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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.

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.