Monday, December 8, 2014

I made a coat [with smoochy lips AND the flu]

Damn. I sewed the buttons on too tight.
Four or five years ago, two different sewing bloggers posted beautiful projects using this same embroidered wool. I have no idea who they were now, those memories have long been wiped clean from my brain. One was a young girl from California who made a short cape out of it, and then a lady from Michigan (Mary?) who made a skirt. Mary was kind enough to share the store where she found it, so I called them and ordered the last three yards on the roll.

And then it sat.

And sat.

I pulled it out last winter, but just couldn't bring myself to sew anything, and so back it went.

Finally, this fall I started looking for a suitable pattern for it. I've been terrified of ruining the fabric, but I had this realization - it wasn't doing me any good sitting in a box in the basement!  I went back and forth between a few vintage patterns and a few modern, and finally settled on Burda 7072. I liked the shorter sleeves and the princess seam pockets, it had a vintage vibe without being a vintage pattern.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving week. I had the whole week off since I'd been hoarding my vacation days {i.e. burning myself out unnecessarily} and sewing was high on my list of Things To Do.

Time is precious around here; I don't have hours on end to sew uninterrupted when the kids are home, but that lends itself perfectly to a project like this. I would go downstairs, work on one task, and then set it aside for a few hours or a day. It virtually guaranteed I was fresh every time I touched the coat, I think that helped a lot.

It also helped a lot that my sons constructed a new fort in the closet under the basement stairs. That kept them busy and out of my hair.

These steps happened between Monday and Wednesday...

Cutting out the pattern pieces was interesting, as I was trying to maximize all of the embroidered fabric, which only ran along one side. I had to turn it crosswise to cut it. After inspecting the fabric for any moth damage, I did find a few holes but they ran along the selvage, so it's possible they were damage from the manufacturing process, too.

Anyway, the weave on this is fairly loose. I knew I needed to stabilize it, but my experience with interfacing pattern pieces for a wool coat was not great. When I did that on a heavy black wool coating, it added way too much bulk to the seams. This gray is fairly light, though, and since I couldn't figure out how to pick and choose what to interface, I decided to do it all.

Each piece got interfaced with Pro-weft supreme Medium fusible interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply. I'm really impressed with it, this was the first project I used it on, and it does give body and support while maintaining drape. Excellent.

Then I had to make a decision about interlining. My lining is silk, the wool has a loose weave, and we do have a proper winter here. So after much hemming and hawing, I settled on using white muslin fabric to interline it. I could have gone with something lighter like silk organza, but I didn't want to wait for shipping and I'm happy with the muslin. I was sewing with dark gray thread and the interlining was white, so that made picking out any stitches easy!

One of the first decisions I had to make was the buttons and buttonholes. I knew if I wanted bound buttonholes I had to make them first, but the idea of sewing them through four layers of fabric (fabric, interfacing, interlining, welt) scared the crap out of me.

Pause to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family....

Onwards and upwards, I practiced bound buttonholes Friday afternoon on scraps of fabric. They went ok, so I forged on with four bound buttonholes, and four corresponding welt holes.  They're not perfect, instead of perfectly matched slots they look more like smoochy lips but I'm ok with that.

This pattern is perfectly drafted and the instructions are total crap, as per usual with Burda. The sleeve/undersleeve/side pieces get attached to the front and back by sewing a 90 degree angle, but you would never have known that by reading the instructions! The first one was such a disaster, I unpicked it all and lay in bed that night visualizing what I had to do.

Total crap corner.
Sew up sleeve, place needle, pivot and clip corner, sew down side. I went downstairs first thing in the morning to try it again.

Voila! Four perfectly sewn sleeve corners. Whew. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Until I realized that the lining pieces would have to be constructed exactly the same way. Eight perfectly sewn sleeve corners? Holy crap, that's pressure. But I did it, I plowed through it.

And then this happened...

My oldest son got super sick the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and tested positive for influenza A. My youngest took the hit on Sunday afternoon. It was fun, and by fun I mean go out and get your flu shots because this sickness is real and it sucks. I was diagnosed Tuesday.
Well, that was rough. What little energy I had disappeared, and yet I still had hours of sewing left! There's a reason they call these types of projects labors of love. I'm not sure I was feeling love at this point.
This blog post is starting to feel as long as the process of making the coat! On-seam pockets (once again, craptastic Burda instructions that have you sew the pocket to the side seam with a 5/8" SA. Huh?? By offsetting pockets with a 1/4" SA, the pocket lays nicely inside and you never see it. Why wouldn't they tell you that?? I did it anyway. They could have also been generous and given us a 1" bump out on the pattern pieces, but I am probably asking too much.
There are a few things wrong with these pictures. 1) I had ten minutes to snap them. 2) I sewed the buttons on too tight so it's pulling across the chest and 3) my tripod was set down too low by one of my kids.
My lining is a silk twill I bought for $3 a yard at Hancock's many years ago, when they were selling out of their silks. I ended up with four or five lengths of wild patterned silks, perfect for linings.
Sorry. Blurry photo.
I bagged the lining, but since my facing piece was not sewn on and wasn't notched out at the bottom, I had to make up my own method for attaching the bottom and turning that corner. All of the internet tutes I could find (and the Threads tutorial that has nicely drawn diagrams) are for sewn-on facings with a notch out. I made do. It looks the same, maybe the order of attachment is different, I don't really even care at this point.
This pattern calls for the back piece to be cut and seamed. I assumed that meant it was shaped. NO. It is not. I could have cut it on the fold. Dammit!
At this point, I was at mile 23 of a 26.6 marathon. My legs were jiggly, I avoided eye contact with the coat whenever I walked by it on the dressform standing in the stairwell to the basement (she wore the coat for me to avoid it becoming a crumpled mess but I think that may have happened anyway), and I broke out in a sweat at the thought that I still needed to make covered buttons and sew them on.

Sweet Lord above, did I really want this coat that badly?

Apparently I did.

The buttons were made. I hated the look of them. I shopped for another week for buttons I didn't hate, and landed on these. The coat is done. And so am I.

I need to press the bottom. I apologize for the crapbag photo quality.
And wouldn't this coat look fab with long gloves and a matching faux fur cowl??
OK, maybe I'm not done. Just ready to make something simple. Like a t-shirt. Or leggings.

And shop for long gloves!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

How to organize your sewing projects?

I'm actually looking for help here.

I have too much fabric and too many patterns, which is nothing new. Every sewist out there has this exact same problem.

I recently spent an hour going through all my sewing patterns and reclassifying them according to designer. I grouped all the Vogues together, all the indie designers, etc. It was interesting to see which company I tend to buy the most from.

Hands down, Vogue won that contest. I have two full boxes of Vogue patterns. Burda and Simplicity seem to be in a close tie for second place, and then trailing miserably are McCall's and Butterick. In fact, after going through them I weeded out a lot of McCall's and Butterick patterns I know I'll never make. I have a lot of indie patterns and a boatload of vintage patterns (they didn't get the same classification exercise as I tend to group them all together).

Anyway, what I'd really like is some sort of software or app that helps me group patterns I'd like to sew soon with fabric I already own. Does anyone know of something like that? I don't sew my wardrobe but I do want to be more deliberate with what I choose to make.

I would love to share the coat project that I finished last weekend, but I'm stumped with having no buttons that I love. I hope to make it into my favorite little fabric boutique later today, she carries a lot of buttons I don't see at the big box stores. In the meantime the coat is hanging happily on Vivienne. Fingers crossed that I can finish the buttons and start wearing it in time for church tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The lace top pants

Be prepared for the longest post ever. Seriously. Buckle up.

This fall, I was in Little Rock and made my way to their Anthropologie store, where I fell in love with these pants. Lace at the top, tweed at the bottom. Gorgeous, and they fit pretty well, too.

The only downside?

Very very very scratchy wool. I just have trouble wearing wool right up against my skin anymore. I get a rash on my neck, my legs get all blotchy and itchy, it's ugly. And these pants weren't lined.

So I snapped these dressing rooms pics and went home with the idea of someday making my own pair.

Well, that some day was last week. I had the week off for Thanksgiving, and I was working up a storm around the house. Besides these pants, I finally started my embroidered wool coat project that's been in the works for oh, I don't know, five years. 

I found some very soft plaid suiting at Joann's, a poly/rayon/spandex blend that feels like flannel and stretches quite a bit. It's not very dressy, and is questionable how it will wear but I got it anyway. I bought two different laces to pair it with it - teal and black - not sure of what would look best, and finally settled on classic black. Mostly because I knew I could always find a black top or sweater to wear with these.

And black shoes.

I pulled out Simplicity 1696 and made a few adjustments. For one, I wanted a slim boot profile instead of a cropped slim pant. From the knee break to the hem (for me, that's 15" after the crotch line), I cut the legs straight down. This pattern has 1" seam allowances on the major seams which is lovely, you can make adjustments easily. I cut a 14 due to the extreme stretchiness of the plaid and the lace, although my true measurements are more of a 16 (38-30-40).

In my classic style of avoiding anything difficult, I thought I could postpone the tricky part of actually attaching the lace further down the construction process. But no. It became clear that the very first step (pockets and pocket facings) would require the lace to be attached already. Damn.

As I had been thinking about this process for a month or two already, I guess I thought I would end up snipping the lace into a shape and then hand-stitching it onto my fabric.

Um, no.  I won the lottery with this one. After assembling the pocket facing and then turning and topstitching it, I realized you can't see a damn thing on these two fabrics! Between the business of the plaid and the business of this lace, the stitches seem to dissolve. I grabbed two bits of fabric for a test run, and practiced machine stitching around the lace shapes. It worked like a charm, you can't see it at all on the outside.

So that's exactly what I did. I just stitched in an irregular scallop around the bottom of the lace.  The only bit of trouble I ran into was when I went to attach the pocket lining to the pocket facing, I had to unsnip a few stitches so the pocket facing would be free. Other than that, it worked like a charm.

I always use Sandra Betzina's zipper fly video to install zippers, and would have done this time except I wanted a fly shield. It's cold out here and I didn't want a cold zipper laying against the top of my belly.
I found 25 invisible zippers in my stash when I went looking for one for these pants. And two regular zippers. WTH??
I found this blog post from The Naked Seamstress with zipper installation methods, and followed along with Trudy's video. While I like the idea of a video that makes the process seem easy, this one wasn't so great. The video doesn't capture the action from above, but rather from an odd forward angle. She also chose to sew with white thread on white striped fabric. I never saw the seam lines, even when she urged the cameraman to zoom in.

I ended up with my fly shield attached to the wrong side of the zipper, beautifully so!

Shit. So I had to unpick the entire thing and redo it, this time doing it my way because I couldn't figure out how to reverse engineer her instructions. Maybe I'll work on doing a photo pictorial for myself to refer to next time I'm putting in a zipper with a fly shield.

Anyway, zipper fixed.
Plaids matched ok here. Not so much on the side seams, no idea why.
The rest was classic pant assembly. I assembled the waistband by the section instead of in one piece, which is nice for fitting but I don't love the way it looks at the end. I used a simple black cotton for the waistband facing, and interfaced both that fabric and the fashion plaid because it's so stretchy. I've been burned in the past with waistbands stretching out of shape because I forgot to interface enough.

When I tried the pants on at this point, they fit pretty well but I didn't care for how low I attached the lace (7" from top of pattern pieces down), and the lace didn't scallop at all. So I got out my little snips and made tiny adjustments to the lace to make it a bit more feminine looking. I could keep going with the snips, but I stopped to finish the pants lest these turn into The Pants I Sewed for Six Months and Never Wore.  It could happen.

In looking back at the inspiration pants, the lace only extends about 4 or 5 inches down from the waistband.  That's something I need to work on.
I barely referred to the instructions on these at all. I glanced at them, but I guess I've made enough pants in my life that the steps are starting to form naturally in my head. So that's a win! OK, I know it's lame but whatever I'm taking it.
Matching plaids? No. I was lucky to get the legs sewn together into a wearable form.
Anyway, all in all I'm OK with the results. The pants are ridiculously comfortable to wear, and hopefully they're pretty enough nobody will think did she have her elementary school son make those for her? I need to snip the lace out a bit more into a scallop pattern, and I need to hem them just a tad shorter because man this fabric stretches.  They don't look nearly as nice as the inspiration pants, but for a total cost of about $20 they're not bad.

And now. Brace yourself for the most epic-est blog post ever from me. The one where I make a coat.

I'm exhausted.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sometimes simple is really really great

I made a flannel t-shirt, and I love it.

You read that right. A flannel t-shirt.

Years ago, I used a vintage t-shirt pattern to make the stegosaurus tee, and wore it to death. I loved the vintage fit and the way the center back seam fitted the shirt much better than my more current patterns did.

Then more recently, I found this vintage pattern (Simplicity 5523) in my stash and made up this quick lobster tee to see how it fit. The shoulders were very wide (something I've noticed a lot in my patterns from the seventies; I think maybe it's because their knits really didn't have much stretch) but I loved the shirttail hemline, the scoop is just right, and so I have been stewing on the needed modifications ever since.  When you get to the bottom of this post, you'll see my plea for help.

The boys and I made our way to Joann's Saturday morning to buy flannel for their very first sewing projects. Both of my boys plus two of their friends want to learn how to sew! I can't tell you how excited I was to hear that. I thought pajama pants would be an easy first project that they would also really like to own, so we hunted for flannel.

While at Joann's, I found this plaid flannel for myself, from their Plaiditudes line. It pills quite a bit, so I can't say I'm super impressed with the washability but it is very warm and cosy and super soft. So that's the upside.

I will literally buy anything that combines gray and camel. Anything.
Anyway, while thinking about how that pattern fit, and thinking maybe it would be better suited for a woven instead of knits, I decided I needed a flannel tee. Something I can wear under my cardigans on days that are frigid, but without the collar and buttons of a more structured shirt.
It took 30 or 40 minutes to pop this baby together, and I love it! I was right, the fit is spot on in a woven.  I did a little slash and spread for a dart at the bustline, and narrowed the shoulders by 1/2" on either side. For this one, I cut the back on the fold instead of shaped with a center seam.  I also added a ribbed neckband and used bias tape for the shirttail hem. I had a doctor's appointment today, and my nurse said "That is the cutest top! I love it!," so there. A real human out in the world approved of my flannel t-shirt.
Now is where I'm turning to you, kind internets, to help me. The bias tape sewed quite nicely along the hem, but starting and stopping it at the upturned corner was a bad idea (see close-up photo). I have never sewn much with bias binding, I could use some advanced tips.

  • Where is the best place to start attaching bias tape on a hemline like this? 
  • Should I have used satin bias instead? 
  • Should I have clipped the curve at the corners to make it turn better or was I trying to force too much fabric into that curve?
OK, that's it for my questions. If anyone can help me, please weigh in!

So now I'd like to comment on something that really makes me shake my head.  I recently found the darkside of the sewing blogs, the forum whose entire goal seems to be to mock people who choose to sew and post their creations online. It really makes me question the heart of humanity. I'm not going to say there aren't posts that have merit, such as the questionable greed of "designing" simple patterns like an a-line skirt, and then charging $16 for it. I've been frustrated by that myself and written about it here. But my option is to not buy them. I just do not see the need to be hateful and vicious about sewing {not that there's ever an excuse to be hateful and vicious, but seriously ~ sewing??}. What starts out as a seemingly fair-balanced vent on the price of simple patterns will turn into an all-out mockery of a blogger's body. Or God forbid, you have drag lines! The shame! Hey, I buy very nice ready-to-wear clothing that has those same lines. Is anyone outing DVF for that? I doubt it.

You know what my head was thinking when I read some of that?

These people need real problems.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I love you, Burda 7031

I am so happy. I have been admiring this lace bonded sweater knit fabric at Joann's all fall but it was $39.99 a yard and you all know with my track record for ruining projects I really can't be trusted with pricey fabric. I finally got a coupon texted to me for 25% off my total purchase, and the fabric went on 50% off sale.
Burda 7031 View C
Woot! I bought it, not even knowing what I would make with it.

Francis jacket pattern by C'est Dimanche, also in my pattern stash
At first, I had planned to sew up this jacket by C'est Dimanche. But then I spent way too much time going through my pattern boxes the other night (holy cow, I need to thin that herd) looking for the perfect coat pattern for an embroidered wool I've owned for four years, when I came across this pattern.

I made view C

I bought Burda 7031 late last winter, after seeing a soloist at church wearing an adorable lined lace top. The shape was similar to this one, so I optimistically added it to my pattern stash.

I pulled the pattern out and studied the navy blue fabric in View C. It reminded me of the weight of this bonded sweater lace.

Closeup of the fabric, you can see the white fluffy parts are where the lace is bonded to the sweater knit.
I started cutting this out at 3:00 yesterday afternoon, took a break from 4:00-4:30, sewed til 5:15, and then finished it at 9:15. Honestly, cutting and sewing took all of 2 hours, maybe even less.

And even though it's a touch big I love it! Seriously, I love it. I have no idea why.

I went upstairs to take pictures with my taupe trousers and they're missing. So for these photos I've paired it with my wash and wear pleather skirt from QVC, another favorite purchase of mine this fall.

I never style my photos! The GOMI people scare me. But I think this time it will be ok.
I even put on high heels! Another QVC purchase. I share the links because I'm always frustrated when I see footwear that isn't documented.

Back to the pattern. Let's talk about the wonky "collar." Yes, they do call this a collar. Do you know those crazy kids at Burda actually suggest that you can add batting to the collar piece if you want it to have more body?? BATTING. I chose not to do that, it stands up plenty on its own.

I sewed most of the seams on my machine and pressed them open. At first I was treating this fabric delicately, but by the end I was pressing the hell out it with full steam and I couldn't tell a difference at all. That's nice, I don't have a "delicate" lifestyle.

I wanted you to see how the sleeves bell out just a little bit at the end. So. Much. Fun.
Then I goofed amd sewed the collar, the hem band, and the center back seam with my serger. That much bulk under one seam made for some ripples and difficulty pressing the seam to one direction, which was super important when tacking down the collar and hem band. In hindsight, I should have used the machine for all the seams and my serger for finishing edges.

All in all, I'm super happy with this top! I will wear this quite a bit for work, especially if I can track down those taupe trousers. I have to call the dry cleaners, I have a feeling they never made it home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On making pants

I was away from home last week for work, so I had a lot of time on my hands to research sewing techniques. Namely, making pants.

Making great pants is one of my sewing goals. That, and slowing down. Honestly, I probably stand a better chance of making kick-ass pants than I do slowing down.

I guess I can understand why drafting pants patterns is so difficult. All human bodies are shaped differently, and with pants you're trying to engineer something to cover the most moving-est part of your body. And cover it well, so that you can move freely and look kick-ass at the same time. That's a lot of pressure.

For this past trip, I packed three of my favorite professional pants, plus some fun leggings.
  • Theory ankle-length slim-leg stretch wool trousers
  • J Crew grey wool straight leg trousers 
  • Anthropologie seamed cropped stretch wool trousers 
  • Vince stretch suede cropped pants, cut much like a legging 
I had some time in my hotel room to take them all, turn them inside out, and look at what was similar or different about them all. Lucky for me I carry a tiny tape measure in my purse at all times. You never know when you'll find yourself in Home Goods and need to measure the height of a super cute chair!

One thing I noticed right off the bat is the crotch curve is very different in my ready to wear pants than in some of my sewing patterns. I'm used to seeing a full back curve but also a fairly deep front curve, similar to two Js.

In my ready-to-wear pants, however, the front curve is almost nonexistent, and the back crotch curve is very deep. I need to repeat that, it is very deep. Instead of a J, it more resembles a fishhook that sticks out at the end in a point.

I'm now obsessed with perfecting the perfect pants pattern based on my ready-to-wear pants. I came home and made what I had hoped to be a wearable muslin from Simplicity 1696.

I made a classic mistake of choosing the wrong fabric, a stretch cotton that behaved and wore a lot like velveteen. It was just too heavy and bulky for this pattern, but it would make a lovely blazer or skinny jeans. When I finally tried them on, they were quite unwieldy like they fought back a little? Weird.

I do believe with some adjustments this pattern could be a keeper for me. The rise was good, I love the 1" seam allowances, and the legs weren't super voluminous. I even blindly followed their ridiculous instructions for a fly zipper and it turned out ok. I kind of forgot while I was cutting out the fabric to change the pattern piece to reflect a cut-on fly, so I stayed the course and followed the instructions as closely as I could.
The only thing I really didn't love was the fake welt pockets. I know a lot of people don't like extra fabric volume on their backside, but I do appreciate a real pocket. I always try to stick my hands in fake pockets, I don't know why. Like a pocket bag will magically appear somehow.

While I was gone my new Peter and the Wolf pants pattern from Papercut Patterns arrived in the mail {I do support indie pattern designers, I just like to spend my money on original designs I haven't seen before}! I did a little happy dance.  For all of you in the US considering Papercut, keep in mind the dollars they reference on their website are New Zealand dollars. For me, the price including shipping from New Zealand to the States was $25, so not as bad as it could have been.

I spent my last hour of the night last night cutting the instruction booklet  out and putting it together, then tracing off the pattern pieces. If you haven't purchased a Papercut pattern before, they come in this adorable cardboard box and they're printed on large natural paper sheets. You know I must be motivated to find great pants patterns when I'm tracing patterns. It is NOT my favorite thing to do in the sewing room.
This pattern calls for stretch wovens, but I hope to be able to make a pair in a non-stretch wool for work. It also only includes 1 cm seam allowances, so I'm definitely going to have to increase that just a tad to account for my crazy behavior behind the machine!

Honestly, I know I need to slow down with my sewing. I will never enjoy the process or the finished products if I slam through them and fail to make wearable garments. A couple days ago, in order to find an 'early make' for #bpSewvember, I went all the way back to my first sewing posts from my personal blog. You know what? Not much has changed. I made easy mistakes back then and I still make them now. While the walk down memory lane was fun, it was also painful.

Why do I do that? 
Why does my brain malfunction and let me cut through a piece of fabric that needs to stay intact? 

I don't know. I really don't. I just know I don't want to do it anymore. So from here on out, I hope to report that I'm taking my time. That I'm creating quality over quantity. That I'm drafting responsibly and sewing methodically.

Oh, and that I'm making kick-ass pants.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Anna Maria Horner knit top

I should probably never go on the internet and look at things. Because then I get ideas and those ideas make me spend money and buy fabric.

Like these beautiful Anna Maria Horner interlock knits. I bought them from a few months ago after seeing something stunning AMH had made {no need to pick just one, it's like endless eye candy with her designs}. Her fabrics are so vibrant and unique, I seriously love them all. I've even bought some of her home dec fabrics so that I can frame them and hang them on the wall in the sewing room.

Which I will totally do, one of these days.

In the meantime, I stole a few hours these last few days and tried to make a shirt using my sweatshirt shoulder pieces but a t-shirt body.

I will totally wear this shirt all the time, but it's a little big around the shoulders and bust. Also, the fabric is a true interlock, so not necessarily the drapiest of fabrics. Warm and cozy and lovely, yes. Drapey, no.
I didn't have enough fabric for long sleeves, so I added a band at the bottom.
I'm really enjoying hemming with my coverstitch  machine.
It scared the crap out of me for a long time but now I think I have the hang of it.
I cut the neckband three inches shorter than the neck opening, but even that wasn't enough to avoid a little gaping. I've put some temporary tucks in place to keep it down, but I'll take it off and shorten it tonight after the kids go to bed. Speaking of kids, my son thought I should have "action" shots of me in my regular life. Enjoy.

Doing laundry.
I had to run up to my kids' school after this, and one of the moms complemented me on this shirt! I was stunned.
More laundry.
What are the odds that the grey and pink Tangle print would perfectly match my pink Frye cowboy boots? Love it. Another reason to wear these boots more often is a good thing. I've had them for at least five or six years and I never get tired of them.

Seriously, can we stop with the pictures of laundry?
Now, I must clean up the sewing room and take a work-induced break. My dog will be bummed.

I like it when my mom sews.