Friday, October 28, 2011

Stitching The Pastille!

In honor of The Colette Sewing Handbook showing up in stores and mailboxes a bit earlier than expected (NOW!) I am going to let you in on my time constructing one of the new dress patterns in the book. In fact, it just happens to be the dress on the front cover. Enjoy the journey.

Part 1

In the spring, I responded to a request from Sarai of Colette Patterns for pattern testers. I had tested the Oolong dress for her before. This time I was offered two patterns from her upcoming book, The Colette Sewing Handbook. Licorice, a loose shift-like dress with sash and draped collar and Pastille, a fitted sheath dress with a modified sweetheart neckline and petal-like cap sleeves.

While I liked both designs, Pastille called out to me because I could see it fulfilling an important purpose in my wardrobe. I saw it as a potential job interview dress. Professional, non-fussy, classic, but with a non-corporate vintage edge. Styled with a cool vintage enamel brooch this dress would be great in my wardrobe, pretty and feminine enough for a dinner date but also appropriate for more serious occasions.

I will be posting a traditional review of this dress (see the teaser at left) later but I wanted to write in more detail about what I learned while making it. As it turns out I found myself trying out some new techniques when constructing my version of the Pastille dress.

My new pattern weights

  • My first move was to go to Home Depot and buy some metal washers. These would be my new pattern weights instead of straight pins. At first, I only saw the small ones that weighed nothing but eventually I found the heavy steel/zinc 5/8" size which were perfect. I now have 14 of them at only $.46 each! They work wonderfully in holding down your fabric and I've already used them on stretchy Lycra knits. In addition, re-positioning of the pattern is now quick and easy.

  • The second new thing I did was use clear tape to help out my dart making abilities. I have never been able to sew a straight dart, they always veer off course and end up where they're not meant to end. This time I replicated the dart lines from the pattern using a straight piece of tape instead of straight pins. Then I could just sew along the edge of the tape. So fabulous and my darts for this project were perfect.

  • Then I used my new friend (adhesive tape) to mark the three horizontal pleats along the bottom half of the skirt. The instructions say to thread trace the lines but I first wanted to make sure my lines were straight. I didn't have any fabric markers that would show up on this fabric so I used my design ruler and laid tape exactly where the lines were needed. With two contrasting colors of thread I then hand basted across the three skirt pieces right next to the edge of the tape, resulting in perfectly straight lines of stitching. For maximum visibility, I used yellow and orange thread to mark the different rows and I loved the resulting contrast on the dark gray fabric. Perhaps I'll use the same technique as a permanent feature on a future project.

  • However, this project used up a lot of tape, so next time I will be using painter's tape. It has a very low adhesive factor so that it can be used again at least two more times. Not as wasteful.

    Coming up: Fitting issues with the Pastille.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    I Forgot... I Have Always Loved Dusters (2)

    Yes, I forgot that I have two similar long jackets (dusters) in my closets! Albeit two that were destined to Goodwill because I never wear them anymore. However, I still adore the brown, 100% silk Ann Taylor jacket, it was part of a fabulous suit. Because it is a size 2(!), I eventually outgrew the pants. The blue one is a perma-crinkle 100% linen jacket by Mandolorama (?) in Euro size 42 that I bought in New Orleans. So, I suppose I was missing this type of item in my closet and that's why this coat became so important to me. Hmmm.

    So lucky me, I can compare the fit of each jacket to my muslin in order to pinpoint what it is I have to change to get the final shape I want. Note: These two jackets don't really fit anymore because of my hips, so they don't look good buttoned, one of the reasons the new jacket will not have any closures.

    Front view of the muslin looks good. Compared to the other two I think it may have a better fit in the shoulders, while the others hang over the shoulder points a bit.

    Sleeve cap, I have no idea which one looks the best. I know the muslin has too much ease because I had to gather a bit, but in regard to the shape of the others, I have no clue.

    It looks like the brown might fit better? What do you think?


    Back span, with arms raised, I don't like how the muslin shoulders stick up but they do look better than the blue one. The blue also has these horizontal wrinkles along the back I didn't know about. I was surprised to see them because the jacket didn't feel tight at all when I raised my arms.

    The brown one, again, looks the best. It is of course a much more fluid fabric than the crisp linen and a cotton comforter cover. Most importantly, you can see that both finished coats have some shaping at the waist while the green muslin falls straight down from shoulder to hip.


    Rear view is the big problem. What I don't like: how the muslin bags out above the rear, is too wide everywhere above the hips, and has those vertical lines alongside the armscye. You can see that the shaping at the waist of both the blue and brown flatters the rear end view. Both of those jackets also have a center back seam which might be my salvation and a better solution than a narrow back adjustment*.

    Side view, again too much fabric in the same exact spot: around the waist and above the rear. The shaping on the other two give a slight bit of shape to this view too.

    My next step is to compare the measurements from the finished coats to the corresponding points on my muslin and see where I stand.

    * Though I did find excellent instructions for one on the web from Threads, various blogs, and this great pattern alteration series from the Texas A&M AgraLife extension program.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Vintage Sewing Books I Want!

    I borrowed two great sewing books at my local library this year (multiple times).

    All-around Sewing Reference

    Note: Same book, different editions: 1961 and 1970 (they removed the tag-line). The 1970 edition was available in a metal binder version, see below.

    Better homes & Gardens Sewing Book (1961)

    What's I found cool inside:

    The book shows five different ways to make a sheer overdress with an opaque inner slip that also formed its own foundation garment. The instructions included details on how to construct the inner corselet for each dress. The construction is a little different depending on how the outer sheer dress was to be attached to the inner slip.

    Drafting and Patternmaking

    Designing Your Own Dress Patterns (1951)
    Designing Dress Patterns Third Ed. (1971) by Helen Nicol Tanous.

    Check out some of the styles I could create from this book (more at the link above):

    Examples of drafting projects

    Her method of moving darts is probably no different than many other guides, but her variations are what I love. The book shows things that they did when designing clothes in the 1940-50s that they don't do anymore in home sewing patterns. Besides the Advanced Vogue designer patterns the goal nowadays is easy quick sewing, with a minimum of custom details.

    I want my own copies. mission!

    Update: Just ordered them both from Alibris!!

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Vogue 7714: Eat My Dust-er! (1)

    First muslin for Vogue 7714

    Last night, I basted in the sleeves of my Vogue 7714 muslin. I am making view C, the 3/4 long collarless duster jacket. This pattern was a mystery to me as there are only two reviews for it on form 2005-06. Even though one of them mentioned that the coat was oversized and the pattern description said "very loose-fitting" I was still astounded by the sizing.

    I had purchased the pattern months ago while in denial about my true measurements. Therefore, I bought the pattern in the (8-10-12) size for $6, even though my lower body measurements correspond exactly with those of a size 16 with a 30" waist and 40" hips.

    This jacket will be worn over layers, maybe a light sweater so it needs some room but not too much that it would look baggy over a t-shirt.

    I opened up the tissue to read the finished garment measurements. Luckily, this pattern gives all three. Imagine my surprise when the listed final garment measurement on the size 8 hips was 6.5 inches more than my hip measurement of 40" and 14 ! inches over the 32.5" hip measurement for that size. However, not wanting to risk fate I cut out a straight size 10, resulting in 7.5 inches of ease at the hips, and 14" at the waist. How do you think it looks compared to the pattern photo?

    It seems to have the same amount of ease and the fit looks good, right? Seriously, the ease on this pattern in insane. For all of the sizes, the design ease is 10.5" at bust, 20" at waist, and 14" at hips! Does that seem excessive to you?

    Another shot of the front muslin

    In these pictures I have not attached the facing so the front bodice doesn't lay as it should. It seems to overlap too much at the top, very unlike the pattern photo. Don't know how to address that issue.

    The big problem I see is the back of the jacket. There is a lot of extra fabric between and under the shoulders and too much ease in the rear sleeve cap. I need to find a way to decrease the size in all three areas, around the back shoulder line and underneath the armscye. All without negatively altering the good fit in the front.

    Here are some options:

  • Cut the back out one size smaller in a size 8. Lately, I've been suspecting that my back is narrower than my front enough that I need to make allowances. Reduce cap ease on back sleeve.

  • Cut upper back in size 8 and taper down to a 10 at the hips. Reduce cap ease on back sleeve.

  • Pinch in the center back by 1/2" inch from neck to hem so the shoulder seam line is moved towards neck and corresponds with the end of my shoulder. Reduce cap ease on back sleeve.

  • Can anyone think of anything else? Thanks!

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    Twist Top - Butterick 5429

    Item 3 of the Fall Palette Challenge:

    Pattern: Butterick 5429 (2009)

    Pattern Description: Long-sleeved twist top with dropped shoulders

    Pattern Sizing: Size BB (8-14), I made a size 12 since I was making it in a knit. Could have cut it even smaller, maybe by two sizes.

    Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, it did.

    Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, very much.

    What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? The only issue I have with the top is the one I had when I made my first one. The pattern illustrations are deceiving. They show a more nipped in waist and in fact, the pattern description calls this a close-fitting top. I disagree. This is very much a loose-fitting top when made according to their instructions.

    Fabric Used: 1.5 yards Global Traveler "tribal" rayon jersey (95% rayon, 5% Spandex) at $9 a yard (orig. $14.99 per yard) from Jo-Ann Fabrics.

    Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: Because I wanted it to be a more fitted top I cut it one size smaller. When I realized I could have cut it even smaller I changed the seam allowances from 5/8" to 3/4". The design still left a lot of extra fabric hanging beneath the twist, far too much to be attractive, so after completing the front bodice I decided to scoop out that front seam, curving in from the bottom of the open twist to one inch at the middle and and then back out to the hem, blending the stitching into the original seams. That was exactly what it needed to streamline. I then altered the pattern piece accordingly so I won't have to deal with that again.

    Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, I would make it again in both knits and wovens. I have already cut the pattern down to a size 8 and made the center bodice alteration, so of course I'm going to try this again. I would recommend it to others but suggest that a muslin be made first.

    Conclusion: I love it, the shape, the colors and the print. This top goes with many of the pants and skirts that I already have and the ones I plan to make.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    What's Going On In My Sewing Room

    I have three of my Fall Palette Challenge pieces completed!

    1) Simplicity 2406, 2) Vogue 2883, 3) Butterick 5429
    Unfortunately, gray days have now arrived in Richmond so all the pictures I took of Butterick 5429 are too grainy to publish. I am really happy with how this top came out. I made a major alteration to the pattern that improved the overall fit.

    I am still working on item 4, which has multiple issues. Too long bodice, too big in the waist, and too much excess fabric in the upper back. Maybe it's time for Fit For Real People to help me out? I'll have to check the libraries in town for a copy.

    So, as a break from that I am starting on a muslin for item 5, the Vogue 7714 long coat. Finally, right? I have read the few reviews that exist on Pattern Review and am ready to go. It's really a easy sew but the fit is tantamount before cutting into that moleskin.

    I have updated my Fall Palette Challenge board. I've moved that Swiss dot top to spring/summer 2012 and included more pants for winter. I have purchased Colette Pattern's new Clover pant pattern and thanks to a $1.99 sale on stretch poplin at Fabric Mart (and four sales from my Etsy shop!) I now have enough fabric for two pairs in dark chocolate and claret, a rich red color.

    Click image to see larger
    So three out of the nine are done. Not bad at all.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2011

    Becky-Home-ecky, Anyone?

    I have been sewing for a long time, over 20 years (!) actually. In that time, I believe I've become more skilled in my sewing even though I might take a few short cuts, now and then. While I know I'm more than capable of doing couture techniques I really don't have a desire to do them.

    However, there are certain rules in my sewing that I will always abide by. Reading and following the instructions of my patterns and sewing manuals was how I taught myself (with guidance from my mother). I found that not just the construction steps were important but also the other information on your instruction sheet before you reached the layouts. Over the years, I found a few things that when not adhered to alter the quality of your sewing drastically, or as I call it...

    Best ways to make a garment look "becky-home-ecky"*:

  • Visible hems - You should not be able to see where your hem is from the visible side. Use a blind hem either by machine or by hand. If by hand, do not pull on the thread and keep it loose. Also be careful that when you press the hem you use the steam instead of placing the iron directly on the fabric.

  • Puckered seams or hems - This means the tension was either too tight or the seam allowances were never probably ironed either during the construction or at the end.

  • Puffy Darts - A problem due to incorrect finishing of a dart, was your dart pressed open and laid flat at the point? The best tip is to not back stitch at the point but to just tie the ends in a knot.

  • Non-crisp pleats - Were you diligently pressing those pleats into place as you constructed them. Remember if needed, to use a press cloth if you're worried about fabric shine or scorching.

  • Fly-away facings - Did you understitch the facing? If so, have you tacked the facing to the interior shoulder seams, center front, and center back seam allowances?

  • Misaligned bodice and skirt side seams - Make sure that these match long before wondering if your patterned fabric matches. Loads of retail garments go out without correct pattern matching across seams, even high end pieces. If needed, attach bodice and skirt pieces before attaching them to the corresponding back pieces.

  • Wonky or too-small buttonholes - Practice, practice, practice on a suitable piece of scrap fabric before working on the final garment.

  • Strain marks across bust, stomach, or thighs - Always allow for style ease when you sew up a project. You may like it tighter but straining marks (across chest, stomach, hips) can ruin a perfectly sewn garment. It just looks like you suddenly gained weight before you could buy new clothes that fight you correctly. Believe me, I know.

  • Can you think of any others?

    *You know where this phrase comes from, right?