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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Last Prom Dress

Did I say that I was sad this was the last prom dress?  Let's just say I have developed a great deal of admiration for professional seamstresses who must deal with fussy clients in order to make a living.  And I'm glad to say I am finished.

In my opinion, the dress came out lovely.  The "client" did tell me that it was her favorite dress when all was said and done.



We used Simplicity 1416, since it was closest to the inspiration piece, combining the halter straps of view B with the skirt/flounce of view A.  I made only slight modifications to it, keeping the princess seams rather than going with the bias-cut design of the Narcisso Rodriguez dress.  Although I think it is in my wheelhouse to draft it, we just didn't have the time, or the right fabric locally available.


I highly recommend this pattern.  It required minimal fitting work (FBA and swayback adjustment were all I did) and had pretty good instructions (though I changed the order of the construction and veered from them frequently due to some changes I imposed).  I can see myself using this to make a short sundress, as it's very flattering and easy to put together.

My alterations:
 - I flattened the sweetheart neckline to mimic the inspiration dress.  This may be have only been necessary due to the FBA, which increased the "roundness" from the original pattern.  We wanted to keep a slight sweetheart neckline, though.
 - Used Susan Khalje's method (from her Bridal Couture book) of easing the seam allowance of the front neckline to tighten the fit against the upper bust.  I had never tried this, but it worked great.  
Close-up of neckline. Dad was the photographer this year, while I made dinner.
 - Although the pattern does include instructions for boning the lining at 6 seams, I went further with a 15-stay corselette, and a waist stay.  Wanted it to move with her, and I think it gave her a close, but comfortable fit.
View of corselette and waist stay.
 - Lengthened the flounce by 2 inches to accommodate long legs -- more volume there versus lengthening the dress above the knee, so she would have more room to walk.
 - Tapered the dress between the hip line to the lower seam in order to get more of a "mermaid" look (took about 2 inches out of the circumference, mostly from the side seams and front seams, leaving the back alone).


Don't let crappy lining ruin your project! We bought all the fabric at a chain store. Of course they didn't carry silk, but they didn't even carry Bemberg lining.  The awful polyester lining reminded me of nylon windbreaker fabric from the 1970s.  I expected it to fray, which it did.  It was also very difficult to sew, snagging and bunching up even though I used very fine thread and a microtex needle.  I'm just glad it doesn't show anywhere.  It was named "hang free" lining, but it clung mercilessly to everything.

Surprisingly, the polyester crepe-back satin that we used for the fashion fabric was very nice to sew with and I'm pleased with the final results.  As soon as I cut it and stay-stitched it, I overlocked the edges, because I was afraid it would fall apart before I could sew the pieces together.  I ended up trimming the serged edges with a pinking blade before lining it.  Once the project was complete, I caught myself thinking that I may actually sew with this fabric again.  

I think this was my daughter's favorite dance, even though she was exhausted.  Her day started around 4 AM, since her chamber orchestra was kicking off an early morning business meeting (her reward was getting to hear Madeline Albright speak).  And of course the day didn't end until Sunday morning.   We hosted dinner for six at our house -- three girls and three boys, all friends, all great kids.  I'm sure it was a night she will never forget.


An outtake of the fun group.

My atelier was contained in several bankers boxes and packed away, so that the dining room was relatively neat for a big dinner.  I've promised no big projects until I finish the outdoor curtains I started last summer.  Only one is complete.  Seven more to go.  The plan is to finish before the graduation party.



As for the "last dress" sadness, I suspect there will be more.  My daughter auditioned and was accepted to the university's orchestra for next year, so she will need a formal black dress.  Can't borrow mine anymore, and she needs a younger look, anyway. She has grand ideas for something spectacular, of that I am sure. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Fever and Prom Thoughts

My mom was over for dinner a few weeks ago and asked what I was sewing.
"Nothing. I'm not allowed to sew until I wrap up our taxes." [Imagine my frownie face.]
"But there's no creativity in taxes!" She said.
"EXACTLY!"  I was so relieved, thinking at least my mom understands my pain.
She smiled. "That's what you would tell me when I asked you to clean your room...'But Mom, there's no creativity in cleaning'"
Hmmm, not much has changed.  Well, my desire for clean spaces has improved, at least.

It kills me not to sew!  I'm a little lost without a sewing project.  Good news for my addiction: my daughter needs a prom dress!

We actually looked at some RTW dresses, but she was mostly disappointed.  So much so, she didn't even try one on.  After all, it is her last year of high school, and we would both regret it if the poor thing had to wear a store-bought dress.  Within minutes, she gave me her ideas.  Of course they're red carpet dresses.  No bling like the typical prom dress, and she doesn't want any added.  I do think a dress is more versatile without a lot of fluff and bedazzling, though.


Idea #1: 2011 Academy Awards, Jennifer Lawrence in Calvin Klein

Idea #2: 2014 Golden Globes, Julia Louis Dreyfus in Narciso Rodriquez
After getting her dad's input (he has more fashion sense than I), she decided on the Jennifer Lawrence.  It is available on Rent the Runway -- believe it's $300, but I think I can do it much cheaper than $300.  In fact, I'm happy to make it.  "It will save us a couple hundred dollars, after all".  I will just have to set this boring paperwork off to the side for a few days (or weeks)...

No patterns exactly like it, but I did find a similar Vogue, that I immediately bought and re-sketched with the scoop neckline and teardrop back and ordered red jersey.  


Then she changed her mind.  She wants the other one.

That's fine, there is a Simplicity pattern that is very similar to the Narciso Rodriguez, which will inflict less pain than re-drafting something.  It is slightly different, in that it has princess seams instead of a bias cut and a sweetheart neckline.  I really prefer the fitting advantages of princess seams, and re-drafting a neckline shouldn't be an issue.  Getting that tight mermaid look while still allowing her to walk may be an issue, however.

Hers will be in a red crepe, instead of orange.  We toyed with the idea of dying silk, but decided to go with a "sure thing."  I'd feel awful if it came out pink, or freckled or ombre.

The fitting is complete, so I'm hoping to cut out the dress and wrap it up in the next few days.  Prom is a week from tomorrow, and we are hosting dinner (in my sewing/dining room), so no room for last minute sewing!

It's a little sad thinking that this is the last prom dress.