Monday, August 25, 2014

Alison Swimsuit Parts 2 and 3: The Two Piece and The Pageant Suit

Vintage Simplicity 1302
I had so much fun with the Alison swimsuit for my daughter, that I just had to make another one.  I did promise her a two-piece, after all!  Swimsuit sewing is one area that you really can save money by making your own.  For the same price that I would have paid for a single swimsuit at a 40% discount, I got enough fabric and supplies to make two.  And they both fit my daughter, a feat that the department store is unable to accomplish!

The size adjuster is in a terribly distracting position...
Using the same navy polka dot and red spandex also used in the one-piece, I drafted a two piece version of the BurdaStyle Alison.  She wanted a retro design, so I used a photo of a vintage Simplicity swimsuit (1302, above) as our model for the top.  It is very similar to the design of the Alison, and required few changes from that pattern:
  • Increased the width and height of the bust insert
  • Instead of using the flat neckline of the Alison pattern, I sculpted the front for more of a sweetheart and added elastic.  I'm not sure that elastic is necessary -- my thoughts were that it was a deeper neckline, and it would add a little "security".
  • Increased the length of the shoulder strap, so it could be tied at the neck 
  • Added a band under the cups to secure the bottom of the top
  • Used firmer bust cups in this version, although I still had a hard time finding the best size locally. 
  • This version's top is lined in swimsuit lining -- the one-piece was self-lined, which seemed heavy to me
The bottom was super easy, as I just used the bottom 8 inches or so of the Alison and added elastic at the waist.  It is in the navy/white polka dot fabric.  I also lined the bottoms with swimsuit lining (the one-piece was lined only in the crotch and bust), which apparently made it more comfortable, as well as less transparent when wet.  Although I did not notice any "problems" with the original unlined torso of the first suit, which she wore on vacation at a water park.  

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the briefs, because my daughter left for college, taking the suit with her! I'm told "it is perfect."  It was worn on a float trip and for bluff jumping.  I'm glad I didn't know about the latter until after-the-fact.  

Suit #3 was a "pageant" swimsuit.  I don't have any pictures to share with her in it, as she doesn't want those on the internet, and she's probably right.  Let's just say that it really accentuates her positives.  
I had a hard time dressing the mannequin.
The bottom would just not go on easily!
We ordered some vibrant raspberry spandex from Spandex House several weeks in advance, but two days before the pageant it still hadn't arrived, so we bought more of the red from Hancock and I whipped up a slightly different one-piece version of Alison.
  • Neckline is similar to the two-piece top, with slightly more plunge
  • Leg openings are cut higher on the outside of the thigh
  • Lengthened the torso by about 2 inches, which better aligned the bust of the suit with her bust.  She does not have a long torso, so I didn't even consider doing this with the first version.  
  • Bought some power net that we considered using, but instead just used regular swimsuit lining turned so the direction of greatest stretch ran lengthwise instead of crosswise, which gave surprisingly more support than I anticipated.
It looked great on her, and I saved $200 from the price of the least expensive pageant suit that I could find.  

Back: It really is straight, and yes, I stole Tilly's Bow Back Nettie idea!
For these two suits, I used only my Bernina 930.  My serger doesn't do a cover stitch, so rather than switch back and forth, I kept it all on one machine.  I used one of the stretch stitches on the two-piece, but only the regular zig-zag on the third suit, which I think I liked best of all.

Stephanie begrudgingly participated in the county pageant, as a condition of getting some money for college from my dad.  His intention was for her to build confidence -- which it eventually did.  She won Crowd Favorite and Spirit of the Community awards (and second runner-up).  A huge shock to her, after hoping that "they don't announce last place."  She also met a lot of super sweet girls who gave her some great advice, since it was her first pageant (and most likely her last).  
Accepting her "Spirit of the Community" award
for exceptional community service.  Source
She really dragged her feet to prep, and the day before the event, she found out the loaner gown she had lined up was not available. Instead, she wore this year's hand made prom dress for her evening gown.  I was a little concerned that it didn't have any bling, but she fit in just fine with the older age group (surprisingly, the younger ones had the flashier dresses).

The event symbolized the end of an era for us, since she left for college the next morning.  It was a great send-off, especially when she saw a blue ribbon on her gluten free cookies! She was afraid she'd get last place on those, too.

At the Best of Show case. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Alison (Burda Style) Swimsuit

Keeping with the Need to Sew theme, my daughter NEEDED a swimsuit.  We shopped RTW first, even dragging little brother along to add to everyone's torture.  After trying dozens of suits, we found nothing that gave her decent coverage in the chest.  

Swimsuit shopping can be so brutal!  During a good cry in the Dillard's dressing room, I assured her that I could make her something to FIT.  So we headed across the parking lot to Hancock Fabrics.  Within a few minutes, girlfriend was smiling again, having found a super cute navy/white polka dot spandex that she paired with a cheery red.

"Sure, I can sew a suit that fits you!"  Although I never have sewn one before, I remembered an email Burda Style sent me advertising their Alison swimsuit (formerly free) for $3.99 with a free webinar.  I've never taken a Burda Style webinar, but I do love Craftsy, so it sounded like a great way to make a first swimsuit.  Never mind that Stephanie wanted a two piece, I really wanted to make this one!
Additional length in the torso would have better aligned the bust.

First, my quick review of the pattern:
  • The instructions that come with the pattern are minimal and steps are a bit out of order (IMO).  I have read that the initial free pattern had no instructions, so this is an improvement.
  • There are no notches.  Most of the pieces are fairly easy to figure out, but not all. For anyone who has made a swimsuit before, it's likely not a problem.  I created a few match points for myself, which did help keep things straight.  If you're pattern matching, take care to walk the pattern pieces and mark notches. 
  • Many of the pattern pieces should be cut on the fold, but it is not stated as such.  I caught one mistake (crotch piece), but missed the back strap, which would have been way too short to tie a bow (pic below) anyway.  My version has a hook that connects two shorter straps, instead.
  • One pattern piece is not labeled, but it was easy to figure out it was the front tab.
  • No marks or suggestions for gathering the bust insert.  I followed the directions of the webinar, but looking at the final product, I should have gathered more fabric.
  • I missed the instruction to add 3/8" SA to the legs for elastic.  Since 5/8" SA were already included, I'm not sure why this wasn't already done.  My daughter is fine with the higher leg, but if you want a more retro leg, add 3/8".
  • Although it is a print-at-home PDF, there are less than 10 pieces of paper to paste together and tracing was quick, because the pattern pieces are not complex.
  • It's a flattering final product.  I'd definitely make it again, even if I cursed it several times during the first version.
  • There is very little elastic used, only around the legs.  All other edges use fabric banding.  In my opinion, this is a more comfortable option.  I think I may have over-elasticated the back a tiny bit.
My back strap was only about 5" long and definitely too short for a bow.

As for the "webinar", it was more of a narrated film strip, nothing like a Craftsy class. I can't complain too much, since I paid only $3.99 for pattern and class, and it did give pretty good instructions to help me figure out how to put the suit together correctly.

Given that we regard this first version of our swimsuit a wearable muslin, it came out pretty darn cute. I need to add length to the torso, and it could still use more fabric at the bust.  My "FBA" was nothing more than forcing the size L bust insert into the size M front/back.  We really needed an XL or an XXL (not included, so I will need to draft it).  That's why toiles were invented, non?

This is a very flattering swimsuit style, and the process made me realize that swimsuit construction is not that scary.  I used my serger for part of the construction, and my Bernina 930 to baste some seams and apply the leg elastic.  

We may never shop for swimsuits again!  On to the two piece...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A "Need to Sew" Basis: McCall's 6124

In preparation for my daughter's Prom dinner in late April, which was soon followed by a graduation party in mid-May, my sewing room was stripped of sewing materials, boxed up and stored in my husband's home office.  Okay, so the sewing room is also our dining room.
I completely understand why someone would want to get rid of this mess.
Husband then told me his great idea for creating a sewing room all my own, made possible by a series of moves: (1) building a new home office on the first floor, (2) moving my daughter's room to the old office, (3) moving my son to my daughter's old room and (4) creating a wonderful sewing spot for me in my son's old room.  "So, you may as well leave everything boxed up until we're ready to move."  Which would be late August, at the earliest. As slow as we move, it would probably be next August.

Although slightly intrigued by the idea of designing a perfect sewing room from scratch, I really just wanted to SEW NOW, but with my supplies and tools stored upstairs, I'm restricted to what really NEEDS to be sewn.

Luckily, my daughter's summer job required a button-down shirt.  Her manager suggested she buy it in the young men's department at Penney's.  What!?  We even had trouble finding a well fitting button-down shirt in the ladies' section: either too baggy in the shoulders or too tight in the chest.

Mom to the rescue!  I picked through the boxes stored on the second floor to find my scissors, seam ripper, measuring tape and pins.  Just the essentials.  We found McCalls 6124, which is not a button-down shirt, but that's an easy fix.  It doesn't have a yoke, or a shaped bottom hem, but it does have princess seams.
McCall's 6124
I have never been comfortable wearing a fitted dress shirt.  They always feel tight across my back and chest, and usually baggy around my waist.  I ordered some stretch shirting to alleviate the tight factor.  We were given a few approved colors, all of which were pastels, none of which are the most flattering on Stephanie, who looks better in bolder colors.  Rules are rules, though.

Since this was to be my first button-up/button-down, I ordered some relatively cheap fabric from Denver Fabrics, which was rather disappointing.  First of all, it has a very stiff drape, a "spongy" feel, and wrinkles easily.  Most importantly, and most annoying of all, there were many different shades of baby blue to be found on the one contiguous piece of fabric I received.  Even though I cut it using the "with nap" layout, the two back pieces are clearly different colors.
Left center back is a few shades darker than right center back.
I wasn't completely pleased with the outcome of the shirt, but I'm not sure if it's due to the pattern, my FBA or the poor quality shirting fabric.  I am willing to give the pattern another go, next time with some nicer quality shirting from Mood.  [That fabric is took too long to ship, and her summer job is winding down, so I won't be making another one for her].  I wouldn't mind trying one of the longer styles for myself -- they have a nice flare, and I imagine they would look cute with leggings.  If I wore leggings.  Never mind.
Isn't it cute?  I may learn to like leggings, after all.
What would I change next time? Princess seams: there is built-in ease on the front piece, that I was not able to steam out.  It's not enough ease that it looks shirred, only enough to make it look like you don't know how to sew.  Next time, I'd either increase it or remove some.
Buckled princess seam
The barrel sleeve feature is not per the pattern -- I accidentally cut one sleeve too short (don't ask) -- so this is my fix.  I actually like it though.

I thought there was too much ease in the sleeve cap, at least for this fabric.  If I make it again, I will reduce the ease, or make sure I can steam it out.  It just didn't look right to me.

Other changes I made, were to shape the bottom hem, flat-felled the seams and edgestitched/topstitched the collar, band and plackets.

Used a RTW shirt as a guide for the shape of the hem.
The pattern is a straight bottom hem.
Even with the problems, it looks really cute on Stephanie, and fits her better than the RTW shirts that we found.  Her co-workers like it as well.  The ladies wanted to know where she found such a nice fitting shirt!

This project intrigued my husband, in terms of the stretch shirting. "Can you make a dress shirt for me?"  He also ordered some from Mood.  Perhaps I will soon have an important enough project to get the rest of my supplies moved back to the dining room!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Simple Gifts

I have mentioned that I sew on my grandmother's Bernina 930, but haven't mentioned her skills as a seamstress. The 930 was the last sewing machine she owned, and an object of pride for her.

Her pride became such a joy to me!
I don't remember exactly when I carted her 930 from western Kansas back to Arkansas, but it was several years ago.  My aunt spent several months talking her out of the machine that had sat unused for years. It was painful for her to give up, even to me, her only granddaughter.  At that point, several strokes had left her without much control of one side of her body and her eyesight was too poor to even read. I wondered if her reluctance was really her hope for another chance to sew again.

After a few years, she would just laugh when my mother told her about "the beautiful things" I made with her machine, because she no longer remembered owning a sewing machine.  It was so sad for me to think that she had truly forgotten more than I ever knew about the art of sewing.

Nanny made great fitting, stylish outfits for me.  There was one outfit in particular that stands out: a solid orange knit skirt and a coordinating striped tank top. I loved it.  I'm sure my eight-year-old tomboy self wore it out.  It rivaled the best RTW of the time, which we all know was much higher quality in the early 70's. I normally hated skirts and dresses, but I loved that one.

My mom still brags about the formal gowns her mother made her, with nothing more than a description of what she envisioned; no pattern necessary, maybe not even a picture.  Nanny would grab some newsprint, draft her own pattern and it would turn out beautifully.  I imagined a true fairy godmother at work.
My grandmother's family, sans her eldest brother (she is center back).
Most of them were adults with their own families by the time this one was taken.
She survived all her siblings, by many years.
Nanny grew up during the depression, the oldest girl in a family of eight children.  She and her three sisters learned to sew early.  As an adult, she would window shop after-hours with her sketch book to knock-off the latest fashions.

However, her extreme attention to crafting perfection is the reason my mother never taught me to sew.  My mom's painful memories of ripping out imperfect seams, and sobbing at the sewing machine under the tutelage of her mother prevented her from exposing me to something similar.  I had to wait for my seventh grade Home Ec teacher to show me how to thread a machine.

My memories of my grandmother run much broader and deeper than sewing.  She was a wonderful lady, with a great sense of humor, who worked hard her whole life, much of it as her family's breadwinner.  She was a kind Sunday school teacher, always incorporating some sort of craft into the first-graders' lessons.  A wonderful storyteller, she fascinated me with her tales of playing hooky from kindergarten, walking to the river to talk to the fishermen by herself and hopping freight trains to travel from one side of the city to the other (also alone).  She worked as a riveter on B29s in WWII.  An exceptional athlete, she played on a national soccer team and held the high jump record at her high school for decades.  She helped me see how important forgiveness was, most of all to the one doing the forgiving.

Me, my mom and Nanny.  A long time ago.  Nanny is radiant,
because she doesn't have to worry about me being an old maid anymore.

Nanny's battle with dementia and a failing body ended last week, at 93.  I had already missed her for a very long time. I will be forever grateful for her many gifts, always reminded of them all when I sew.