Sunday, July 27, 2014

a painterly dress

I keep waffling between LOVING this dress and thinking it looks like a 90s thrift store special. Something about the mix of pink and purple in the color palette seems dated, maybe, and sometimes I think I see butterflies in the print that aren't actually there. Butterflies on clothing reminds me of my childhood. But I mostly love the dress. It helps that it's relatively well-made, by my standards, and it fits quite nicely, by my standards. And I do like the abstract floral print. I made it specifically to wear to a wedding so I enjoyed having an excuse to sew a fit-and-flare dress that has more than three seams, is fully lined, and not made of cheap jersey like my usual handmades.

I started with one pattern -- Simplicity 1418 -- but went completely off script as I tend to do. I bought a few of those Simplicity Project Runway patterns on sale at JoAnn recently and then decided they were kinda "meh" once I got home. It used to be I was so bored by the Big 2 offerings that indie patterns seemed shiny and bright, but now I'm bored by indie patterns --at least for dresses-- so it felt exciting to flip through the commercial pattern books and see a bunch of new-to-me stuff that I could gobble up for $1.99 each. But, it turns out they're all basically the same sort of silhouettes anyway with a few questionable details tacked on, like the fake lace-up binding on the back of this dress:

I first made a muslin of View B with the wide cap sleeve things like the yellow dress on the envelope. It looks cute on the model. It did not look cute on me. Getting those sleeves to fit would be tricky. They actually have an elastic casing attached underneath to help the sleeves stay put on your shoulders, but they still kept slipping down into 80s territory and were all gapey in the back so I knew I would have to play too much with the sleeve pattern to make it work. Plus, strapless bra requirement? Ew.

So I decided to make View A.... kinda. Here's what I actually kept about the pattern:
  • Princess seam lines on the front
  • Back pieces with darts and high back inset, though I seamed in the inset instead of attaching it behind the back pieces
  • Side zipper placement

Here's what I changed:
  • Changed the neckline from a v-neck to a scoop neck and cut the front piece on the fold instead of as two pieces.
  • Eliminated facings and edge bindings.
  • Added full lining, which narrowed all the edges since I was turning under seam allowances instead of binding them.
  • Used the half-circle skirt from Simplicity 1651 instead of this pattern's pleated skirt. I assumed that since they were the same pattern line and same size, the skirt would match to this pattern's bodice, and it did perfectly.
  • Added pockets to hold my phone and keys while I'm dancing at the wedding reception, of course.

So, I basically made it more boring! I very nearly bound all the edges in black bias tape as the pattern calls for. It didn't "feel" right, though, so I consulted the smart gals of Instagram because it's impossible to make decisions on my own in this approval-obsessed age of social media. The vote for clean finish vs. black bias tape was 36-to-18, so I had to go with majority. I do think it was probably smarter for this kind of occasion -- black edging would have made the dress more casual and bias tape can look hokey and be difficult to apply neatly. Without it, though, some of the design effect of the back bodice is taken away because the binding is supposed to outline the inset piece. Ohwell.

FABRIC: The fabric is a linen print from Jo-Ann, so probably a third of you own it as well. It's a bit scratchy on its own which is why I chose to line it. The bodice lining is made of some off-white cotton I found in my stash, and the skirt lining is cream-colored Bemberg rayon.

FIT: I was kinda surprised to see that these envelopes are split at size 12 instead of size 14 like other Simplicity patterns I own (so you have to buy either 4-12 or 12-20). Maybe it has to do with the amount of design variations included in the pattern, so they can only print so many sizes. Fortunately it doesn't affect me too much because I only make a size 10 if it's a knit pattern, so I just bought the upper envelope. Choosing size for this dress was a bit of a gamble; they do list the finished garment bust size on the back of the envelope, but I had to consult the actual pattern pieces to find the finished waist size. I fall between a size 12 and 14 for bust and waist, but cut the size 12 to cut down on some of the built-in ease. I got nervous that adding a lining would bulk up the dress, so I sewed the side seams at 3/8" instead of 5/8" and it worked out fine.

I made a muslin and tweaked issues like puffy princess seams, sticky-uppy shoulders (technical fitting term), a gaping armhole and a waist seam that dipped too low in the back. I actually altered the pattern pieces (!!) so the issues would already be taken care of on the final fabric. Yeah, I don't normally do that...? This is one of those patterns that has the option of sleeves vs. sleeveless without any change to the shape of the armhole, which seems like bad drafting IMO. Luckily the front princess seams end right where the gape at the front armhole is, so it's easy to adjust there. I also folded out a small (3/8") wedge out of the back armhole pattern piece before cutting into my final fabric.

CONSTRUCTION: The original pattern has facings, but the facings are supposed to be basted to the garment edges WRONG sides together, then all layers of the raw edges are bound with double-folded bias tape. Huh? What's the point of the facings if they're not there to help finish the edges? I don't know if it's just to provide stability to the neckline or what, but if I were to make this garment without a lining and with the binding, I would probably just eliminate the facings all together. Am I right or wrong on that?

I used a 14" invisible zipper in the left side seam. Sewing an invisible zipper around an in-seam pocket is always an adventure, and since I added my own pockets to the pattern, the instructions weren't included for that. The only tutorial I can find linked to online is from 2008 on the Pins & Needles blog that no longer exists. Luckily I own Simplicity 2215, which uses this method.

The half-circle skirt is cut so that the side seams are on the straight of grain and cross grain, with the center front and center back hanging on the bias. Helps with zipper application, maybe. I had limited bemberg rayon for the skirt lining, so I had to cut the lining with its side seams on the bias and the CF and CB along the grains. I'm not willing to figure out the geometry of why that saves fabric but, it does. I... don't recommend this, if you can help it. I guess you have to even out the hems separately no matter what, but it made it seem like more of a headache because after hanging, the main skirt was drooping too low in the front and back, while the lining was drooping too low on the sides. Zzz hemming. Once I got it even enough, I did a blindstitch hem on my machine, which I only attempt on textured or printed fabrics.

I feel like I'm providing an unnecessary amount of detail about making this pattern, so I'll shut my trap now. Have any you had success with a Project Runway pattern lately? The Project Runway collaboration with Simplicity makes me laugh because Nina Garcia would probably kick me off stage if I sent this dress down the runway for real. Too twee and fashion-backward for Marie Claire, perhaps. BUT ILIKEITALOT.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

swimsuit sewing saga

I can't lie to your pretty faces, so I'll say it: I hated sewing this swimsuit. But I forced myself to DO IT anyway because I didn't have a swimsuit at all, and it's still somehow a fraction of a bit better than shopping for one. Shopping for swimsuits entails fully undressing and redressing far too many times in a row, and then staring at your perceived bodily flaws under glaring fluorescent lights from all angles, and being disgusted at the fashion industry for selling us these noodley mesh things meant to be worn in front of strangers in broad daylight. Nothing has decent coverage, nothing feels comfortable, and having to overhear conversations between teenage girls in the dressing room is its own kind of hell.

So, I sew. It's desperate times, people; it's 90F degrees daily and there are pools and lazy rivers that I need to be submerged in, stat! But sewing my own swimsuit released a whole new angst inside of me, maybe partly due to the lack of air conditioning in my sewing room. Sure, you have control over style, print and coverage, but getting to that ideal state of fit was a battle. It was not an empowering process, lemme tell you. Why can't I stretch this thing over my hips? Why does it STILL not cover my whole booty? Why can't my sad little bust hold this thing up? Why are these bra cups so low, and these other ones so pointy, and these other ones as hard as concrete? Why is the suit pulling here and dragging there and dipping and gaping and rolling? Why can't I stretch elastic evenly? That muslin fit in jersey, but it's too small in spandex. Can I starve myself and fit in this by mid-week? No way, take a break and go buy a brownie pop.

First attempt, second attempt, third, fourth. Two patterns, three. Fold-over elastic wasted by the yardful. Hack, cut, slash.

Le fin. I finally eked out something wearable before I used all the spandex in my stash or flipped a table. Of course I exaggerate about my rage, but you get the idea. I think the fit was tricky because I'm a pear shape, and a one-piece swimsuit can only be put on one way: upward, over dem hips. When there's a 13 inch difference between your waist and hip measurements, that makes for some major stretchage and wriggling requirements. I almost considered cutting this thing in half but realized that would be two additional openings to elasticize. Wasn't into it, and my heart and midriff were set on a one-piece.

Here's the muslin graveyard. Let us mourn the loss of that cute green dot spandex:


I started with the Ginger Bodysuit pattern by Ohhh Lulu. It's drafted for a bigger bust and shorter body than mine, which I thought I worked out but couldn't get right after two tries. Seams were slightly different lengths, the easing looked bad in solid spandex and my side seams were slanted for whatever reason. The lower cups were also too deep, so it wasn't just about changing the apex curve. So I moved onto the Ohhh Lulu Jasmine Bra mixed with a Nettie Bodysuit body. I think the Jasmine is more flattering than the Ginger with its vertical seaming, and I knew the Nettie already fit my body length and had better rear coverage, though I still ended up adding more depth all around for public decency. 

You may recognize my fabric, so I'm sorry you have to keep looking at it on all these sewing blogs. But it's adorable! It's a pink/coral/black "abstract wildflowers" print from Girl Charlee that Heather also used for her Nettie bikini hack and Sallie recently used for her Soma bikini. The back of my suit is solid black matte spandex, and everything is flat-lined in black tricot lining, also from GC. I cut up an old bra for the cups, which are tacked in place to the wrong side of the bust lining.

I decided to go with solid black fold-over elastic (FOE) for all edges and my straps. I like the contrast and I like that I didn't have to worry about taking away any seam allowance from where I needed it most (leg/crotch openings). I was already so fed up with the whole construction process and FOE seemed like the fastest option. My FOE is from Peakbloom. A five-yard cut of solid FOE from there is only $1.45 total, which calculates to under 30 cents a yard. I'M SERIOUS. They have tons of cute prints, too, for all your handmade undie needs. The prints are slightly more expensive than the solid, but still way more affordable than JoAnn's, where printed FOE is $3.99 per yard.

However, I've worn the suit in the pool once now and the color of the FOE has already started to fade, and the black spandex on the back of suit is doing some weird splotchy effect as well. Great. I know they say (whoever 'they' are) that you're only supposed to use cotton or nylon elastic on swimwear, but I didn't want to believe it. If this suit is unwearable by the end of this season, though, I am gonna flip a table. Or, uh, just make another suit. Swimsuits are actually pretty fast to make once you have modified your pattern to fit properly! And they take such little fabric that you can squeeze two (or more!) out of one yard of spandex.

Laying flat, the suit isn't very pretty, which is why I actually modeled it on my body in front of the camera (with majorly cropped photos for everyone's benefit, trust). The back looks like a diaper cover, but I had to stretch the elastic that much so it would be snug around all curves once worn:


This strenuous exercise in swimsuit fitting was worth it, I think, because I actually did feel somewhat comfortable at the pool in my finished suit. Believe me, that's rare; I haven't been in a pool in years due to self-consciousness (mostly). While I was there, I witnessed a woman hike up her suit repeatedly and actually say to her friend, "I need to hire a seamstress to fix the neck on my swimsuit so it stays up!" I almost considered chiming in, but decided that I should reserve the swimsuit sewing stress for me and my body alone. 

Have you taken the swimsuit sewing plunge yet? 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

sewing & blog organization

Whenever I feel creatively stagnant, rearranging and organizing my physical workspace is the best way to refresh my energy. That or online fabric shopping, though that's more of an addiction than anything so I'm not gonna endorse it.

First, I've updated the tutorial page on my blog, which is hopefully beneficial for you guys (gals) most of all. Instead of browsing through pages and pages of lengthy posts tagged "tutorial," you can now simply scroll through a gallery view to find what you're looking for. Find the gallery by clicking the Tutorials button at the top of my blog. Screen shot:

It includes tutorials you've seen here as well as those I've written for the Craftsy sewing blog. I have been posting fortnightly tutorials over there but I don't wanna spam you every time one of my Craftsy posts goes live. So if you're interested in seeing all the tips & tricks I've been covering lately, just check out my tutorial page and it will show everything in order starting with the most recent, which happens to be about how to store printed PDF patterns. HOORAH STORAGE. I'm digging the three-ring binder method with side-zip sheet protectors. Any of you do the same?

I curated my fabric and pattern stash and gave away two full IKEA-blue-bags of stuff (!!) to an enthusiastic beginner sewer via Freecycle. I tried to sell on Craigslist but I received no serious inquiries, so I figured I'd just be gone with it all at once and make someone else happy. Most of it was hand-me-down or $1.99/yd Jomar fabric anyway. Then I reorganized my sewing room, buying crafter requisites like white cube shelves (though not from IKEA), and switching the location of my machines, iron, etc. The rearranging didn't really serve much of a purpose other than to make my room feel new-ish again so I'd be happy to sew in it. I'm just naturally messy, though, so my floor and cutting table are already covered in work and personal sewing projects. At least there's now a place for everything when I get around to cleaning up, yea? Haaaaa.

Have you been organizing your sewing space (or blog) lately? Any "aha" storage solutions you'd like to share? i.e. How to make or where to buy non-tacky cube storage cubbies for my new cube shelves that don't cost $10+ each?