Sunday, November 24, 2013

Simplicity 2153 - a "wearable muslin"

After the endless sewing of "The Couture Dress", I longed for a quick and easy project for me.  I really wanted a casual field jacket.  And lucky me -- Simplicity patterns were on sale.  I bought some cheap cotton/poly twill at Hancock to make a wearable muslin for myself.  I wasn't in the mood for any fussy fitting, I just cut a 14 and started sewing. According to the measurements, it may be a little on the small side for my waist and hips, but with the extra ease for a drawstring waist, I told myself that it should be fine as-is.
Simplicity 2153

What I had in mind for this project was a field jacket -- more safari, less M65 -- but I bought green fabric.  I have a hard time walking away from green.  It's not an olive drab, but it's still got a military vibe.  I tried to distress it with bleach, but I really don't think it changed a thing  -- it's still dark green.  Never mind that I already have a green rain coat and two green fleece jackets.
The look I was trying to achieve. [Who carries a purse in the jungle?]
As the jacket came together, it became more and more military to me.  Once the epaulettes were on, I started thinking "Colonel Klink", imagining myself shouting about the fuhrer or the luftwaffe and wearing a monocle.  I had a hard time getting that image out of my head.

It also seemed SO BAGGY.  It took me forever to finish sewing, partly because I was busy with other projects, but also because I wasn't too excited to see it finished.  I regretted not fitting the pattern better at all. When I looked at it hanging on the dress form, it reminded me of my dad's Marine uniform (in his size).  Not the look I was going for.
Not baggy, but almost exactly the same green of my jacket.
My daughter poked her head in a few times and told me how much she liked it.  "Ooooh, I like your jacket. I need one like it for my trip to Ireland.  Maybe in red."  "This is mine."  I snapped, although it did occur to me that the dark green would complement her coloring much better than mine.

Even though I called this a muslin, I flat-felled all the seams, added trim and flaps to the pockets - and added zippered pockets - and bought nice buttons and zippers for it.  Most of it was experimentation, so I suppose it can still be called a muslin.  However, I was disappointed that if I wanted to alter any of the seams, I would have to pick out part of those flat-felled seams.  Not impossible, just more work.
Zipper pocket & pocket flaps added

Convinced that I would probably not wear the jacket as-is, the next time my daughter stopped in to tell me how much she liked it, and lobby for a red one, I told her "It's too baggy for me.  You can have it."  "REALLY? I love it!" She was thrilled, and I was just happy someone would wear it.
The waist loosened
That was before the waist casing was in and I saw how darn cute it became when the waist was gathered.  And before the antique brass buttons were on, that complemented the green fabric and matched the zippers. It was very cute, and I'd given it away!  When I told Stephanie that I may want it after all, she got a bit defensive.  "No takesies-backsies."  And desperately tried to make me think it was too big for me:  "Besides, it looks dumpy on you."  I knew she was lying about the dumpy part.  It was really cute.
What a difference a waist makes!

But that's okay.  This was just a muslin.  Mine will be even better.  It will have:

  • higher armscyes, with narrower sleeves
  • a slightly wider waist casing
  • a narrower back or maybe an inverted back pleat
  • some length taken out of the upper back
  • lining, maybe...not sure yet
  • maybe cuffs for the sleeves

Besides, I already have three green jackets.  Maybe I need one in red.
She's worn it to school twice in one week -- I guess it's a winner.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A book bag for Sam

Sam needed a book bag, since larger backpacks are not allowed in the hallways at his school. The school provided cheap nylon bags that ripped the instant his binder was placed inside.  After repairing it twice, I offered my services.

He wanted fabric with variety, but none of the "licensed prints" worked for him.  Maybe a stripe?  Maybe a print?  Nope. There were no stripes or prints in the entire wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling merchandising space of the Hancock Fabric store that would possibly work for his bag.   "Can you make a fabric for me, Mom?"  After more than an hour walking around the store, I wearily agreed to "make him a fabric" and introduced him to the fat quarter corner.  Not just two different fabrics, or even just three or four, he had to have SIX different fabrics.  Six different fabrics that really didn't seem to coordinate.  The cashier appeared a bit confused when he told her we were making a bag.

His dad and sister ribbed him all the way home about the "quilt" that Mom would make him to carry his books in.  He didn't let it get to him -- he had a vision of how to mix his red and zebra and black and brown and orange and gray fabrics.  This vision also included his favorite fabric -- wait for it-- red minky.  Even I was starting to wonder about this project.

The back side reverses to...
...the front side; lined in...

I also had doubts about using a knit as a lining for a bag that would hold several pounds of books, but so far, it has worked very well.  The Minky is slick enough that his books easily slide in and out, and thanks to the interfaced outer shell, it has held its shape just fine.
Stiffly interfaced triangles for grommets through which we loop the paracord.
To our surprise, the bag has been very helpful.  It serves as an organizer within his much bigger backpack, that he pulls out to bring to our homework sessions at the library.  He carries it between classes, and tells me that he has received a lot of compliments.  I have to be honest, I didn't expect compliments from junior high students.  The world must be a kinder, gentler place than it was when I was in 7th grade.  
It even worked well as a candy bag for trick-or-treating & even coordinated with his (self-designed) costume.
Now he wants me to attach a water bottle holder.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vogue 8648: "The Couture Dress"

I spent so much of my life completing Vogue 8648, with "couture" techniques, I feel that  it should be documented.  Following is a post-mortem analysis of the project.

Vogue 8648, in blue silk.  Little brother's super soaker lying in wait.
First, the pattern: Vogue 8648 is not a complicated pattern. Although there are many pieces,  that just gave more opportunities for a better fit.  The time-consuming nature of the "couture techniques" are what complicated the project.

For the most part, I liked the pattern and would make it again.  I do question the extensive use of bias cuts, however.  The entire midriff section is cut on the bias.  Although this allows some "give" around the waistline, it makes the vertical seams a bit tricky.  They have a tendency to bow out a bit if you're not careful.  Of course, they are subject to stretching out of shape, as well.  Susan Khalje suggested using stays at the bias seams to counteract that vertical stretching.  It was easy to snip a few pieces of silk organza selvedge and tack them to the top and bottom of those bias seams.
Vertical stays along midriff seams to counteract stretching.
Skirt lining is already hand-stitched in place.
Eventually, the lining covers all this mess.
The side front and side back pieces are also cut on the bias, which results in a little too much stretch along the shoulders.  Silk organza stays were used there, as well.  My fabric had already stretched considerably, so I also had to stitch in some gathering stitches in the seam allowance, and ease them back into shape.  The iron quickly steam shrunk the ease into invisibility.  Stay stitching on most of the garment also helps prevent stretching. I stay-stitched almost every single edge of the garment.

This is a pretty basic design for a Vogue -- nothing fancy included in the pattern or the instructions -- leaving lots of room for the dressmaker's creativity.  We realized a bit too late that it was on the plain side for a special occasion dress, especially since we used a solid color fabric.  My daughter suggested some embroidery, which I would have been totally into, except that we were cutting it a bit too close to the deadline.  The inspiration piece for her vision (she was serious):
Believe this is Oscar de la Renta.  
It is lovely, but I don't own an embroidery machine, and well, I told her she was out of her mind.  I was thinking more along the lines of some simple tone-on-tone scroll work, not a tapestry.  In the end, I suggested we go with some simple piping at the neckline (self fabric).  It's very low key, and you can't really even see it in the pictures, but honestly, I was afraid of ruining the lines of the dress with something that screamed "My mom cross-stitched these Care Bares on my bodice."  I suggested she find an elegant necklace, instead (she chose one of my grandmother's chokers, also simple, but special).
Barely imperceptible piping.
I would add some sort of embellishment next time I make this dress -- something to call attention to that lovely neckline.

Fitting the muslin:
I did not do an FBA, at least not in the usual manner.  Instead, I put it together as-is and increased width via the princess seams, lowered the apex, and lowered the bottom edge of the upper bodice once the muslin was cut and on her.  It was quicker and more accurate than the slash-and-spread FBA.

The midriff design allowed me to make a lot of changes to the fit, especially with the swayback adjustment, which was more than an inch.

The toughest issue fitting this pattern were the shoulder straps.  The bias cut, coupled with a low back neckline made the straps want to slide off her shoulders, so we fiddled with the length quite a bit.  I also drafted cap sleeves, which she nixed in the final version.

Once the dress was constructed, we took even more width out via the side seams.

Next, the fabric:
Fashion fabric: Stephanie wanted silk.  I have spoiled her, but honestly, I'd much rather sew silk than the cheap polyester that we can buy around here.  And she wanted to create her own special color.  Again, I have spoiled her, but honestly, dying is fun!

We ordered a silk/cotton blend from Dharma, and dyed it Royal Blue with the fiber reactive dye, expecting something a little bit different on the silk (rather than using a protein-specific dye).  The silk side of the fabric took the dye much nicer than the cotton side, and even though I used a much higher ratio of dye to fabric than recommended, it still didn't come out as dark as the sample swatch.  It's a pretty color -- a good color for Stephanie -- but not as "royal" as we had hoped.

Not sure I love this fabric, but I didn't dislike it either.  It reminds me of a lighter-weight Dupioni without the slubs.  The weave is quite evident, but even.  Pros: it didn't fray as much as many silks do. Cons: it curled quite a bit, and it wasn't as shimmery on the silk side as I would have liked.  Another annoying trait, was the way it behaved along the bias -- it arced into a convex shape on the silk side and concave on the cotton side.

Underlining: Not knowing what sort of hand the fashion fabric would have, I ordered silk organza to underline it.  It was mostly okay.  The fashion fabric was a bit on the wimpy side, and my first thought was that the organza was too stiff, but in the end, it added the right amount of body for the skirt.

Lining: I assumed that I would be able to find a nice Bemberg Rayon lining locally. Nope.  Joann's did have a very nice poly lining that felt like Bemberg, and it worked out fine -- it was a Walmart Blue [exactly the color of my reusable shopping tote], slightly different from the fashion fabric, but you never see it anyway.  It was very nice to work with, and Stephanie thought it was comfortable.  I would definitely use it again.
Lining side out: Joann's "posh" lining.

Finally the techniques:
Every single seam is catch-stitched to the underlining.  Before this project I LOVED the catch-stitch.  Even mid-dress, I still loved the catch-stitch.  I have actually thought of writing an Ode To the Catch Stitch, extolling its beauty as I move my needle quickly through the fabric, leaving behind those lovely diagonal marks.  I looked for opportunities to use the catch stitch whenever possible.

I am so over the catch stitch now.  I see the benefit of this technique, which is only really possible with an underlining to which the stitching is anchored (without showing on the front side of the dress).  It just became so utilitarian to me after stitching it thousands of times.

Hand basting: The underlining is hand-basted to the fashion fabric and the individual pieces are initially hand-basted together for fitting.  I used this method with my tweed jacket, and it was completely worth the time to do it.  It gives you so much more control -- especially when pattern-matching or plaid-matching.  The pain is taking all that basting out after you've machine stitched it.  It's still worth the trouble.

Stays: As previously mentioned, stays were tacked in wherever there was any question about future stretching: all the bias seams, shoulders and shoulder straps.  I even toyed with inserting boning along many of the bias seams (removed in the end).  

Love the hand-picked zipper.  I can't believe that I've never used this technique before.  It makes zipper insertion so much easier.  I'm not sure it took me any longer to hand-stitch it than it would have to machine stitch it, and it allowed me to align the adjacent seams so neatly.  In fact, it was probably quicker to hand-stitch it than use the machine, because I so often rip out a zipper to re-align it.  The zipper seam is stabilized with silk organza selvedge.

Horsehair braid in the hem.  Also hand-stitched.  Five and a half yards of it.  First the bottom edge, then the top edge, then covered it with the hem, and stitched that by hand.  With the Catch Stitch.  It gave such a nice effect for a circle skirt, that I will definitely use it again.  Next time, I will order the kind with the string that allows you to shape it to the hem, though.

Lining is hand-stitched to the underlining.  Another really interesting technique that I wouldn't mind using again.  Much better looking final product than the method where you machine stitch the garment to the lining, try to under stitch it by machine, etc.  Under stitching is done by hand as well, and I actually enjoyed that part of the process.  This allows you to make little tiny adjustments as necessary (say when the lining is a slightly different width than the garment). The final product is really worth whatever extra time this takes.

I would make this pattern again -- probably for Stephanie, not for myself.  There are lots of great ideas to use here and there.  I will most certainly insert a zipper by hand, and hand-stitch a lining in the future, but I can't imagine putting another one of these together anytime soon.  I did not keep a formal tally of the time I spent on this, but it consumed many hours over several weeks.  In the last week alone, I probably spent 40 hours on it, rushing to finish it on time.
The requisite scooter shot.