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04 August 2016

A Paule Ka design Burda 02-2013-153

What is this? Two blog posts in one week?! Yeah, I know... blogging does not come naturally to me, and the biggest stumbling block (though by no means the only one) is finding the time (and proper lighting!) to take photos. But this week I'm enjoying a "staycation" so I've tried to catch up a bit on photo-taking. Let's see how far I come...

This is a dress that I finished 3 weeks ago, just in time to wear for the summer that I am still waiting for... It is a Burda Style designer pattern from a few years back: 02-2013-153. The designer is Paule Ka and I pinned quite a few of his dresses earlier this year before I remembered that I had this pattern. The Burda pattern is the rightmost in this grouping. I wish there were patterns available for the other Paule Ka designs too, don't you?

From the tech drawing you might think that the dress is relatively simple, but don't be fooled. Burda gives it a three-and-a-half-ball rating, which is just half a ball under their most difficult level. It was indeed a bit tricky to get the draped front to fold just right and the cryptic instructions were no real help I must admit. It finally clicked in my head when I realized that the first few steps of the instructions are about attaching the front of the dress to a couple of lining pieces that are not really meant to be lining. Instead they are meant to be a sort of underlining that helps the front to keep the draped shape. Later on you have to sew the real lining that will go on top of everything else so that from the inside you don't see any draping or folds at all.

Burda recommends using a wool crepe or a satin, and definitely with a bit of stretch. A couple of months ago I found an entire roll of this striped gros-grain ribbon on sale for $15, and I thought it would be perfect for this dress. But would you believe that none of the crepe-y or satin-y brown fabrics in my stash matched the shade on the ribbon? Ugh. The only brown that worked with the ribbon was this stretch cotton twill. I know! That is definitely not drape-y nor satin-y! and with my track record of picking the wrong fabrics for a pattern I was truly asking for trouble. But, but... I forged on and I think it turned out okay.

The fabric does stand more than a crepe would have, but I still like the finished dress.

From the back it is just a normal sheath dress, all the action is on the front.

Oh, one more thing. You might think, as I did, that the ribbon just sits on top of the waist seam. In fact, Paule Ka is more clever and careful than that. At the waist there is a sort of belt piece, both at front and back. These pieces are perfectly rectangular and they have you cut them both in the fashion fabric and in the lining fabric. I was very tempted to just remove them and lengthen the torso and skirt pieces to meet at a single seam. Only later, when attaching the ribbon, did I realize their true purpose: to allow the ribbon to sit perfectly flat and straight against the dress. I had done my usual blending from size 40 at the top to size 42 at the bottom by diagonally blending at the waist. Bad idea! When I went to attach the ribbon, I had to take a small "dart" on the ribbon at each side seam to accommodate these diagonals. Next time, I'll keep the top and entire waist at size 40 and blend from the bottom of the ribbon to the hips for size 42.

The last thing I want to show you is the lining. I used a stretch poly from the stash in a brown and white print. Isn't that a cute print? I almost wish that the dress was reversible!

I wrote a review of Burda 02-2013-153 at Pattern Review.

31 July 2016

A blouse from 1937, Eva Dress 573

I finally got around to making one of the Eva Dress patterns that I won as the random prize winner in the Red Dress contest at Pattern Review. The final motivation came from, what else, another contest; the Vintage Pattern Contest 2016 at Pattern Review.

The pattern is #573 originally from 1937 and it is actually for a dress. I didn't have enough fabric for the whole dress (fooled again by a 45" width!), so I had to settle for a blouse this time.

This is the first time that I use a pattern from Eva Dress and I was very pleased with the quality of the pattern paper. It is heavy bond paper, none of that tissue paper so prone to ripping! You do need to cut out the pieces from a giant whole sheet of paper, but that is no different than for other pattern companies. The only thing that I found a bit difficult were the notch markings. For some reason each notched is marked not with one, but two parallel lines. Since there are multiple sizes printed together, the notches come often on top of each other. So to have twice as many lines as usual is really too much. Perhaps that is how they were in the original 1937 pattern? Anyway, that is the only thing I can find to complain about so I'm being a bit picky. For the rest the pattern pieces are very carefully and clearly marked.

Along with the pattern pieces you receive a leaflet that contains very clear copies of the original instructions. These include everything you need: the croquis of all the pattern pieces, the pattern layouts for the various sizes and fabric widths and then the step-by-step instructions clearly illustrated.

So the pattern was a pleasure to work with, but the fabric on the other hand... I used a silk georgette because I fell in love with the colorful print (what else is new!). But I had forgotten how tricky it is to sew with silk georgette. Give me a lovely wool any day! If I was ever so lucky as to work in a couture atelier I think tailleur would be the side for me, definitely not flou. But I complain too much. Careful handling of the fabric and sloooow sewing saw me through.

I sewed french seams throughout, and turned all hems over twice. The instructions say to finish the sleeve hems with a bias strip, but I skipped that and just turned them over as well, to the outside to "fake" the bias binding look. Please don't look to closely at my stitching... tailleur is my thing I tell you, not flou.

The pattern shape is lovely. It "hugs" the waist and creates a blousing effect at the back also.

I made size 18 which corresponds to a 36" bust and should be my size. The fit at the waist is good but I think the shoulders are too big, because the shoulder seam falls over my shoulder by a centimeter or two. This is not uncommon for me, as a pear shaped my shoulders are the smallest bit. For the next version I think I will try going one or two sizes down at the shoulders.

The sleeve has three tiny darts that shape it very nicely, so it is worth letting the shoulder line fall where it should.

The front of course is where the main action happens. There are two pieces for the waist, two side "flange" pieces that form the shoulder and armhole and the two scarves that make up the draped front before wrapping around the neck and back to hang at front.

I have to say that IRL there are not as many gathers and not as much fabric as is shown on the pattern drawing. The only thing that I changed on the front was sewing the two scarf fronts together rather than use loops and buttons. Too much work for this flou-handicapped seamstress. Plus I get the feeling they would have been too heavy for the georgette.

Still, I'm quite happy with my new silk blouse.

One thing though, before I think about making the full dress I'm going to wear this blouse a couple of times to see how the tied scarf feels and behaves when worn. The georgette is scratchy enough that the scarf doesn't quickly become loose, but I suspect that a silky satin would be more slippery.

And of course, I submitted the blouse to the Vintage Pattern Contest 2016 at Pattern Review.

2016 Vintage Pattern Contest

01 July 2016

Navy scuba dress, Vogue 8685

Today I want to show you a dress I made a while ago. September 2013 according to my notes; yikes I didn't realize it was so long ago!

I've been wearing this dress quite a lot because it is sooo comfortable and totally wrinkle proof and that is all thanks to the fabric. At first I thought it was some microfiber ponte, but now that I have handled many more neoprene/scuba fabrics I think this one might be a skinny, very fluid scuba. In any case it has a lot of stretch which is super comfy but wasn't always good while sewing as you'll see below.

The pattern is Vogue 8685 and I made view F with the wide skirt and elbow-length sleeves. The original pattern has a much wider neckline but I prefer mine closer to my neck, so I raised it significantly; basically I made it just barely big enough to put my head through. I also lengthened the sleeves (by 4cm), but I actually wear them old them folded just above my elbow. I probably should cut them and se a proper hem at this length. All the seams are topstitched because I love the look but also to keep the bulky seam allowances from folding every which way they want. I also skipped the back zipper, yoohoo!

The skirt is quite wide so I didn't have to do my usual blending to a larger size for my hips.

The very stretchy fabric caused problems in two places: the hip yokes form a point when the front and back are sewn together and for the life of me I cannot get that to lie smoothly.

I trimmed and graded the seam allowances to minimize the bulk, I topstitched ever so carefully to avoid any stretch. Even hand basting wasn't helping! In the end I actually sewed the few centimeters around the point by hand! And still this is the best I could do... It is visible if you know where to look, but nobody notices except us sewists, right?

The second problem was with the neckline. To finish it I just used a strip of fabric cut at the crossgrain and folded widthwise. The fabric is too thick and the edges don't ravel so I didn't try to fold the edges to the inside, I just left them exposed. It took me three tries to find the appropriate length of the strip that would not ripple or gather the neckline. In the end I went with a 45cm strip for the 48cm neckline circumference. I'm happy with the result but as you can see in the photo the strip does stand up and away from the body. Again one of those things that only we notice, right?

I leave you with a full 360° view of the dress. Forgive the high boots at the end of June; we've had lots of rain and highs of 18°C (63F) so it would appear that our summer was a weekend back in May and now we've gone straight to fall... (that stain on the skirt on the back view is water from my bike seat, I had just come back from the office and I wanted to take advantage of the fact that the rain had stopped to take these photos)

I also wrote a review of Vogue 8685 at Pattern Review.

24 June 2016

Purple rain dress Burda 09-2015-107

Two months ago the world became a slightly less fun place when Prince left us. Since purple is also one of my favorite colors, I was inspired to honor him with a purple dress. What do you think?

I actually finished it in just a week, but I didn't like how the draped front was hanging. So it has taken me another 6 weeks to get over my disappointment and come up with a solution. Do you think it worked?

But let's start from the beginning. The pattern is a lovely draped model from Burda: 09-2015-107.

It is a faux-wrap dress, so the sides are seamed together and the dress closes with a zipper on the side. Burda shows two versions, one in stretch satin and the one above which is described as "double knit 54% cotton, 28% wool, 18% polyester". From the photo, the fabric does appear lighter, or at least thinner than the one I used. My fabric is a lovely Tom & Linda Platt wool double knit from Paron Fabrics in NYC. But it turned out to be too heavy for this pattern, as we shall see.

According to Burda, the satin version of the dress is self lined and the double knit version uses facings and no lining. For mine, I wanted a full lining and no facings in case the wool was a little bit itchy (the wool feels lovely and soft to the hand, but after 10hrs of wearing...). In the depths of my stash I found a stretch georgette in the perfect shade of purple that was just begging to become the lining. I felt so lucky to have found it, but we've heard that before. I think as a lining it is probably weightier than I can afford, so this lucky find only compounded the problem.

The draped fronts (both upper and under skirts) have an edge that hangs on the bias, rather than straight. With my Christopher Kane knock off dress I learned the hard way that a diagonal edge must, MUST, be stabilized. So I used strips of interfacing for the edges of the lining and "Vlieseline vormband" for the edges on the wool. The vormband is a strip of interfacing that has additional nylon threads woven into the strip for strength and durability, plus a chainstitch to prevent any stretching at all. Click on the photo below to see what it looks like up close (on the right). It works beautifully on necklines and also on these diagonal edges of the skirts.

The dress went together pretty easily. It has become a habit of mine to avoid zippers if at all possible. So with this stretch fabric I used the serger for all seams except the shoulders. At the shoulders I used a strip of non-stretch selvedge to avoid any stretching at all. The slightly tricky bit was attaching the lining at the side seams. One side can be free (the lining hanging free from the wool as in any regular dress), but because it is a wrap and the two fronts overlap each other, there is by necessity one side where the wool side would have to "pass through" the side seam in the lining. Since I wanted to do justice to this nice wool fabric, I decided that I didn't want to just serge everything together and have the seam exposed on the inside. So I seamed together five pieces: two wool fronts and their respective linings and the wool back. Then, by hand I attached the back lining in such a way as to hide the serged seam. It is the first time that I do this and it went quite fast. The crucial bit was folding the seam allowance of the lining with an iron, so that I had a crisp edge to follow when attaching the lining by hand.

I liked so much how this finish looked that I attached the lining sleeves in the same way. Oh, that reminds me. The biggest change I made to the dress were the sleeves. The pattern has you cut short sleeves on the bias. I didn't have enough fabric for that, plus I wanted long sleeves since the dress in wool will be warm. So I used the sleeves from McCall's 6844 instead.

The neckline is somewhat low but not too indecent, except if it opens as I move around. To avoid that, I tried my usual fix: a couple of stitches at the v-point. But tight stitches on this fluffy knit created a dimpled look that wasn't pretty. So, instead I made a couple of loose-ish catstitches all along the overlap in the neckline making sure that I didn't catch the top layer, only the seam allowances. This holds the neckline closed but still allows movement and it is completely dimple-free on the top (visible) layer.

So far so good, right? But when I tried the dress on, the fit was fine but the fabric is too heavy, and the draped fronts weigh the entire dress down. I could feel it stretching from my shoulders and also pulling the side seams towards the front. I didn't make any photos to show you but believe me when I say the side seams were all distorted. Here you can see how, even with the harness, the side seam gets pulled to the front.

Argh! What could I do?? To despair and dump it on a corner with a big "Humph!" is all I could think of at first. Once calmer I remembered Claire Shaeffer's instructions about waist stays to support heavy skirts. Her book Couture Sewing Techniques even shows a waist stay with shoulder straps from a Balenciaga dress!

So I set to work and here again, would you believe what I found in my stash? Indeed, a gorgeous gros grain ribbon in perfectly matching purple! I love how consistent I am with my favorite colors...

My waist stay attaches at the side seams, where the draped fronts also join the side seams and pull them towards the front. It closes with two hooks and eyes that never touch the skin (Claire's instructions of course!). The waist stay is snug but not tight, so that I can sit and move around comfortably. I definitely feel the weight of the skirt on the stay, so I can tell it is doing its job.

The shoulder straps only attach at the waist (front and back), but not at the shoulders. Also the length of the straps is not yet final, as you can see by those strips that hang past the waist stay at the front. I think I first need to see how the dress behaves before I decide if I want to attach the straps at the shoulders or not. it is definitely a new feeling for me, wearing a harness inside. But it is not uncomfortable and it does seem to help carry the weight of the skirt fronts.

I won't lie to you, it is not easy to put on the dress with the harness. Since there is no zipper it can only go on from the top and you have to get your arms and head on the correct side of the harness shoulder straps or you find yourself half strangled(!) Perhaps I should sew the straps to the dress at the shoulders after all...

So what do you think? Has the harness saved this dress and made it wearable? Or will I just have to accept that this beautiful wool jersey was just too heavy for this design and move on? I also have the feeling that it makes me look fatter than I am, which is reason enough to donate it to a good cause.

I've been thinking so hard about this dress that I have lost all objectivity... so do let me know what you think. And tell it to me like it is, that is what I need to get better at this! The pattern is very nice though, will I be happier if I try it again with a lighter fabric? I think it is definitely worth a second attempt, don't you?

I entered a review of Burda 09-2015-107 at Pattern Review, so others can learn from my mistakes.

29 April 2016

What a flattering pencil skirt, Vogue 1656 by Donna Karan

After the heartache of a shattered pleather that marinated too long in my stash, I immediately took mental inventory of what other fragile fabrics in my stash might be deteriorating as we speak. One of the first fabrics to pop into my mind at that moment was this lovely pleather with a flower print.

Nothing like panic to focus the mind, eh? This fabric has only been sitting in my stash for 3 years but I don't want to blink and find myself 10 years later with another crumbling fabric in my hands... So I immediately picked a pattern and got to work and this is what came out:

My awkward pose notwithstanding, this is a very flattering skirt. The skirt pattern is from 1995 and from the pattern envelope you don't even notice the skirt. But it is by Donna Karan so we know we must look at the tech drawing. Indeed, then you see that the skirt has princess seams and a yoke, all working to produce that trademark flattering fit that Karan is well known for.

Unfortunately, this pattern comes in single sizes only! Was that the norm back in the 90's? I know that some people complain about too many lines on a pattern sheet, but my waist and hips don't share the same size so I really appreciate, no, need multiple sizes. My pattern for this skirt is size 14 only, so I had to add 0.5cm to each seam (princess seams as well as side seams) to bring the hips to my size. Easy enough to do, but I'm just saying, I like having multiple sizes right there on each pattern piece...

I do not dare to iron pleather, especially this one that is so thin. Instead, I used a gadget I bought recently to flatten real leather seams. The cylinder is really heavy and it worked very well on this pleather. I used it as if it was an iron, flattening each seam after it was sewn: first flat, then to one side and finally flattening the topstitching to "blend" the stitches with the fabric. And presto! all seams lay very nicely flat.

The skirt has a very tapered shape, but there are two kick pleats at back, one on each princess seam. They provide plenty of room for walking, so the skirt is very comfortable.

Here is a 360° view of the skirt. That weird pose in the middle photo is me trying to show you the skirt yoke... sigh! I didn't do a review at Pattern Review because there isn't much to say about this skirt, it's a classic design and it went together with no special efforts required.

I'm quite pleased with this skirt and I am especially pleased that I "saved" this fabric from withering to dust in my stash!

Now, before I go I want to show you something: my prize patterns from Eva Dress have arrived!

Actually, they got here some 3 weeks ago, but I've been traveling quite heavily for work, coming home just long enough to do a load of laundry and pack again. So only now I had time to take them out of the envelope. I think I know which one I want to make first...

Thanks again Eva Dress for this very generous prize!

09 April 2016

Burda 11-2013-117 and shattered dreams of Rick Owens

My entry at this year's Bargainista Fashionista contest at Pattern Review is a copy of an Alexander McQueen dress which I love and I've already worn twice. But this dress was not what I had first planned to make for the contest. Originally, I was planning to make a copy of a Rick Owens moto jacket that mixes leather (pleather?) with knits, both thin and chunky. Isn't it awesome?

Trying to figure out how to copy it, I searched everywhere for a photo with a front view (or any other view!) of this particular jacket, but alas, I came empty handed. I did find quite a few other Rick Owens jackets like the ones below. They all have the same large and wide open collar, and the tied half belt. The half belt in particular gives a very flattering shape because it essentially becomes two long triangles placed sideways emphasizing the waist.

It is possible that the jacket I wanted to copy has the body front and back made in the thick knit and only the sleeves in pleather (+ thin knit undersleeve). I cannot really tell from the photo that I have, but it doesn't matter. In my mind's eye my copy was always going to have only the fronts in the handknit. Oh, and yes, Rick Owens works only with black and greys, but I cannot live without color, so a royal-blue/deep purple is the most I was willing to compromise.

So here is my version. Turned out OK, right? If only... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

For my copy I used Burda 11-2013-117, an asymmetric short moto-jacket with peplum.

For the handknitted fronts I had the perfect yarn in my stash. A long time ago I made a simple bolero knitted jacket with it, but it turned out too boxy and I never finished it. Plus I also didn't like the unpolished texture that resulted from the uneven thickness of the yarn. Too "imperfect" I thought. But Rick Owens' pieces always have a punkish, rough coolness to them, and so this "imperfect" yarn would be perfect for this copy.

Since the fronts would be hand knit, I didn't want to use all four pattern pieces and have seams in the knitting. So, I combined them into a single pattern and knitted that shape, making sure to use increases-decreases and shortrows as needed to shape the fronts. Hence the "bubble" you can see where the bust goes. On Ravelry I kept notes of how exactly I knit the fronts, although they are probably not useful to anyone unless they have this precise yarn and jacket size.

For the rest of the jacket (the back, the sleeves and the half belts) I used a thin pleather in a lovely matching blue. I thought I was so lucky to find this matching pleather in my stash. "Good thing that I had saved it for the past 15 years", I thought. Yeah... and now you begin to realize where the problem comes in, don't you?

Indeed! Fake leather doesn't "keep" well. The plastic had completely dried up in those 15 years and the fabric just began to crumble every time I handled it. Ugh, the heartache! My lowest point came when I tried to convince myself that the shattered fabric added to the "punk vibe" I was going for. Sure...

So why did I finish it, since it is clearly not wearable like this? Well... On the practical side I did want to check how it would look, both the fit but also the combination of textures, and that tied closure. Now I know that I really do like it and so it will be worth trying to find a replacement fabric. On an emotional level though, I think that finishing the jacket was also my way of grieving for this fabric. And coming to terms with my fabric addiction. Sigh...

Does this kind of thing ever happen to any of you out there with large stashes? What other "surprises" can I expect after 20 years of collecting fabrics? Ah, well... I love my stash so we take the good with the bad, don't we?

I leave you with a view of all sides of the jacket, so you can see the nice shape of this pattern. And here is my review of Burda 11-2013-117 at Pattern Review.