Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dreaming of Sewing "The Couture Dress"

I haven't sewn much lately.  I had very little inspiration this summer, and now that the kids are back in school, I'm barely able to keep up with them in the evenings, let alone find time to sew.  Although I have been strict about making time to exercise every day.

Losing weight hasn't helped inspire me to sew, either.  Most of what I've made myself in the past year is a bit baggy, and I intend to continue shrinking, so don't have much incentive to sew for myself - yet.  Of course I could be taking apart clothes and altering them to fit my slightly smaller figure, but that seems so boring!  Why rip out seams and sew them back together when you can handle a beautiful wool crepe or silk taffeta?  Maybe even add some horsehair braid to the hem?

While riding my exercise bike, I watch a sewing-related video.  At least I can enjoy sewing vicariously through someone else!  Not long ago, I started "The Couture Dress" with Susan Khalje.  What a great class!  I've taken several Craftsy classes, but this is by far my favorite.

Even though I'm not learning a lot of new techniques, I love just watching.  Susan's teaching style is sublime and I enjoy seeing the dress come together, so gracefully.  She sets the bar high.  So high that I'm reluctant to start a dress of my own for fear that I will disappoint myself.  I actually started watching it a second time.  At the very least, it will reinforce some good habits for me.

Next up is my daughter's homecoming dress...if I can ever get her to decide on a fabric.  She selected Butterick 5850 several weeks ago.  It's an "easy" pattern, but I'm sure I will find a way to complicate it.  After witnessing my orange dye debacle, she is actually considering a custom-dyed fabric (in silk, of course).  We'll see.  If she waits much longer, it will be a polyester taffeta from Hancock.
Butterick 5850 (

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Tangerine Bow Tie

My husband prefers to wear a tuxedo for evening events.  Even if they're not specified as black tie events, if it's after six, he's in his tuxedo.  I do believe that it is always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, and I'm quite impressed that he can still wear the suit he wore to our wedding!  Not to mention how easy it is to put an outfit together for a formal affair.  I'm envious.
He usually wears the traditional black tie, but for the last two "Color" events he has asked me to make a bow tie to match the color theme.  Last year, I made a green tie using the same satin as my daughter's jumpsuit, using Angela Osborn's free pattern.  It's a good pattern, with great instructions, but it probably would work better with a cotton fabric that isn't slippery, since it is a tie that needs to be tied on the wearer, not one with adjustable hardware that just snaps in back.

Of course it was a last minute thing, and we really didn't have time to re-make it after realizing that it was on the small side.
A little small, but really not too bad.
This year, I pressed him to wear a suit with a "normal" tie -- "you can find an orange tie at Dillards," I suggested.  Nope.  He just bought a new tuxedo shirt, and was insistent that he would wear his tuxedo.  "Besides, I want to match you."

For the tangerine tie, I decided to use a commercial pattern (Vogue 7104) which is adjustable, but requires hardware.  I ordered the hardware from WAWAK, with a couple of weeks to spare.  A couple of weeks is really planning ahead for me.  Apparently not far enough, though.

The package arrived from Fed Ex a couple of days after I placed the order, empty!  The envelope opened during shipping and the contents were lost.  No problem, they can re-ship it, we still have more than week before the event, right?  Nope. The hardware was back-ordered.

So I made Angela Osborn's version again, this time a little bigger.  Steve decided that it needed an extra 2" in length.  That seemed a bit excessive to me, but he's usually good at estimating.  We both thought the width of the bow needed to be expanded slightly, as well.  The orange silk charmeuse that I dyed for my underlining was so striking, and he really wanted it for his bow tie.  I thought it would be nice for it to be seen, since it really wasn't all that noticeable as an underlining.

The charmeuse was slip-slip-slippery -- as any idiot would expect -- and a little too floppy for a bow tie.  I underlined it with silk organza to give it some structure (I don't really like the look of a fusible behind silk).  I added 2 inches to the length, and an extra 5/8" to the width.  It came together rather quickly, although cutting small pieces of charmeuse on the bias is a bit fiddly.

It took me even longer (almost an hour) to tie it!  The silk was so slippery, the length was a bit too long, and the width was slightly clownish (at least on the tail end -- you can see below).  But it was the day of the event, and I couldn't talk him into going back to his black tie.
This was probably the best it looked all night!
Since it was so slippery, the tie moved all over his neck throughout the evening, requiring constant re-tying and re-positioning.  At one point he came out of the men's room and mentioned that it was hideous.  I laughed (but had to agree), and re-tied it.  It looked good for another 20 minutes.

My bow tie hardware from Wawak arrived about a week after the event -- a full dozen sets of bow tie hardware.  So I will eventually try Vogue 7104.  I'll wait for everyone to forget about the tangerine tie, though.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My mis-adventures in dying lace

As referenced in my review of Vogue 8766, I was very disappointed in how the cotton/nylon lace took the dye. I was also shocked, because I've been so pleased with Dharma's Procion dyes in the past and my test swatch was gorgeous.  I was going for a nice deep tangerine, but got an orange sherbet instead.  To make matters worse, it was an uneven orange sherbet:
Bodice is a bit darker than the skirt!
This was user error, for sure.  A couple of things may have gone wrong.
(1) Not enough dye for the fabric, or too much fabric in the pot.
(2) Too much acid, too early?

After mulling my choices for dye, I settled on the Procion dye, which works best on plant fibers such as cotton or linen, but will work on silk if you add vinegar to the dye bath.  I thought that would be fine, because I would dye the lace and silk separately, and I didn't want to get two different dyes and risk having them clash.  Unfortunately, I forgot that the lace was cotton on a nylon mesh.  The nylon needs the acid, too.  Oops.  

After several different dye/chemical/temperature combinations, I found a really nice color that dyed both the cotton and the nylon.  Heating the dye bath and adding vinegar (fixative for nylon) about 15 minutes after adding the fabric, then adding soda ash (fixative for cotton) gave me a perfect color.  If I didn't add the vinegar, then the mesh didn't take the dye.

Using Rit would have dyed the cotton and the nylon about the same color, but I know from experience that it would fade quickly.  And continue to fade.  And maybe fade directly onto my skin.  And maybe ruin your washing machine (true story).  I don't like to use Rit.  

I still haven't figured out what caused the irregular color on the lace, though.  Maybe I had too much fabric for the size of my pot?  It was a lot of fabric, and the cotton has an irregular surface.

The silk took the dye perfectly.  I loved looking at this while I was sewing the dress and just wished that my main fabric had come out this nicely.  Ignore my shadow in the bottom of the picture -- it's really all the same beautiful color all over.  

My interest in dying fabric hasn't faded...especially if the fabric is silk.  I will be more judicious about what fabrics or combinations of fabrics I use in the future, but I'm still fascinated with the process of creating the perfect shade for my projects.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Orange-you glad Vogue 8766 is finished?!

Mixed reviews on Vogue 8766.  Sadly, I do not love the outcome, which may be why I haven't made the time to document it.

After all the time I spent fitting the blasted muslin, I was doubly disappointed when the lace did not dye as well as I would have liked.  More analysis on that later.  The silk DID dye to a gorgeous, perfect tangerine, though.  I just wish it were more visible under the lace.

My husband loved the dress.  My son told me I looked like Grandma and my sleeves were too short.  My daughter told me she liked it, but I got the feeling she was just being kind.  I thought it was comfortable. Like I said, mixed reviews.

Here we are, in all of our tangerine glory (this is the best picture I have of myself -- I wasn't in the mood to pose):
Color of Hope 2013 (Tangerine)
photo courtesy of Celebrate Arkansas Magazine

Everyone wore something sewn by Mom:
 - Daughter: wore her prom dress from 2012 -- LOVE IT when a gown can be worn more than once!
 - Husband: bow tie is the the same silk underlining my dress -- more on that hot mess another day
 - Son: pants were hemmed by me, in the minutes before we left for the gala when we realized they were 3 inches too long
 - And there I am in my orange monstrosity -- smiling -- because the dress really is comfortable!

My review, Vogue 8766:
Pattern Description: Lined dress has underlined bodice variations and narrow hem...all garments are cut on the crosswise grain of fabric.  I sewed view E.

Pattern Sizing: AA(6-8-10-12), D5(12-14-16-18-20).  I cut a 12.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the envelope?
Yes, for the most part.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
I thought so.  Although it was an "Easy Vogue", the fit gave me fits (no fault of the instructions). I made three muslins before I felt it fit me well enough.  I finally swapped the darts for shoulder princess seams to get it to fit me nicely.

What did you particularly like or dislike?
Like:  Construction is straightforward and simple, and I thought the instructions for sewing lace with an underlining were easy to understand.  I really like the effect of the darted sleeves and may steal this to attach to another pattern in the future -- they were much easier to sew than the eased variety, and the darts add nice structural interest.
Dislike:  The bodice darts.  I replaced them with princess seams.

Fabric used: Silk charmeuse as an underlining (Dharma Trading, dyed by me).  Cheap cotton/nylon lace on top, also dyed (a mistake that I will not make again).

Pattern alternations or any design changes:
 - Shortened sleeve length to just under the elbow.
 - Added princess seams to manage fitting challenges.
 - FBA (this was a first for me, I usually do not need that)
 - Swayback
 - Expanded the circumference of the size 12 by several inches in the first muslin, took out about half the original expansion in the second muslin, then went back to the original 12 and settled for nothing more than an FBA in the third.

Would you sew it again?  Would you recommend it to others?
Not sure if I would sew it again for myself.  I would love to say "yes", since I spent so many hours fitting it for myself and it is a very comfortable dress, but I am not sure I love it that much.  I may consider making the view with a fuller skirt for my daughter.  I've seen enough nice versions of this dress to believe that this just may have been a personal problem, so I may recommend it to others.

This was a bit disappointing.  This pattern was so well-reviewed by others, that I expected a quick slam-dunk.  Part of the disappointment was my lace fabric, part was the fitting troubles. I normally do not have fitting challenges, so was thrown by excessive time I spent making muslins.  I do love the darted sleeve, and I am going to keep the pattern around for that aspect.