter of splitting hairs. The two biggest differences are that I chose to make mine single-sided and my pockets are larger. I thought that flipping the thing around to see both sides might be annoying and awkward in my tiny shared closet. If I need more space, and I think I will, I'll make another one.

Sewing more divisions to make the pockets tiny would have been a simple matter, but I thought it might then be tricky to fish out the contents. These pockets, at 4" wide by 2.5" tall, are easy to access.

The vinyl backing is a faux leather piece with a plush reverse. I decided to use the plush side as the front, since it seemed more gentle to the jewelry. Things might conceivably stick to the smooth side. I had on hand some medium weight clear vinyl. I've used it to construct see-through pouches for makeup and pencils and sewing notions, and I love it. It's not too difficult to sew, but I did use a walking foot. When it was necessary to sew with the clear vinyl against the feed dogs, I tore strips of the tissue paper that came along with the vinyl (to prevent it from sticking to itself on the roll) and placed them between the feed dogs and the vinyl. After the seam was sewn I was easily able to tear away the tissue.

The reverse side would have looked a bit nicer if I'd matched my bobbin thread to the darker color of that side of the vinyl, but at least you can see how the lines run. My best tip on making one of these is to use blue painter's tape to mark lines. Apply the tape so that you will be stitching a couple of millimeters from one edge of it. You can remove and reuse a strip of tape multiple times. 

My order of construction was:
1. Bind the top edges of the pocket strips with extra wide double fold bias tape. 
2. Apply the horizontal strips to the backing.
3. Stitch the vertical dividing lines, starting with the center lines and moving to each side
4. Stitch 1" from the outside edges; trim to 3/8".
5. Bind outside edges.
6. Turn a 1" casing at top and bottom; while sewing, hold casing in place with short strips of blue painter's tape or clothespins, removing each as you come to it.
7. Insert slim dowel or other rod in top and bottom casings.
8. Attach to skirt hanger, fill and hang.

The finished dimensions of my organizer are 17" wide by 24" high. It's a bit bigger than the organizer on Amazon, but that was really determined by wanting to maximize the use of my vinyl remnant. I did take the width of a hanger into consideration, as I wouldn't want it much wider than the rest of the items hanging from the rod.

I also made a pocket shoe organizer for another closet. It is perfectly functional and much needed, but I would want to perfect the dimensions and pocket shape before I'd feel good presenting that design as a model. Between the two items, I probably saved about $35, and the shoe hanger is a better size for my space than any of the commercial options. More importantly, I used plastic crap I already had rather than adding plastic crap to what I already had.

Another one or two of these organizers would come in very handy for hair accessories, scarves, belts and other small items. 

Do you ever sew things that are "on the line" in terms of the amount of time/fun/utility/cost? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Indygo Junction Day to Night Dress

While searching for beginner skirt patterns among the independent companies , I ran across the Indygo Junction Day to Night dress. Ever since my mom made me two culotte rompers when I was in fourth grade, I've had a thing for zippered dresses. I especially remember the striped version, in shades of mustard, olive and brown. Now that fashion and design ideas of the seventies are just barely distant enough in time to pass into the realm of nostalgia, I feel increasingly drawn to them.

Along with the zipper, Indygo Junction's dress incorporates a decorative belt with large buttons and patch pockets. The print mixing in the model dress strikes a good balance between subtle and cute.

But for all that I liked about this dress, I couldn't see ordering the pattern since it is, after all, a basic princess-seamed dress. My pattern collection contains at least four similar dresses, two of which I have cut out and altered for fit. Burda 7560 got the nod this time since it, like the Indygo Junction dress, does not have a waist seam.

Earlier this summer, I made two other versions of Burda 7560 (a now out of print, petite sized pattern), neither of which was just right. The first version, in a wonderful deep green rayon print, was much too big in the shoulders and upper chest and got passed along to my mother. Despite the petite sizing, this dress only goes down to a size 10, which required extensive alterations to fit my narrow upper chest.

For the second version, I changed the scoop neckline to a gentle v-neck. Thinking myself very clever, I substituted bias binding for the facing and ended up with a stretched neckline. A little strategic pleating made the dress wearable.

So the Burda pattern was ready for a new, more successful incarnation.

Several years ago I ordered two striking duvet covers in a patchwork of Japanese-style indigo prints from Crate and Barrel for my son's room. Though I loved the design, the duvets never worked well as duvets: they attracted lint and hair (big problem for those living with a Great Pyrenees) and somehow they didn't look well in the room. The reverse side of the duvets have since become the face fabric for insulated shades in our laundry room, but the patchwork side was still awaiting its fate.

Although there was plenty of fabric available, laying out the dress panels in a pleasing way which worked with the width of the different strips was challenging. Fabric limitations meant that using my favorite of the prints as the center front and center back panels would not allow a center front zipper. Now I rather wish I had found a way to keep the zipper in the front after all. Some of the side panels were pieced at the lower edge. But since the Burda pattern had a center back seam (which I had reshaped quite a bit to accommodate my swayback), it seemed to work better to place the zipper there.

I love the vintage metal zipper, a 10 cent find at a local fabric store, Foam & Fabrics. They have buckets of them. I think I need to go back for more. By the way, from what I can tell from the technical drawing, Indygo Junction's method of inserting the exposed zipper is misguided. They use a small vertical strip below the zipper in the front to make up the "gap" below the exposed zipper. Can you even imagine trying to match a print across that tiny strip and on either center front panel?

I used this helpful tutorial at Pattern Runway for the back zipper. Their method exposes the teeth but leaves the edges of the zipper tape to the wrong side of the fabric. If the whole zipper tape were exposed, the look would be even bolder, which I thought a bit much for this dress, since it has so many other things going on. 

As you might be able to see from the side view, I used four prints rather than the two used in the inspiration pattern. That was dictated by the fabric available rather than any particular aesthetic insight, but I think it produces an even more interesting effect.

When I drafted the pocket, I decided to make it shallower than Indygo Junction's. I like to be able to reach to the bottom of my pockets without bending down, so I aligned the bottom of the pocket piece with the tips of my fingers. The pocket depth is perfect--large without being absurd.

The upshot is: I love my new dress. Indygo Junction's pattern was a wonderful inspiration, and if this review of it draws a bit of attention to their design, perhaps that will make up in part for my using another pattern that I already owned and had fit to achieve the same look. 

I can envision a version in a mixture of batik prints, or a luxurious Liberty of London take on the matter. Or maybe a jumper with a front zipper, made from corduroy. Lots of possibilities with this comfortable and practical cut

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's the Best Beginner Skirt?

Today I'm contemplating the best possible combination of attributes for a beginning sewer's first skirt. The skirt should be simple to fit, cut and sew while also incorporating a number of different skills and producing a final result that will be fun to wear.

Not up for consideration are patterns with panels or gores, or straight skirts.

The simplest option is Kwik Sew 2805, a flared skirt with an elastic waist casing. 

Skills: cutting, sewing side seams, constructing an elastic waist casing, blind hem or other hemming method. Could incorporate two buttonholes at the center front for a faux or functional drawstring in addition to the elastic.

Not too exciting, though!

 Kwik Sew 3003 is a bias cut design with the option for center front and center back seams.

Skills: same as 2805, but adds cutting on the bias. Since the fabrics will be stable quilting cottons, cutting and sewing on the bias should not be too much of an issue for the beginners.
Indigo Junction's Best Bias Skirt is a similar option that adds a little design interest in the form of side slits, a pocket and a contrast waist casing and hem binding.

Skills: same as Kwik Sew 3003, but adds more pieces. The pocket could incorporate a zipper as a design feature and to incorporate that skill into the lesson. If the contrasting hem binding is used, blindhemming will not be appropriate.

Kwik Sew 3794 is a gathered, pull on skirt with an elastic casing in the back only.

While this is a cute skirt, it's not a flattering style for everyone (not me, that's for sure).

Kwik Sew 3877 is an A-line skirt with a waistband, darts and a center back zipper. While a bit more challenging to fit, it does incorporate more skills in its construction and is a very versatile pattern. Students would not learn an elastic casing, however.

Amy Butler's Barcelona Skirts is another A-line pattern. Although not the newest in Amy's line, it has lots of cute variations. Maybe too many! I worry that the different versions presented in this pattern (with an apron, with tiers) might be a bit confusing for beginners. Having not made this one up, I'm also not familiar with the sizing.

A final A-line contender, Colette Patterns' Ginger. This is an A-line with center front and center back seams. The panels can be cut on the bias or on the straight grain. Waistband choices include a shaped raised waist or a straight waistband. I have been very happy with the Colette Patterns designs I have made.
Kwik Sew 3032 is a type of skirt I've taught to beginners in the past. It is a slight A-line with a flounce. The skirt is easy to fit and can be very cute made up in two coordinating fabrics. It has an elastic casing at the waist. No possibility for a zipper insertion here and blind hemming isn't a good choice for the curved lower edge.

This pattern is written for stretch knits but can be used with wovens by making one size up.

Favorite Things Belle Skirts is another pattern with hem interest.