Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reverse engineering

I've made five dresses for myself so far. And I like them all. I love wearing them, and they look good. But I am NOT a good craftsman, and that is my biggest frustration right now. Every single one of my dresses has had to have a good amount of reverse engineering to make it fit right after I'm done--with the exception of the first one I made, out of that teal batik-y looking fabric. I keep trying though, because they say practice makes perfect, and I want to get to the point where I can sell my dresses on Etsy.

Here are some examples of the imperfections in the dresses I've made so far.

Dress 1: the fabric was very narrow--I can't remember the width, but I had to piece it together where the skirt pattern extended past the fabric. I'm very happy with how this turned out--it's barely noticeable and I was very proud of my resourcefulness. :-)

I did my lazy top stitching of the shoulder strap only, without going all the way around the band. The reason is because I such at edge stitching at this point in time, and didn't want to ruin the look of the top band with an all-over-the-place stitch line.

And omgosh the zipper. This was the third time I've used my zipper foot, and the previous times I've used it I didn't set it far enough away from the needle, so I'd broken some needles and I was really nervous. When I'm really nervous about something, my hands shake, BADLY. And I sweat. Badly. So I set the presser foot WAYYYY to far away from the needle, and this was the result.

LOLOLOL but so what, the zipper is securely attached and you can't tell how fucked up the seam is from the outside of the garment. I've gotten really good at putting zippers in since then.

Dress 2: the midriff band doesn't match up at the side where the zipper was installed.

Eh, so what. It's at the side, nobody will see it. Again, I know this is a problem because without better craftsmanship, I have no hope of having a successful Etsy store. But, these are learning mistakes.

Dress 3: Here's the crazy uneven top stitching of the front band of the bodice, and my lazy stitching of the shoulder strap to the band instead of hand-sewing it invisibly to the back of the band.

I'm wondering if an edge-stitch foot will help me with... well, the edge stitching! I have two more dresses to post in my summer sun dress series, and will show the reverse engineering for those dresses in their own posts.

Meanwhile, I just absolutely love the my sheet dresses. Made from 50-50 poly-cotton percale, they are cool and comfortable and durable and you don't have to iron them! Sometimes I've pulled them out of the dryer where they've been sitting for days and after hanging for a few minutes the wrinkles have fallen out and they're ready to go!

That was my segway into introducing my new sheet, which I can't WAIT to make into a sun dress... But now that the summer is over, I guess I'll have to wait and give some of my other patterns a try.


Look closely... It's people sitting at tables!! Like in a crowded old fashioned night club!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Toddler Renaissance fest costume

I am in the throes of making a costume for my three-year old niece to wear to the Texas Renaissance Festival... or Halloween... or just for dress-up. As with most things I try, it's turned out to be a lot more complicated that I thought it would be.

I found the pattern I wanted to use, McCall's 5499, at Saver's for $0.99 and was all fired up about it until I was researching it online and someone pointed out that the pattern does NOT contain both adult and child sizes. It's one or the other. Mine happened to be the adult size. 

The red overdress would be darling on a toddler and be so easy to dress them in.

I checked Joanne's and they had the pattern in the child's size, but the smallest it came in was a size 3 with a 23-inch chest measurement, and my niece's chest is 20 inches. I really didn't want to pay $10 for it just to have to try and scale it down when I have no experience in that.

So I moved to plan B, Simplicity 2571, view E in the lower right. However, my sister had originally worried about the sleeves getting in my niece's way, and I worried about the dress being too hot since it will be made out of polyester brocade.

So I tried to alter the pattern to look like the red overdress. I left off the sleeves and cut the bodice to look similar to the sketch on the back of the McCall's pattern.

The first mockup looked adorable, but covered too much of the torso and I worried about it being too hot. If I was going to make it in a linen or cotton, I would have been okay with it, though.

After the second mockup, where I ended up nipping the sides in a little more towards the waist, I finally felt comfortable enough to cut the fabric, a gorgeous aqua blue Chinese brocade with pink flowers.

I don't mind sewing brocade, except that I have to zig-zag all the edges as soon as I cut out the pieces because it frays so bad. Then, since it's 100% polyester, I can't iron the seam flat, so I have to sew down each side of the seam to make it neater.

And I don't know if zig-zagging the edges stretched the fabric too much, but when I put the dress together, it was sagging a LOT on the sides. Maybe that's just because the skirt is kind of like a circle skirt, and it needed time to hang and settle. Whatever the reason, the center back measured 25" long, but the SIDES were 29" long. I wish I knew how to prevent that from happening. I don't think it happened on the mockups.

These pics are from the first day that I hung it, so don't look nearly as bad as they did last night when I finally pinned up the excess on the sides. 

When I pinned up the excess from the hem last night, I was relieved at how much better it looked. It seems to have more body, too. This dress is giving me anxiety. I guess I'll have to hand-sew the hem now that it's all uneven? I am too afraid to cut it.

The only thing I could find to hang it on so I could get an idea of the drape was this lamp gathering dust in the corner.

It still looks a tad uneven in the front, on the left side of the pic. But I can't deal with it anymore right now. I need a break, because otherwise I feel like the dress is holding me back, and I still need to make the chemise and the cape by Thursday night. I think I'll make the fab cape tonight, because that will be easy and encouraging. (please don't let those words come back to bite me)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I need help: Compulsive vintage pattern buying

One of my favorite thrift stores sells fabric donated from peoples' stashes. And they also sell patterns. Often, they sell vintage patterns. And I KNOW I should stay away from there, but I can't. I can't really get into much trouble during the week, and I start off every weekend with really, really good intentions, but Sunday afternoon comes along and I start thinking, "I've been so good! I haven't gone to ANY thrift stores!" And then I start thinking of what I might be missing at Savers and then it's all over.

So anyway, I'm obsessed with vintage patterns at this point in my life. Some vintage styles, like this one, are still classic:

1974. Cute, classic, and I found a sewing blogger who made View 2 in a nice wool, so it works well as a winter skirt too.

Other vintage styles are not:

1977. Ugh.

I have a big stockpile of patterns I want to try, an even bigger stockpile of patterns I DON'T want to try but have because Savers puts 2-3 patterns in every package, but I can't bring myself to get rid of them JUST IN CASE. I also have lots of fabric, much of which I bought for making mockups, which is fine because it will get used. Lots of fabric in my stash I'd bought with the intention of making costumes that have never materialized. Some of it I bought for making clothes for myself, and I used SOME of it in my summer dress making blowout, but--actually, I take that back. I used ONE piece of fabric from my stash for my summer dress project, but the rest of them were either remakes or made from fabric I bought after I set my goal of busting my stash. Fuck. I have a problem.

Well, this weekend I went through all my vintage patterns and pulled out the ones I really want to try the most. My amazing seamstress friend, Jennifer, sent me a package a couple of months ago that included 5 fabulous vintage patterns from her collection:

Butterick 8160 (1950s), Vogue 9274 (1957), Vogue S4515 (1954-1955), Butterick 4735 (1960s?), Simplicity Jiffy 5959 (1965)

I LOVE THEM ALL!! I was going to try the Vogue pattern in the middle with some of my stash fabric, but it lacked a pattern layout and I immediately felt overwhelmed and set it aside to try again later. And I'm still looking for the perfect fabric for the Butterick pattern at the lower left. That should be a really easy pattern, and would be good for building my vintage sewing confidence. Actually... the confetti dot fabric would be really great for that dress. Hmmm...

Here are some others I want to try:

1957, according to an expired listing on Etsy. A lucky find from Savers. I need to learn how to set sleeves. Ask me how much I love View A in the center.
This is a modern reprint. From my research on the Internet, I learned it was printed in 1999 and that it's discontinued. The instructions didn't seem too terribly difficult, and if I can make this, it will give me some good experience and insight into making the bodice of that 1911 dress from Patterns of Fashion that I want to try.

1970s, according to Vintage Patterns Wiki. I didn't like this pattern at first. I think it was because the color combinations in the illustrations are horrible, and I couldn't get past the weirdly elongated legs of the girls. Then I found a sewing blogger who made this pattern in a really pretty ikat fabric and modeled it on her realistically proportioned daughter, and I was sold.

1977. So cute and contemporary even 25 years later! This is a pattern a couple of sewing bloggers have made, so I got a good idea of what it looks like "in real life."

1983, according to an expired listing on ebay. I'm always looking for the perfect 1980s sundress pattern, but I think the joke is on me because they all seem to be identical. These elastic waist pullover dresses have a special place in my heart because the first dress I ever made from a pattern was one just like this--no buttons or zippers to have to figure out as a beginner.
1973. I love the cut of the blouse and skirt in this pattern, and those fluttery sleeves! To me, this has a very early 1930s feel to it, but what do I know. It's pretty and feminine and I need to learn to sew with knits, and I found one blogger that made the pattern and liked it.

1976. I'm REALLY excited about trying this pattern. I think it would be cute made out of wool or flannel for winter, paired with some cute tights and a blouse or light sweater underneath, and out of linen for summer. It looks super easy, and the two sewing bloggers that I found who made it loved it.

1979. I love view 3--so classic and elegant and feminine and pretty. This is another pattern I can use to practice sewing with knits.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dress-up capes for a little girl!

I told myself I was going to stop numbering my projects because I tend to skip around so much, and also because some projects, like Project 6: Summer Dresses, are sort of umbrella projects for trying out lots of different dress patterns. I've made two more dresses for Project 6 but haven't photographed them yet, so today I'm going to talk about CAPES!!

My sister asked if I could make a cape for my 3-year-old niece, who apparently has been tying blankets around her neck and wearing them as cloaks. She's a girl after my own heart. I fondly remember tying colorful scarves to my arms to pretend I was a parrot, having my dad make me a halo with his solder gun, and many many old paint-splattered sheets that I cut holes in to make billowy "skirts" that made me feel like Scarlett O'hara.

So naturally I jumped on the cape bandwagon. I happened to have Simplicity 2571, a toddler costume pattern that included a cape--a hooded version for girls, and a collared version for boys.

I made two capes from this pattern, minus the hood. Cape 1 was a purple Chinese brocade patterned with colorful butterflies.

It's actually a dark purple in real life, not this magenta pinky purple.

The pattern has an extended front edge for a facing. I found the pattern instructions to be pretty confusing for sewing the facing, but I managed to get mostly through it. When I was done, I felt like the facing made the pattern unnecessarily complicated and bulky. It also made it so the cape draped forward over the shoulders to cover the front of the body. I tried the cape on (how could I not) and tried to flip the front of the cape over the shoulders but it kept falling forward and I imagined how I as a 3-year-old child might get frustrated in having my arm movements hindered like that.

I ended up having to reverse-engineer the butterfly cape after I made the second cape with changes based on my experience with this one.

The second cape was of an aqua confetti dot fabric I bought at Joann's. It came in so many fun colors and it was really hard for me to pick one, but my sister said my niece likes aqua.

 I seriously want a confetti dot cape now. I think it's my niece's favorite of the two, and for good reason. The fabric is lightweight, has a wonderful drape, and is sparkly as all get-out.

This time I left the front facing off and folded the front edge of the fabric back to meet the side-back seam. This helped it hang nicely off of her shoulders and left her arms unencumbered by all that fabric. I also didn't bother to turn the edges of the neckline down to hem, because the material was a bit scratchy and I thought she might not like that. And also, I hate turning down the hem at necklines. It's a pain in the ass. So I bound the neckline with the ribbon so it's nice and soft. And honestly, I think that gives the cape a very nice finish. I was afraid the ribbons would be too wide, but now that I see the cape on my niece, I think they're perfect--any thinner might not have supported the weight of the cape as well and might dig into the wearer's neck.

About the fabrics. I'd never sewn with anything slippery or stretchy before, so I was nervous and did some research before even cutting them.

The brocade was pretty easy to sew--the main issue I had with that was fraying along the cut edges. I finished all the cut pieces with a zig-zag stitch to minimize fraying, which was really time consuming and ate a LOT of thread. I used almost my whole spool of thread on the purple cape.

The confetti dot fabric was easy to sew. I didn't find that it gummed up my needle like a lot of people had issues with. My problem was that the sewing machine foot stretched the top piece of fabric out, but not the bottom piece. The solution was one I found online for preventing gummed up needles, but worked perfectly for this too: wax paper. A piece of wax paper laid on top of the fabric made it go through the foot & feed dogs smoothly and evenly, and tore off easily when I was done sewing a seam. I didn't hem it or finish the seams because that fabric doesn't fray. It could not have been easier to sew.

I'm totally addicted to making capes now.

Which is good because my sister bought some FABULOUS fabric for me to make my niece a toddler Renaissance fest outfit--dress and cape. I'm drafting the dress pattern right now by modifying an existing pattern, and I hope to be able to sew a mockup of it tonight. If all goes well, it will be a cinch to make her dress.