Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ratty old sweatshirt redux

I try to look decent when I'm out and about, but once I'm in the house, comfort trumps all. My usual at-home uniform consists of yoga pants worn with a favorite tank top, T-shirt, sweatshirt, or sweater, depending on the temperature. Sadly, my go-to sweatshirt is nearing the end of its life. It is still wearable (just), so instead of taking it apart to make a copy, I rubbed off the pattern pieces. Ta-da! I have reproduced the favorite sweatshirt in all its baggy, threadbare, drop-shouldered glory. Okay, not threadbare yet, but it will get there; I have been wearing it for three days in a row now.

To attach the bands, I followed the method described here by Jorth. My neckband sits differently because I wanted the grain on it to run opposite that on the body of the shirt. The fabric (a French terry from Fabric Mart) has very little stretch on the cross grain, so the neckband stands up rather than lies down against my neck. I basted first just to see, but turns out I like it better this way.

I stabilized the shoulder seams with silk organza selvedge to help this top keep its shape. And if the overall shape is a little less than flattering . . . well, so was that of the original.

Audio files: One of my favorite podcasts to listen to while sewing is Slate's Culture Gabfest. Here I go now to listen to the latest one.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A task to gladden a Virgo's heart

Thread tracing!

Look closely to see the chartreuse stitches around the edge of the pattern piece.

This is not the machine tracing that is sometimes done on a muslin, but hand thread tracing that you do right on the fashion fabric to mark stitching lines and grain lines, as described in Part 2 of the Little French Jacket Sew-along. (An explanation of the distinction between the two types of thread tracing by Coudremode helped remove my little bit of confusion about it.)

Performing this step in the construction of the jacket definitely checked off some of my boxes. Come up with an excuse to buy gorgeous silk thread in several bright colors (check!). Learn a sewing skill whose existence had not even occurred to me before (check!). Get to hang out downstairs with my husband and son, and a glass of wine, while making progress on a sewing project (check!).

The pattern I'm using is Burda magazine 02-2013-107, a Chanel-type jacket with a V-neck and a curved hemline.

My fabric is a wool tweed bouclé from Gorgeous Fabrics: black with plenty of blue and gray and some flecks of off-white, green, and ochre. Very soft and pretty, not nearly as "carpet looking" as it somehow comes across in the photographs.

I'm very much enjoying this sew-along. Next up is quilting the lining to the fashion fabric, another new-to-me skill.

A reminder about roasted vegetables, so good at this time of year, at least for those of us in the colder parts of the northern hemisphere: Cut up some of your favorites (here, it's sweet potatoes and turnips, soon to be joined by chunks of onion and celery), douse with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and any herbs you like, and roast in a hot oven until caramelized and delicious.

How's that for getting some color into this otherwise monochromatic post?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Onward and upward

A friend asked me this morning how my sewing was going. And I heard myself answering with words like "horrible" and "fail." Luckily for me, putting it into words, especially to this sympathetic and upbeat friend who sees the humor in many things, gave me exactly what I needed: a reminder to just get out of my own way already.

What I had found so dispiriting was a run of false starts and poor fabric and pattern choices, but on reevaluation no harm was done and in fact I learned a few things.

First up, a slip dress that was intended to kill two birds with one stone. One of the birds was Vogue 1287: I bought it for the dress but decided that its pleats and loads of fabric were not likely to be flattering on me. Slight pang over having bought a pattern that wouldn't be used. But wait, wouldn't the included slip make a nice little dress for the boudoir? The second bird was some beautiful and beloved georgette in my stash that I was having trouble visualizing as a garment; it's the middle one here.

Unfortunately, working with this georgette on the bias turned out to be beyond me. Even after experimenting with settings and presser feet, redoing seams, etc., I still had wonky side seams and spaghetti straps that went thick-thin-thick-thin. No picture of this one. The good news is that the slip fits and flatters, or, you know, it will when I make it up in a fabric I can handle.

Next, the lovely draped-neck dress that is Vogue 1351. I made this in a blue cotton jersey, leaving out the zipper and cutting it a bit longer. It was a pleasure to make, I like the fabric, the size is right (12 at the bodice grading to 14 at the hip), but . . . it just does not look good on me. Really. I have noticed this before about draped and cowl necks on me, as much as I like them in theory and on other people. Lesson learned. Or relearned.

There have been a few other issues with makes that didn't get as far as these two, and a missing invisible zipper foot, and so forth, but you get the idea. I was starting to lose confidence in my ability to make a garment I can live with.

Is all this as dire as I thought? Far from it! I'm getting to handle fabric . . . having fun reading other people's blogs and tutorials . . . trying things out, learning as I go . . . above all, I'm lucky enough to have the time and leisure to sew. Now that some beautiful autumn days and a chat with a friend have restored my perspective, I am off, with renewed energy and optimism.

Cooking note: If you're interested in home-style Chinese cooking (i.e., not the elaborate banquet dishes and not what passes for Chinese food in too many restaurants, at least in my part of the U.S.), take a look at Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. We have been eating some very good dinners around here. You do need a Chinese grocery for some of the ingredients, but above is an example of the very useful pages that help you find what you want once you get there.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Vogue 1310: So this is what they mean

. . . when they say working with silk charmeuse can be a challenge. It was tricky to cut out, and sewing a decent seam took total concentration. Most of all, though, as the judges love to point out on Project Runway, charmeuse highlights every imperfection in the final garment.

This is the top from Vogue 1310, a Chado Ralph Rucci design. The minimalist simplicity (or apparent simplicity anyway!) of this top pushed all my buttons.

A note on the fabric requirement: When I went fabric shopping in NYC a couple of weeks ago, my list said that this top needed 2 1/4 yards of 60" fabric, and I felt certain I had noted it down wrong. For a simple sleeveless top? I bought 2 yards of 45" fabric. Of course, it turns out that the top is cut on the bias and self-lined, and it does take that much fabric. I wanted to keep the self-lining, so I experimented and found that shortening the top by 2 inches made it so I could fit everything on the fabric I had. The shorter length seems fine in the finished top. The hem does flare out a little more than I would like, but I suspect this is from my inexperience with charmeuse and with fabric cut on the bias, so that I unintentionally stretched the fabric while hemming it. Here it is untucked:

Sewing on this fabric was especially difficult because the bottom of my presser foot looks like this:
Can you see that pieces of the finish have peeled off? No, no, no. Not the way to sew with charmeuse. I pushed on through, so to speak, but I also finally ordered a new #1 foot, along with an invisible zipper foot, which was not easy to find for my old-style mechanical Bernina.

Considering that the pattern has only two main pieces (plus two for interfacing), this top was surprisingly labor intensive. Basting sew-in interfacing (silk organza) in place, basting twill tape to the neckline and armhole edges to stabilize them, understitching the lining by hand, and basting the hems of the shell and lining, all on this very slippery fabric, meant that I spent more time than expected with needle and thread in hand. I actually like hand sewing -- just didn't realize there would be so much of it.

I'm not thrilled with the results I got with the stabilizing twill tape. I stitched the 1/4" tape right down its center over the seamline when stitching the shell and lining together at the neckline and armholes, as the instructions say to do. As I feared, though, this meant that when I turned the lining to the inside and pressed it, I had to either press the twill tape in half lengthwise (hard to do and looks bulky), or let the shell project 1/8" past the lining, which means there is an excess of lining fabric in the shoulders. Maybe it would work better to stitch along one edge of the tape rather than down its center? Also, curving the twill tape to fit the curve of the seam made the tape try to stand up on its edge, for lack of a better description. Just not at all convinced I did this part right. The armholes in particular came out a bit wonky. If I make this up again, I'll make the armholes bigger, too, since I don't have twig arms like the model on the pattern envelope.

And there we are: another piece of clothing for my life in rural New Hampshire ;-)

Pattern review is here.

Book notes: Trying to read more novels that have come out recently, instead of lagging behind by at least 10 years as often happens. I'm well into A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan just now, and I'm finding it moving, surprising, and delightful.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Under the wire: The Victoria blazer

My Victoria blazer is done, and just in time for the end of the sew-along!

This jacket was a delight to make. Many of the details were new to me, including the French-seamed cuff with a slit, the way the lining is put in, and the dart that continues right into the neckline seam. Nothing was difficult to do, but it had plenty going on to keep it fun and interesting.

(I am slightly disturbed to see that in some of my photos, it looks as if I have nothing on underneath the jacket. But these are the photos we got, and now the light is gone, so you will just have to believe that I'm wearing a white tee shirt that pretty much matches my pale white skin. Have I not been outside at all this summer?)

I used a linen/rayon print for the shell and a light blue cotton lawn for the lining, both from Mood. The lawn was described online as sky blue, but I would call it something more like a grayed-down robin's egg blue. It was in fact exactly what I was hoping for. You can see some of it in this photo, but it looks much paler here than it really is; it too appears to match the white tee shirt!

This might be a good place to mention that my sweet husband took these photos on his iPhone, insisting that it takes better photos than my camera. The jury is out.

See, camera that was intended for picture taking is in my hand.

I first used my lining fabric for the pockets, but I wasn't happy with how it looked. Even though the pockets are inset a quarter inch past the seam, the contrast between the two fabrics was too much. So I took those pockets out and redid them with the outer fabric. A before photo:

And an after photo, where I can put my hand in my pocket without exposing a startling flash of pale:

This blazer does have a bit of a bubble or "O" shape, which you can see in the photo to the left. I think of this shape as a 1980s thing, and I wondered whether it's really right for my body type/age (you know, people who wore them the first time around . . . ) but I've decided I'm good with it as a casual cover-up.

Thank you, talented people at By Hand London!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Tour de France edition

It's that time of year when we in this household put many things aside so we can sit in front of the television for several hours a day to watch a bunch of cyclists make their way around France. This is much more compatible with knitting than it is with sewing, but I remember that even when I used to knit a lot I never accomplished much while watching TV (a multitasker I am not). So sewing has taken a hit, along with housework, yardwork, etc., but I do still have a few projects in the works.

Vogue 2900. I've made this pattern up twice before, and I love it. Summery, light, and body-skimming. The fabric for this newest iteration is a delight to work with and fun to look at. I've done everything I can until the interfacing I've ordered shows up (decided it deserved better than what happened to be on hand), but then I'll be right back on it.

Yes, I finally learned my lesson. If I see a new Liberty of London fabric that I really like, go ahead and buy some! Don't just keep looking at it, coveting it, thinking about buying it, until it's gone. I still regret that I missed out on Dr Tulloch C and pointillism D.

Okay, next. The Victoria Blazer, from By Hand London. I'm participating in their sew-along, a first for me. I assembled the lining first, so I could see how the unusual dart/neckline seam goes together. There was more easing in of fullness along the seam than I expected, but everything worked out fine and dandy. I do love coming across construction features that are new to me, like this one.

I picture this project as an easy throw-on jacket over jeans and a white T. The outer shell is a printed linen/rayon, and the lining is a pale blue cotton lawn.

Finally, that Manequim top from the May 2013 issue. In this post I ranted a little about my frustration with this pattern, but I'm going ahead with it. I've altered the V neck so that it is deeper and taken in the side seams a bit. After taking the muslin apart and experimenting with the pieces, I think I've figured out a better way to attach the front vertical strips. So the pattern is ready to go, but the right fabric is lacking. Keeping my eye out for something drapey and raspberry-colored. Or navy.

More about all of these once they are FOs instead of WIPs, bien sûr! Off to watch the Tour now. Meanwhile the garden goes wild.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Burda 09-2009, #121, the long-delayed skirt

I liked the look of this skirt right away when this issue of Burda showed up, um, almost four years ago, but it has taken me until now to get around to making it. It's a great basic skirt: fitted at the waist, full and forgiving through the hips, easy and quick to make but with lots of pleats (two kinds) so you feel as if you are doing something.

The waistband runs a little loose. My waist and hip measurements are toward the upper end of Burda size 42, but the waistband slides down as I wear the skirt. I was focused on whether the skirt would be too small, rather than too big, so I completely missed this until I had already put in the zipper and sewn on the waistband. As another PR reviewer mentioned, the fullness of this skirt feels best when the waist stays snugly where it's supposed to be. The good news is that the pleats are in the same position for all the sizes, so you can put all the pleats in place and then decide how much seam allowance to go with on the sides.

And as for the seam allowance at the top of the front and back: don't bother adding it when you trace off the pattern in the first place. One of the first things you do after getting the pleats in is "Cut off seam allowance at upper edge of skirt." Yes, really. And the bias strip for the waistband? Allowances are already included in the measurements given. So if you really hate adding seam allowances to Burda magazine patterns, this is the skirt pattern for you.

We've got knife pleats in the front

             and box pleats in the back.

My fabric is a charcoal corded cotton from Fabric Mart, sturdy but surprisingly lightweight. (The top picture is closest to the actual color. It's neither light gray nor steel blue, despite what some of my photos show.)

The instructions are clear, and I suspect many sewists wouldn't even have to use them (though I can't keep myself from reading any and all instructions; I blame it on my former life as a copy editor). I did stitch in the ditch (I stitched in the ditch?) instead of edge-stitching on the waistband, and I hemmed the skirt by hand. The invisible zipper is not perfect, but we're getting there . . .

    Happy me.

The PR review is here.

Audio files:

Listening to Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling, separately, though they're also very good together, as you can hear here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Estou um pouco desanimada.

No, I don't speak Portuguese. It's just that I've been spending some time over the last couple of days with a Portuguese-English dictionary. (Why do we even have such a dictionary? For the same reason we have a Serbo-Croatian grammar, and a Tibetan phrasebook: You never know when these things are going to come in handy, and I have trouble getting rid of books.)

I was looking forward to trying my first piece from the Brazilian pattern magazine Manequim, but I ran into something odd with it. First I want to stress that, after seeing four issues, I really like this magazine. To my mind, the clothes are beautiful and stylish, and many of them have interesting details that could be picked up for use on other garments.

My choice was #266 from the May 2013 issue, a loose-fitting blouse with a nice open V-neck, but minus the epaulets with spikes.

I made a muslin since I wasn't sure how a Manequim pattern would fit me, and I'm glad I did. Certainly I'm not shaped like the model, but the neckline I got is simply not the same. It's considerably higher and smaller. This is not an issue of sizing, because like most Manequim patterns this one comes in only one size.

I wasn't convinced about the construction of the strips down the front, either, which was my favorite part of the blouse as pictured. At the point shown here, the facing is already attached at the neckline; now you're supposed to turn under the edges (at the lines traced in black thread) and topstitch it into place along the neckline and down the center front. Even with all those seam allowances and edges trimmed and neatened up, this seems like an awful lot of fabric trapped inside what should be a very clean design element.

Here's what I think: The version modeled in the magazine is a ready-to-wear blouse, whereas the pattern provided in the magazine was drafted after the fact to resemble the original but does not reflect its construction or even its exact shape. Maybe only some of the patterns are treated this way? Not sure. I don't think I'll make this blouse up, at least not just now: the neckline is fixable, but the armholes are also tight on me etc. etc. I'm not going to give up on the beautiful clothes in Manequim, but you can be sure I'll always make a muslin.

And now a peek into the stash for a little cheering up, courtesy of Gorgeous Fabrics:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shape Shape no. 4

Also known as the flared wave skirt. I have used two patterns so far
from Shape Shape by Natsuno Hiraiwa, and I love both of them. I first learned of this book from the blog of the talented and inspiring Carolyn S.

More on the sleeveless scarf blouse another time. For now, here's the skirt.

Several years ago I bought some beautiful raw silk mesh from B&J Fabrics in New York. It was black, woven into a very open grid and then apparently smashed flat, rough but with a nice sheen at the same time. I had no clue what I would do with it, but it was so interesting that I couldn't bear to leave the store without it. And it sat in my stash for all that time, exuding its loveliness and what I thought of as a vaguely Japanese vibe. Finally I came across the skirt pattern and had an aha moment.

And since I am all about blue and black, I made it wearable by underlining with some light blue China silk I had hanging around. This took it away from the rustic, rough quality of the fabric, but I think I liked it even more.

This skirt pattern is quite unusual: it's really one huge piece of fabric that wraps around and attaches to itself in such a way that the grain where it joins runs in two completely different directions. I believe this would make it pretty tricky to alter the length.

You can wear it with the buttoned opening wherever you want, and it will hang in a subtly different way accordingly.

I absolutely love this skirt. In fact, whenever I wear it, I'm surprised that people don't come rushing up to compliment me on it. Haha, I do realize that sounds terrible.

I only dared to cut into my silk mesh because I had already tried the skirt in another fabric. From an even earlier trip to B&J, I had a couple of yards of a rough brown hemp.

Again, this was bought just because I liked it and not because I had any idea what to do with it (a pattern emerges!). The fabric is fairly heavy and stiff, maybe not well suited to garments in general, but I was pleased with how the skirt came out. This one is definitely rustic.

Garden notes:

The rain has been knocking our peonies down into the mud, so I cut most of the blooms today.

Bonus entertainment note:

If you are interested in other places and don't mind spending even more time online, take a look at GeoGuessr. It's seriously fun: You get dropped down at some random place in the world in a Google Earth street view, and you use whatever clues you can find to figure out where you are.