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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.

13 February 2016

I made a snake print coat, can you believe it?

Let me start you with a photo of said coat before I offer my apologies for being away for over a year (gulp!).

Okay, here I go... Life has been difficult this past year. Sewing has been a refuge, so there's been plenty of sewing going on, but blogging has always been difficult for me. In trying to give myself the room to be able to cope with the challenges in my life, I didn't want to push myself to blog. Then, this week, dear, sweet Ruth from Core Couture left a comment on my last blog post and it made me so happy to hear from her. And this made me realize one thing I had forgotten: that being part of a community is also a great source of strength and support. And so here I am.

It would have been even better if I had finished the coat in time to join Anne's fabulous annual Jungle January event, but tiny steps, peeps, tiny steps...

So, about the coat... the fabric is a lovely and warm plush beige on the inside, laminated with "scales" in a wonderful imitation of snakeskin. As you can see in the photo below, the fabric is relatively thick and full of body, so I needed a pattern with few seams and minimal darts.

Enter Vogue 2590 by Claude Montana. He is one of my favorite designers from the 90's and I especially love his coats because they can be quite dramatic and somehow still timeless.

This particular pattern has minimal shaping so it seemed the perfect pairing for the fabric.

The only modification I made to the pattern was to narrow the bottom half of the sleeves. The technical drawing seems to imply that the sleeves are simply straight. The model in the red coat on the envelope front has her arms folded such that it is easy to miss the fact that in fact the sleeves open up into somewhat of a bell shape. Luckily this was very obvious in the muslin and very easy to change. I just tapered the pattern from the elbow to the wrist by 3.0 cm on each seam (6.0cm all around). I was careful not to eliminate the extra ease on one side of the seam that gives the sleeve a nice curve to match the natural arm shape.

I also did some things differently than indicated in the instructions. All these changes were adaptations for the special fabric that I am using. The most obvious difference is that I used lapped seams. Both because I wanted to minimize the bulk and also to add a bit of visual interest to the coat. The fabric doesn't ravel, so I cut the edges of the fabric at an angle to expose the hairy underside and offer a nice contrast to the dark snakeskin print. I was also worried about bulk so I pondered a while about whether or not to keep the front facings. In the end I kept them and I tacked them to the pocket linings to force them to stay folded to the inside. I also eliminated the lining since that gorgeous plush side of the fabric had to remain exposed.

For the collar I made two major changes. The snakeskin print is a bit scratchy because of the plastified "scales" and I didn't want to have that against my skin. So the inside under collar is sewn with the plush (hence reverse) side of the fabric facing out. For the main collar piece I decided not to make it of double fabric. I thought two layers would be too stiff so it is just a single piece of fabric. Oh, and I just realized that I forgot to cut the seam allowance off at the bottom of the collar. So the collar you see is actually 5/8" longer than it should be. Hmmm... I'm not sure that I will cut that off, I kinda like this "tall" collar.

I also eliminated any hems at the sleeves and the coat bottom. I simply cut the edge carefully with my sharpest scissors and left the edge raw. I considered doing the same angled cut as on the seams to expose the contrast fur side, but I decided not to do this in the end. I worry that the edge will be too fragile, plus the contrast wouldn't always be visible since the hems are not always seen against a darker background.

You might have noticed that there are no buttons or snaps to close the coat. Well, the thing is... the coat doesn't close over my bum! The muslin was just right, but it was in a wool fabric which obviously has some give. This laminated fabric has zero give and it looks obviously strained if I try to hold it closed below the waist... So I'll just have to pretend that I am super chic like those fashionistas that are always getting photographed with their coats open...

The back has an inverted pleat to allow for movement. The fabric obviously doesn't make crisp folds, so I had to edgestitch the pleat folds to keep them nicely shaped. This will probably reduce the life of the coat since I expect that the plastic film of the "scales" will start peeling off at this sharp edge. But leaving the soft fold didn't look nice, so I chose to sacrifice longevity for looks.

One last thing I want to mention is the darts. The coat itself is only shaped via the seams, but the sleeves have darts at the shoulder. This dart is absolutely necessary to give enough fabric at the upper arm yet not have too much of this thick fabric to ease into the armhole. Can you imagine? It would be impossible to ease this thick, unforgiving fabric! Even with the dart I still have to ease a bit of the sleeve into the armhole and I was not always successful. There is some rippling going on on both sleeves. Infuriatingly the rippling happened on the front in one sleeve and at the back on the other. I think this happened because of the fur pile and the different sewing directions. The rippling seems to have happened on the side where I was sewing against the pile, which means the fabric was fighting the sewing machine. It now occurs to me that maybe I could have put some tissue paper between the fabric and the feed dogs to see if that helped. Oh well. Note to self for next time. Oh yeah, so back to the darts... overlapped seams and darts don't mix well. I thought about sewing the darts normally and cutting them open on the inside. But on the sample I made the fold that is created at a normal seam made the fabric lay funny at the sleeve cap. Plus there was an obvious difference compared to the two other seams at that point. So I went ahead with lapped-seam darts. I used the technique that I learned on my Donna Karan coat.

I leave you with a view of the inside of the coat. Don't you just want to run your hand up and down all that soft, hairy fabric? Hmmmmm...

My review of Vogue 2590 by Montana is here at Pattern Review.