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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.

29 March 2016

Copying an Alexander McQueen dress with Vogue 8828

Woohoo! It's time for my absolute favorite contest: the Bargainista Fashionista contest at Pattern Review. This year I've made my own version of a deceptively simple Alexander McQueen dress. Here's the original and my version.

To make my version I used pattern Vogue 8828, a basic semi-fitted dress with princess seams. In fact, this is the same pattern that I had used for this contest last time when I copied a Fendi dress. I guess I really love this pattern! This time I used view A, sleeveless with an A-line skirt.

The original McQueen dress has a half-mullet skirt on the right, made by the tartan underskirt as it lengthens towards the back. This allows the pretty tartan to show both its right and wrong side, but it means that the dress (or at least that portion of the skirt) could not be lined.

The midthigh front is too short for me, since I always must cover my knees. Also I don't like mullet-skirts, let alone half-mullets. So I lengthened the dress and made a conventional even hem all around. I pondered for a while whether I wanted to keep the same proportions of the original dress, where the tartan underskirt is only a thin sliver at the front.

Instead, I decided that I liked how the tartan underskirt starts around the place where the hands hang. Since I lengthened the skirt quite a bit, this means that my tartan underskirt is a lot bigger in proportion to the rest of the dress, than in the original McQueen dress. Here is a full 360 view around the dress.

The dress was pretty easy to make (until I came to the underskirt). I cut a full lining but I only had 1.5yd of the black stretch wool twill which wasn't enough for the full dress with A-line skirt. This meant that I didn't have the luxury of making a full dress and then cutting the curve out from the complete dress. Instead, I marked the pattern pieces (being careful not to mix left side and right side!) with the cut-out curve. I then constructed the dress as normal.

I went ahead and finished it off completely including the armholes (finished with bias binding) and an invisible zipper at the back seam. At this point I had a complete and finished lined dress, except that there was a hole on the skirt and through this hole you could see the wrong side of the lining (sorry, I forgot to take a photo!).

The cut-off section of the skirt is of course cut off on the diagonal, in other words, on the bias. I remembered that for my Christopher Kane dress such a hem was very unstable and I ended up using a silk organza underlining to stabilize it. This wool twill is too heavy for organza so instead I used a purchased fusible interfacing band ("Vlieseline vormband" in Dutch). The fusible interfacing is reinforced with a chain stitch to keep it from stretching, which is ideal for what I wanted. I applied this band at the hem all around the cut off edge of the skirt.

And here's where the fun began. How to attach a tartan underskirt? I didn't want to make a full second skirt. It would have been too heavy and a waist of pretty fabric. Plus you can see in the original that the tartan doesn't is cut on a different grain. Beyond those observations I didn't have a clue, so I just did what seemed reasonable to me. In other words, I was just sewing by the seat of my pants! So I'll tell you what I did but I have no clue if this is how it's supposed to be done. You've been forewarned!

I decided to attach the tartan underskirt to the lining. I marked the cut-off curve of the skirt on the lining and I then marked a parallel line to that 10cm above (under the outer skirt). I chose 10cm because it seemed like a good enough depth to ensure that the lining wouldn't show as the skirt moved around in normal wear. I then measured the length of this curve and sighed with relief when I realized that it was just a few cm shorter than the width of my tartan wool (157cm wide). I also measured the height of the underskirt from the highest point on the curve in the lining to the hem of the lining (47cm). To this measurement I added 10cm just to make sure that I could have a seam allowance and a deep enough hem that could go at least 1.5cm lower than the lining hem.

I then cut a piece of tartan wool that was 57cm long and the full width of the fabric. I finished both edges with the serger and sewed one of the cut edges (i.e. the crossgrain) to the lining along the curve I had marked.

Yup, this means that the cross grain of the tartan is sewn along the curve on the lining, which is mostly on the bias! I worried a lot about whether the lining would be strong enough. Before I attached the tartan to the lining I sewed a row of stitches along the marked curve on the lining. This allowed me to feel where the tartan should be sewn, but also it was meant to be a "reinforcement". When attaching the tartan to the lining, I made sure that the stitching line was always a millimeter or two above this reinforcement line, so that the weight of the tartan would be shared by two seams. I also thought I could add a twill tape on top of the tartan edge and attach it with one or two more rows of stitches. But then I worried that this would be too much. I think I'll just see how the lining holds up. If I see signs of stress I might still do the twill tape thing.

I then put the dress on the dress form and marked the hem all around the tartan piece. The resulting shape is a sort of half circle but a bit more oval.

Here is me trying to show you the various layers of the skirt + underskirt + lining. I hope the photo is not too dark for you to see.

I've now worn it to work for a day and can report that the lining seems to be holding the weight of the tartan with no signs of stress. Phew!

I leave you with another set of full 360 pics. These are darker but you might still get a good sense of how the dress hangs and moves.

As I mentioned at the top, I entered the dress in the Bargainista Fashionista contest, so here is my review of Vogue 8828 at Pattern Review.

Bargainista Fashionista 2016

15 March 2016

I was the random prize winner!

Little Red Dress Contest

Woohoo! I cannot believe my good luck! My ruffled red dress was the random prize winner in the Little Red Dress contest at Pattern Review.

The prize was a gift certificate for Eva Dress patterns. Eva Dress was the sponsor of this contest and I have to say that their prizes are very generous. Given their pattern prices, this gift certificate was enough for at least 2 or 3 patterns from their site. And that is definitely a good thing because they have so many beautiful patterns that I would not have been able to choose only one.

If you have never visited them, you must check out Eva Dress right now. They sell reproductions of vintage patterns from the 1860's to the 1950's. I have never before bought a pattern from them, but I had my eye on a few of them already for a while. Now I get the chance to try them out, woohoo!

So here is what I ordered:

A dress from 1937 with a lovely gathered front.

A pattern for Claire McCardell's famous wrap dress from 1957.

And an incredible fur-trimmed coat pattern from 1929. This coat has been made before, by Jo Ann of Louisville, KY. You can see her review of this coat at Pattern Review as well. It won the 2013 Eva Dress Pattern Contest and I can see why, what a fabulous coat this is.

That fur collar is stuffed! How cool is that? I'm actually a bit intimidated by this pattern, but also quite keen to try my hand at it and see what comes out. That's one of the attractions of vintage patterns, isn't it, trying out things that you just don't see in modern clothes anymore.

I can't wait to get my Eva Dress patterns in the mail. Am I a lucky girl or what? Many thanks Pattern Review and Eva Dress!

P.S. The three pattern images above are taken from the Eva Dress website. They remain the property of Eva Dress.

06 March 2016

Burda 11-2013-133, a dress with a sunburst of darts

Ponte dresses are the workhorses of my office wardrobe, because they can be so comfortable while still looking presentable. For my next ponte dress I wanted it to be in a solid color, but there had to be some interest to it so that I didn't just look like a giant cylinder.

Well, I think we have mission accomplished with Burda 11-2013-133. The "sunburst" of darts all radiating from a single point at front and back fit the bill perfectly. I made option B, without the stand up collar.

I actually missed this dress the first time when I leafed through the Burda Style magazine because it is photographed in a busy print knit that hides the unusual darts. But then Beth from Sunny Gal Studio made it for a client and she highly recommended it for being so flattering. And as usual she is right about this pattern.

Burda 11-2013-133 is a plus sized pattern, so it starts at size 44. I typically make size 40 at top and 42 at bottom, so I knew I would have to grade the pattern down. Since I was also worried that it might be too tight I only graded it down one size, to 42. That turned out to be a bit too loose I think. I guess I should have made a muslin, but I never do for ponte knits because... well, I don't have a crappy ponte sitting in my stash waiting to be used for a muslin. And using actual muslin or a non-stretch fabric obviously wouldn't work. So, I'm not sure how to make muslins for ponte garments short of actually buying extra fabric. How do you guys do it when you sew with ponte knits? Do you just dive right in like I did or do you make a muslin? And if you do, what do you use? In any case, my grey dress is still quite wearable, so I'm not too sorry.

The radiating darts are the star of the dress and any mismatched darts would be literally front and center for everyone to see. So no pressure there... I am getting good at matching seams with the sewing machine but with a serger is a very different story! Not wanting to risk it at all, I first machine basted all the darts and the seams where they meet. I used a contrasting color thread so that I could easily see it and ensure that the serger sewed on top of it, keeping the seams matched. This worked like a charm to match the seams with the serger, hooray! The annoying bit came when I tried to pull out the basting thread, since being sewn over made it stubbornly difficult to remove. Oh, well. Small price to pay I say.

Still, my darts don't all truly match at a single point. That is because the fabric is somewhat thick (as most pontes are) and at the very center you have 8 layers of fabric! I graded them as best I could, and I think I fared relatively well. The millimeter differences are only visible if you really inspect the seam from close up and let me tell you, nobody is coming *that* close to my belly button!

After the radiating darts, my favorite feature of this dress is the slit neckline. Because the slit is rather deep, my head fits through the neckline with no problem at all. And since all the seams are stretchy I can skip the zipper altogether, woohoo!

Since I get cold at the office and to dress it up a bit, I made a knit cardigan-slash-jacket to go with it. I used a thin knit in tomato red for the wonderful contrast that it brings to the grey column of the dress. The pattern is McCall's 6844. It was voted Best Pattern of 2013 at Pattern Review and with 130 reviews I think everything has already been said about this pattern. I made view C, with the peplum that is longer in back than at front. Oh, okay, I'll say one thing about this pattern. Don't be tempted to skip the interfacing on the collar. I am always looking for shortcuts that I can get away with but leaving the interfacing out of this jacket will just end in tears. The collar hangs infinitely better when it is interfaced.

Ah, and a note for myself. I have a pear shaped body, so my shoulders are narrower than my hips and I always make a size smaller on top than on bottom. But with this jacket, I had to use size M all around as usual but go down to size S at the shoulders. The problem was not that the shoulder seam stretched out because I sewed it with a strip of selvedge precisely to keep it from stretching. Either the pattern has wider shoulders than usual, or perhaps the collar opens easily and pushes the shoulder point further out. In any case, going to the size S shoulder was a very quick fix.

BTW, if you are wondering what is going on with the brick background in my photos, the answer is yes, it is photoshopped. I am living in a new house now, and I am still looking for the best place to take blog photos. Instead of that plain brick wall that I used to have before, the one I have now has a window, a hanging plant and a door, all of which I find distracting. So I've copied areas of brick and pasted them over these offending features. Hence the weirdness that you see. But I think I'll keep looking for a better place to photograph because in addition to looking weird, all that photoshopping takes too much time. We'd rather be sewing instead, wouldn't we?!

Here is my review of Burda 11-2013-133 at Pattern Review.

28 February 2016

A little red dress, Butterick 5917

I joined... Little Red Dress Contest ...the Little Red Dress Contest at Pattern Review!

Nothing like a PR contest to get me going. Butterick 5917 had been on my short list for a while but I was worried about how the ruffles would behave. For me ruffles are a source of fascination but also fear because I definitely don't want to look like a piñata. Who does! I once made a Burda ruffled dress that I couldn't bring myself to wear for that very reason. Thankfully, I was reassured by looking at all the very nice versions of Butterick 5917 at Pattern Review, especially LlanoGirl's version in blue linen.

So, motivated by the contest, I took the plunge and I am very glad I did.

I made it in a wool that has a clear stripey structure, and also a boucle surface. The fabric is almost too thick for the ruffles, but I managed to trim and grade all the seams enough that the ruffle seam doesn't look too bulky. I was careful when ironing not to mark the seam allowances on the front panels. It is also not uncomfortable on the inside, in fact I didn't feel it at all when I wore it to work on Friday. Mmmmhh... now looking at the close up photo maybe I need to use a couple of prick stitches to hold those ruffles a bit closer to the middle panel at the bottom. Or perhaps it is just the angle of the photo...

I did make a couple of modifications: my usual sway back adjustment at the horizontal seam at back. I also would have converted the back slit into a kick pleat since I prefer the latter because they hang better, but I forgot (happens often around here...). I also shortened the bodice (front an back) by 2.0cm. I did this under the armhole, so as to not change its shape. I did this to bring the horizontal seam closer to the underbust line. I find that this is most flattering on me. After a day of wearing it I think I could have raised this seam by another 1-2cm further (note to self for the next version). Having raised this seam I then added 3.0cm to the skirt length (so I lengthened the skirt by only 1.0cm).

The short sleeves (version A) are supposed to be lined in self fabric. But my fabric is a bit itchy because of the wool and boucle structure, so I lined them with lining fabric instead. I really liked how these sleeves were drafted with a soft curve over the arm and not too much fabric at the under arm. And I also liked how nicely finished the hem is without having to hem them by hand.

The entire dress is lined, but I didn't have enough of one fabric so I took a page out of my friend Beth's sewing book and mixed lining remnants. A red silky polyester was the best color match so I used it for the sleeves and fronts in case a bit of the lining ever shows. A stripy red rayon with a bit of elasthan became the lining of the skirt for maximum comfort. Unfortunately by this point the bright reds were gone so I had to use a burgundy georgette to line one of the bodice back pieces. Not too pretty but I'm feeling virtuous for being so thrifty!

This Friday I wore the dress to work, but because it is rather cold (by our standards, 2-5C) I wore a turtleneck underneath as well as tights and boots. I wanted to wear a cardigan or jacket also, but I realized my only chocolate-brown jacket (RTW) has a mandarin collar which does not go well with the ruffles of this dress. So, I guess I will need to make a matching jacket for it one of these days.

My review of Butterick 5917 is here at Pattern Review.

20 February 2016

An (almost) ideal raincoat for cycling in the Netherlands

I live in the Netherlands and everyone knows this is a country of tulips, cycling and... lots of rain. The last two in particular are an unfortunate combination. My daily commute involves cycling 20min from home to the train station. The daily exercise keeps me healthy and I cycle through lovely scenery so I don't complain too loudly.

But this regimen does require special gear. My dresses always, but always, have a slit at the back to accommodate the bicycle seat. I wear a rain hat because I haven't yet mastered the art of cycling with one hand while gracefully holding an umbrella against gale winds with the other (many of them do! Especially teenage girls, and it is amazing to watch!). Me? I wear waterproof outer clothing. Notice that I didn't say "a raincoat". That's because the Dutch typically wear a plastified poncho/henley and matching plastified over-pants. Yeah...

When I wear pants to work I wear these too and they sure keep me dry. But now I wear skirts or dresses 99% of the time and bunching my skirt inside the plastic over-pants is neither pretty nor comfortable to say nothing of the wrinkles. I usually wear my beloved Michael Kors raincoat, but it is sorely lacking a few improvements. So I have longed for "The Perfect Raincoat". One that is long enough to cover beyond my knees when I bike. That magically stays closed despite the wind. And that has sleeves that are long enough to still cover my wrists while my arms are outstretched to reach the handlebars.

Meet "The Perfect Raincoat, v. 1.0".

The pattern is Sewaholic's Robson coat, so beloved throughout the sewing blogosphere. I have been wearing it regularly since last November and it does its job very well thanks to the few simple adjustments I made to turn it into the perfect biking-in-the-rain gear.

I lengthened the sleeves by a good 4.0 cm so that my wrists will stay dry (and warm) even with outstretched arms. This makes the sleeves too long when I'm not on the bike but that's ok. I just fold the hem to the inside when I'm not on the bike. That's why I left the tab placement at the original point on the sleeve. It looks weird when the sleeve is at its full length but that is only when I am biking and hopefully I go by fast enough that nobody really notices.

To keep my knees fully covered when I am biking requires two different things. First, I lengthened the coat to bring the hem about 5cm below the bottom of my knees. The Robson is already pretty long, so I only added 4 cm more. To lengthen it I simply continued the seam lines in the same shape, meaning that the A-line shape continues to a larger hem circumference (mine is 185cm). I thought about redrawing the seam shapes to keep the original circumference at the new hem, but more room is better when cycling.

The second adjustment is a very little addition. So little in fact that my camera refuses to focus, so I cannot show you pictures. It is just a simple hook on the right side of the coat at the hem. This hook grabs a small thread tab sewn along the seam of the left side of the coat. This simple little addition is all it takes to keep the bottoms of the coat from flapping in the wind allowing rain to sneak in.

On the inside the coat is underlined throughout with a B&W Vlisco cotton. The outer fabric is coated on the back with some rubber-ish layer that is very sticky. When I iron the cotton over this rubberish layer (with a very cool iron!) the two layers stick together almost as if they were fused. Although this is not permanent it still helps the pieces keep a nice shape together. Instead of finishing the seam edges with bias binding as per the instructions, I just cut the cotton pieces 3/4" wider on the vertical seams and encased the edges of the outer fabric with that. This treatment looks nearly the same as bias bound edges but it saved me the effort to make bias tape. Still it was a tedious process because each seam edge required two passes with the machine and there are lots of seams on this princess coat! I then ironed all the seams open and skipped the topstitching which would have made additional holes in my waterproof fabric. (I did topstitch on the edges of the fronts, flaps, tabs, hems and collar, since I figured those places have another layer of waterproof fabric underneath.) Under very heavy rain water does come in through the seams, so it would have been even better to cover them in some waterproof polymer. Note to self for v. 2.0.

In addition to giving the thin outer fabric some nice body, another advantage of this cotton underlining is that it helps the coat "breath" a little, which is very welcome while biking, especially if I am running late and need to "step on it". As a final bonus the cotton is definitely not slippery so it keeps the coat fronts from sliding too easily from my legs as I bike.

The one disadvantage of the cotton underlining is precisely that because it is not slippery it is a bit difficult to remove the sleeves when taking off the coat. Especially if I wear a fuzzy sweater underneath I end up flipping the sleeves out just trying to take off the coat.

I am very happy with my Robson trench coat. It is a practical garment that does everything I wanted from it without sacrificing style. All in all however, for my next raincoat I won't be using this pattern for two main reasons: first, the princess seams to the armhole at the front of the coat create some tight curves that require serious easing. As you can see from all that puckering, my ability to ease laminated fabric leaves much to be desired. Even if I get better at it, the fabrics used for waterproof raincoats will never ease as nicely as a wool. I think it is better if I just find a raincoat pattern with princess seams to the shoulder.

Also, the Robson pattern has a single piece collar. This causes the collar to fold unattractively. I think that a two-piece collar with an undercollar would solve this problem, so I will look for that in my next raincoat pattern.

Finally, I leave you with a picture of the buttons. It doesn't always happen that I find the perfect matching buttons already in my stash! Unfortunately I only had 8 of them, so I had to skip the buttons on the shoulder tabs and at the back flap. In fact I also used different buttons under the front flaps, since nobody sees those even when the coat is closed. Hoooray for making it work with what you have!

My review of the Robson coat is here at Pattern Review.