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. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

SBCC Mimosa Blouse: A Woven T-Shirt Just for Petites

Indie Pattern Month on The Monthly Stitch got me to thinking about the infamously-named Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick pattern company: why hadn't I tried any of their designs? I had downloaded the free Tonic T-Shirt pattern, but not made it up.

SBCC (let's just call it that, shall we?) is the creation of petite Betsy, who writes on her website: "... I have realized the lack of options for petite ladies in both the ready to wear market and home sewing patterns. Sometimes it is just about the right proportions--not just making clothing shorter." Yes, there's the rub. It makes sense that petite clothing needs to be scaled to the smaller person in every dimension--including collars, cuffs and other details--to look harmonious and flattering. And the petite figure may not be able to successfully pull off the same type of drama that a taller person can. So the idea of a line of patterns especially designed with these considerations in mind is appealing. 

When the New-To-Me contest was announced, I decided that trying out an SBCC pattern would be a great way to participate in Indie Pattern Month. Since my failure to make up the free Tonic tee seemed to indicate that I was not extraordinarily excited about trying out another knit t-shirt pattern (the Lady Skater block is working pretty well for me at the moment), I decided to branch out a tiny bit to test the Mimosa Blouse, a raglan-sleeved woven t-shirt with bust darts and an optional neck tie.

This top is very similar to Sewaholic Patterns' recently-released Belcarra Blouse (among other basic patterns), but I chose the SBCC version for these reasons: 1.) Designed for petites! 2.) Bust dart 3.) Option for a tie 4.) Slight vee shape to the neckline 5.) Available as a PDF.

I made a quick muslin, which led me to a few somewhat unexpected conclusions:

  • I dislike wearing a floppy tie (I like the way they look, though).
  • I needed to cut the neck and shoulder portion of the top in an XS rather than the S my measurements would indicate (the S gaped and showed my bra when I leaned over).
  • This blouse is very boxy in quilting cotton and needs a drapey fabric.
  • Despite the general feeling that bias facings are so much better than shaped facings, I wanted real facings on my blouse to support the neckline.

So. Here we are then, in a very, um, vivid scarf print, 100% polyester challis from Hancock Fabrics.  This top doesn't take much fabric. Without the ties, a short person using something in the Small size range can make the blouse with a yard of 54" wide fabric.

Above you can see the neckline finished with my self-drafted facing. [Note: This top demonstrates why true dressmaker's forms have collapsible shoulders; it is not possible to get this top onto my display form. Consequently, it is just pinned in place.] I didn't realize until writing this post that the example top on the SBCC website also seems to be made with a back neck facing rather than finished with bias binding as the pattern instructs. How interesting! Look closely at the photo of the coral top above and I think you will agree that there is a back facing there.

 The fit is good through the shoulders and upper back. At the hip, I graded out to size small.

The shoulder dart shape in this size works well as drafted for me. I read a few other reviews that spoke of needing to change the length or depth  of the dart.

The bust darts needed to be lowered and shortened for my middle-aged figure. No big deal; I just moved the dot for the tip of the dart down about 3/4" and shortened it about 1". The dart legs stayed put.

On the subject of the neck ties, I have a few thoughts. First, as Debbie Cook of Stitches and Seams pointed out (but I can't find the exact link to her post and a popup keeps preventing me from further searching (?!)), the notch marking the attachment point for the tie is too close to the neckline edge and must be set further in to the body of the blouse to allow the facing to be attached.

Also, as I said before, the tie annoyed me on my muslin version. This was possibly because the bias neck facing didn't give enough support to the tie, or because the tie was too heavy (the pattern instructs you to interface it, which seemed like overkill to me once I had sewn it), or because the tie was too long for me or possibly because ties hanging down in front annoy me. I never realized the last point before, but now that it has occurred to me, I'm not sure I'll be trying one again. If I do, I will make it shorter, skip the pattern instructions regarding interfacing and edgestitching and cut it on the bias for better drape.

I'll say a bit more about the pants in another post; these are Simplicity 1887 in silk crepe. Very luxurious and light as a feather! I'm going for the "Sporty Luxe" trend here (a good description of the idea is given in this post on You Look Fab), which is quite a departure for me, style-wise.

I really do like the Mimosa Blouse, and I have at least three versions (complete with fabric selections) in my mind for summer tops. I'm also eager to try some other SBCC patterns based on this very promising first experience.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Simplicity 2174 in Thrift Store Purple

Is there anything better than sewing with thrift store fabric? When it works out well, I mean?

I wouldn't have thought this shade of purple would be right for me, but for $5 for a three-yard piece, I was moved to open my mind.

After the fabric survived a pre-wash, I kept pushing forward at an ever-increasing pace. Since I had already fitted Simplicity 2174, I was able to zip merrily along with the bodice. After a couple of hours, it became clear that wearing the dress that very night was a real possibility. So I charged ahead, making a very mediocre job of my hem and armhole binding.

This time out, it's good enough! Next time I make this or a similar bodice, I am going to finally learn to line the bodice to the edge.

Moving the zipper from the center back seam to the side really improved the fit of the upper back neck. An invisible zipper in just the right shade of purple was waiting in my zipper stash! I ran the zipper right into the armhole so that the zipper pull would be less likely to rub and irritate the inside of my upper arm (which seems to have worked).

Instead of the six-gore skirt from the pattern, I used the bias-cut skirt from Vogue 1573 (now out of print). And I did not hang the skirt to let the bias relax before inserting the zipper or hemming. Thank you, polyester, for being somewhat forgiving of this lack of diligence!

I like it! There's a tiny bit of tightness at the front of the armhole. I'm wondering whether it simply needs to be cut in a little more or whether I need a bit more room in the side front panel? Your opinions are solicited and welcomed.

These pictures make clear that I need to rethink my undergarments, as there are a few visible lines. I promise I will get that worked out.

My sister-in-law gave me this amazing vintage glass brooch two Christmases ago. I hesitate to wear it for swing dancing, because it is large and heavy and I hate to think what would happen if it were to be knocked loose and hit the floor. I do use a few tricks to keep it in place (pin through the bra, use an elastic band to secure the clasp), but still I hate to risk it for dancing. I do adore it, and especially with this dress. Just right!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Fabulous Socks to Wear With Frocks!

Last week's set of blisters, caused by dancing sock-less and stocking-less in cute little Keds sneakers, was one set of blisters too many. I redoubled my efforts to find socks that were either:

  • Low cut and practically invisible and yet stay in place without binding. No twisting, bunching or slipping allowed!
  • Ankle length and cute but age-appropriate. With respect to Shirley Temple, I am 45 years old and I don't think I should be wearing her socks. So foldover Buster Brown-type ankle socks are out. In addition to the whole "mutton parading as lamb" concern, higher ankle socks make my short legs look even shorter.
I searched the web but didn't find what I was looking for, so I visited a neighborhood shop, Jus' Running, to check out specialty socks made for runners. They had just the thing(s).

In the "practically invisible" category, the salesperson directed me to the Balega Women's Hidden Comfort, which I ended up wearing all weekend long at a swing dancing workshop.

These socks are wonderful. They are very low cut but they stay put. Under my Keds, I could see about 3/8" of the sock above the top of the shoe. Unlike commonly-available socks (I have bought Hanes and No Nonsense from Walgreens, as well as SmartWool and Hue from Zappos), they do not cut into my ankle. They are very thin (I don't like padded socks) and very smooth. I experienced no rubbing and no blisters! My feet stayed dry through hours of dancing. Online reviewers say that the socks launder and wear well. Of course these cost about four times what one drugstore pair would cost (the Balegas are about $10 per pair), but the comfort makes them well worth that to me. If they are durable in the bargain, I will be completely satisfied. 

I wear a size 7 U.S. women's shoe and I found the Balega small to be a good size for me.

In the "visible but cute" category, I picked out a pair from the SockGuy. The display of SockGuy socks was something to see: this brand has a range of wild designs. My particular pair has an evil cat with crossbones. I don't even know why I chose this design, but I do think it is cute.

This sock is the 2" ankle sock. Checking on Amazon this morning, I see SockGuy also make a 1" height, which I would actually prefer.

These socks also receive rave reviews and so far they feel wonderful on my feet. They are definitely less minimal than the Balegas, but they do feel cool and smooth. Love all the fun themes and patterns!

No affiliation with Amazon or the brands; I was simply excited to find some comfortable socks for summer!