Catch-up #1: Sutton Blouses

So, wow, it’s been another long while since my last post, and I feel like a very lazy, bad blogger. It seems like every time I post, I say some version of this.

It’s not like I haven’t been sewing–I really have! I’ve sewn A LOT since my last post, and some of it has even been for ‘real life’ rather than my historical dress-up activities, so there’s plenty to post here.

Still, I think I want to start with something slightly older than a year, since they have become staples of my wardrobe and a Tried-and-True (TNT) pattern for me: the True Bias Sutton Blouse.

I really love this style, how easy, comfortable and chic the top looks. I like the kimono-style sleeves and the shoulder yoke, which makes mixing fabrics easy. The back inverted pleat ensures plenty of movement. I love that the yoke is French seamed to give a clean finish, and the seam finish on the side seams gives a great finish, too. I really love how the instructions are written and the fact that the neckline finish–usually the toughest part–is done almost immediately to get it out of the way, and it works really well. Although, I needed a longer bias strip than the pattern provided. The only fitting change I made was to lengthen below the bust apex area to accommodate my longer bust curve. That’s it. It’s so roomy I didn’t bother with anything else.

These blouses are fantastic to wear under a blazer with skinny jeans. I love the layered, relaxed look they give to this kind of outfit, with their loose silhouette, luxurious fabrics, and the hems that peek from under the back of a blazer.

Version 1:

For my first version, I used a silk broadcloth in a really cool shattered plaid/marbled print that I got as a 1 1/8 yard remnant; this was for the main body. Since there wasn’t enough for the body and yoke pieces, the yoke is a cotton/acrylic lace with very little stretch. And yes, blue and black are mixed together in this top. I used a bias-cut hand-dyed silk ribbon for the bias facing.

TrueBias Sutton1

photo2 (1)

Version 2:

This one is in a lightweight silk jacquard, deep black. I shortened the length from my first version slightly. Otherwise, none, not even for my normal fitting issues because it’s such a loose fit they don’t really show up. I used a bias strip of the fabric to finish the neckline.



Version 3 and 4:

Both in hand-dyed/painted silk charmeuses. Version 3 has a solid-color contrast silk charmeuse yoke. Bias strips of the blouse fabrics finish the necklines. But I lost the photos I took of version 4 in a hard drive crash a while ago, so I’ll have to take new ones.



Version 5: 

Version 5 is currently a UFO, and has been for nearly 2 years now! I got really distracted by other projects. It’s a lovely hammered silk charmeuse in ivory. My goal is to finish it before this winter ends, as these tops are ideal for the winter/spring transition (and for fall!).

Variation: a shift dress

A couple years ago, I made the Sutton Blouse into a shift dress that … well, basically looks like a brown paper bag. I call it my paper bag dress, in fact. But it’s very comfortable and breezy and great for hot, sticky summers, as it’s made from a beige linen/rayon blend (with a gold Lurex thread). It has the same shape/silhouette as the blouse, the same high-low hem, it’s just longer–about knee length. However, I don’t like exposing my knees (hello, work-pony physique), so for any future versions–and I do want to make some–the front hem will be lengthened to match the back. The wrinkles from sitting all day in this dress pull the front hem up even more so it looks way too short. But really, the hem falls to just above the knee.

photo1 (1)

Well, that’s catch-up post #1.


The best laid plans…

LOL! Yeah, so about those plans to avoid impulse sewing and focus on anything but historical costuming. Totally didn’t work out. I caved at the first opportunity and have spent the past three months at least focused on creating an 18th century ensemble for a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC to see an exhibition of 18th century paintings by Elisabeth Louise Vigee le Brun. And I didn’t even get that ensemble totally finished!

Sigh. Well, over the years, I’ve learned the fastest way to get me to do exactly the opposite of what I know I should do is to make a plan to do what I know I should do (get the logic there?).

In any case, the unfinished 18th century ensemble is put away for now, waiting for some essential fixes. You can read all about it on my other blog, Belle Mode Belle Histoire, if you’re curious. If not, know that I really really really WILL be starting real-life, modern sewing projects very soon. Because I need clothes to wear to work.

In fact, I have a fourth True Bias Sutton Blouse all cut out and waiting for me on my work table. It’s been there since January. And I have a slew of other blouse and pants patterns I want to tackle before summer really gets underway. And I have a cocktail dress to finish so I can wear it to a friend’s wedding in September (that will make 2 full years since it was cut out and basted to its underlining–that’s how long it’s been sitting in my admittedly small UFO pile).

So, back to it. It will begin this weekend. What did I say just three paragraphs ago about making a plan…? No, no, this time I WILL stick to it. I have no more reasons to take up a historical costume project for several months. Stay tuned.

Don’t laugh–I’m serious!

Impulse sewing, planned sewing, and New Year’s resolutions

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I’m an impulse sewer. I have lists and lists and sub-lists, and addendum lists, of projects that I’ve been wanting to start, with the fabric waiting patiently in my stash, but I usually don’t get to the big ones or the ones that have been in planning for a long time. Why is this? Is it because I don’t really want them? Don’t want to do the work? They don’t fit my everyday, practical life? Well, in some cases the last one is true. (A lot of the things I’ve planned to sew have a distinctly “professional” flavor, and honestly, I spend most of my days at work in jean leggings, creative tops, and sometimes blazers; it is after all a creative, casual environment.) But in most cases, I’d wear the garments happily. Is it the work? Maybe. Many of them will take longer to suss out fitting details at least.

In looking back over my sewing habits during 2015, I find that most of what I’ve sewn has been the result of impulse–an “I want that in my closet NOW” feeling. And that’s fine to a certain point, but I feel like most of what I sew should be things that I’ve been planning, and purchasing fabric for, and actually do want in my closet, even though thinking about them doesn’t give me a rush of excitement.

Nothing can easily beat that rush of starting a project one week and wearing it the next, but there is a deeper satisfaction that comes from completing a carefully planned and carefully sewn project. And in 2016, I want to feel more of that deep satisfaction. Some of those impulse projects turned out well and are garments that I will wear the heck out of and be sad when they wear out. And they certainly beef up my wardrobe quickly. But a couple didn’t work out so great. Some of them have been historical costumes and have limited use.

I’ve been feeling for about a year that the beautiful fabrics in my stash need to be seen and worn: the gorgeous, quality woolens I’ve picked up here and there; the stunning silks I’ve had stashed away for years. They all have projects loosely planned for them. I suppose I’ve also been afraid of cutting into them and of the possibility of failure. But that’s the whole point of this blog, isn’t it? Plough through the fear, or shove it to one side and tell it to get the hell out of the way, because I’m ready to grab my scissors (or rotary cutter) and go to town on that fabric.

I’m not very big on New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I feel the need for a couple, in sewing and in other areas of my life. So, here’s my sewing resolution for 2016: sew less based on impulse, and more based on planning. Tick a few of those long-awaited projects off my list finally. I guess that Facebook quiz that took my name and told me the word that would guide me through 2016 was right: Change. It can be tough, but it can be very good and lead to better things. In this case, I hope this little change, this shift in mindset, will lead to greater satisfaction and a more useful wardrobe. And isn’t that one of the major reasons we sew?

Yes; yes it is. 😉

Happy New Year! (and may you stick to your resolutions, whatever they are)

Dirndl fitting

Even though I’m supposed to be working on this insane Chanel-style jacket project, I decided I just have to have a basic dirndl and some blouses (or at least 1) to go with it. This Fall. And preferably in time for Halloween, because it’ll be perfect for my costume (Edna Mode, the diminutive fashion designer from The Incredibles).

So before September ended, I cut apart the Burda dirndl pattern, measured and compared, figured it seemed pretty good as-is aside from my usual torso shortening between bust and waist, and cut out a mock-up from medium-weight linen from my stash. Wow. So not good as-is.

The bust gussets that provide shape to the bust area sat close to my waistline instead of cupping my bust as they should. They were SO LOW! And it had nothing to do with my shortening the waist length.

The neckline was WAY too low...

The neckline was WAY too low…

Turns out the pattern is drafted for someone not only taller than me, but with a bust set much lower than mine. Granted, mine begins practically below my chin, but I didn’t anticipate having to raise the dirndl neckline by 1 3/4 inches! Which is what I did.

This is how much the neckline had to be raised (including seam allowance).

This is how much the neckline had to be raised (including seam allowance).

Minus the 5/8″ seam allowance, this change made the finished neckline sit slightly above my bust point. It looked great. These photos show how I did it:

Raising the dirndl's neckline (side bodice).

Raising the dirndl’s neckline (side bodice). The gusset points (where the bodice seam intersects the gusset’s lowest point) also had to be raised.

After the 2nd muslin I also added about 1/4 inch at the waist on the side front/center front seam (the one that runs into the bust gusset) for a tad more breathing room through the belly. I want it to fit close, but not squeeze anywhere. Here’s what the new pattern pieces look like compared to the original, unaltered pieces.

Both side front and center front bodice panels had to have their necklines raised about 1 3/4 inches.

Both side front and center front bodice panels had to have their necklines raised about 1 3/4 inches.

The gusset insertion method Burda gives is odd and it makes for a messy seam intersection at the bust gusset point (where the gusset’s two seams intersect with the side-front/center-front panel seam). The pattern has you sew one edge of the gusset to the side front section, then sew the other side of the gusset and the side front/center front seam in one step. Unfortunately, this catches the gusset’s previously sewn seam allowance in the new one at the gusset point, and it creates a clusterf^%#.

What I did instead was to sew the SF/CF bodice seam first, up to the gusset point, backstitching there to reinforce the point. Then I attached the gusset to the center-front panel and the side-front panel, trimming and pressing the seams as necessary to make the intersection lay as flat as possible. It’s helpful to reduce the stitch length near the intersection point for greater precision so you don’t over-step the point and muck it all up. This is somewhat similar to how I’ve inserted gussets into 19th century stays and it works much better. It looks SO much better. Make a note of it!

This is a MUCH cleaner gusset installation than that created by the pattern's insertion method.

This is a MUCH cleaner gusset installation than that created by the pattern’s insertion method. BTW, this is the interior view of my black linen dirndl; the fabric you’re seeing is a cotton duck interlining.

Next up: some more in-progress photos of the dirndl (particularly my screw-up with the shoulder seams because I added piping and didn’t think it through); and finally, the finished dirndl!

A jacket in the style of Chanel

I work at a magazine about sewing. We love garment sewing and patterns and fabric. And we get kind of crazy sometimes. Like, let’s-all-make-our-own-Chanel-style-jackets-by-December crazy. With all the projects that were already in my Fall lineup, I wasn’t really anticipating taking on something that was a “someday” kind of project, but here I am, getting ready to cut the muslin for my very first Chanel-style cardigan jacket.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, 1960, wearing one of her iconic cardigan suits.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, 1960, wearing one of her iconic cardigan suits.

I’ll be using the newest Claire Shaeffer pattern from Vogue, #8991, a white-flecked black wool/nylon blend (mostly wool) boucle-type fabric from Hancock Fabrics, charcoal grey silk charmeuse for the lining, and gorgeous pewter and black enamel buttons. It’ll be fun, right? (Right??) Luckily, we’ve formed a support group to help us get through the challenge; it’ll meet bi-weekly.

Pewter and black enamel buttons from Treasure Cast.

Pewter and black enamel buttons from Treasure Cast.

White-flecked black boucle in a wool blend (mostly wool), and charcoal-grey silk charmeuse for the lining.

White-flecked black boucle in a wool blend (mostly wool), and charcoal-grey silk charmeuse for the lining.

Vogue 8991, a Claire Shaeffer-designed pattern.

Vogue 8991, a Claire Shaeffer-designed pattern.

So far I’ve focused on planning and picking my fabrics and details, which is how I roll with sewing projects–get all the major decisions out of the way up front and have a clear design concept. Recently I cut the pattern pieces apart, and I’ll start tracing and adjusting them soon.

My primary inspiration is this black boucle jacket. My fabric is a bit smoother, has white flecks in the black, and is not sequined.

My primary inspiration is this black boucle Chanel jacket. My fabric is a bit smoother, has white flecks in the black, and is not sequined.

My goal is to make something sleek and modern and minimalist compared to the crazy overwrought fringe-fests of many Chanel jackets. I just don’t like a lot of fringe, although it works on many of the design house’s pieces. I don’t need to add bulk to my frame, and I prefer clean edges. So my design plan is to make this jacket without any additional trims, zero fringe, but to have the charcoal-grey charmeuse lining extend beyond the outer fabric’s edges, folding back to the garment edge to create a kind of frame effect. This is a trim alternative frequently used by Chanel.

My design sketch.

My design sketch. Note that I’ve placed the pockets at the hip instead of just below the bust. Seriously, the pattern envelope model’s breasts look like they’re blinking.

This pattern is a bit odd, as it has a princess seam that terminates in the NECK, not the more-typical shoulder or armscye. I’m just not sure how to do the necessary full bust adjustment on it. It’s probably going to take actually making a muslin of the pattern as-is and cutting/slashing the mock-up on my body to figure out how to make that adjustment. We’ll see…

Failure is an option, it’s just not a very good one (sewing recap)

Well, I finally found a good way to start off my newly focused sewing blog. So here it is:

I purchased two button-front shirts and a knit maxi skirt in June, and it felt like a failure. But it was necessary to refresh my spring/summer wardrobe just a little because I realized that no matter how much I might want it to be the reverse, I simply can’t sew fast enough to make everything that I want to make for this season. And boy is there a lot. My dining room table has been COVERED until recently with freshly washed and pressed fabric just waiting to be cut and sewn; the table is still half-covered.

I know I have to spread it out over weeks and months and focus on sewing the simple things for everyday summer wear. But I have such high ambitions and I want to sew so much, and there are many reasons why I’ve given up clothes shopping (for the most part; I won’t spend my time sewing undies and jeans—yet). Finding something I like enough and that fits well enough to buy in the store has always been a job and a half, which only serves to reinforce my desire to sew more clothes. But I’ve learned recently that when things at work or in other areas of my life are sucking my mental and emotional energy, there’s just not much left over for sewing. I go into a funk for a week or two, sewing and projects sit or only minimal progress is made on them. And then I come out of it, and get to work again.

But this feeling of failure because I had to BUY some clothes … it was surprising. So to remind myself of what I actually have accomplished in the way of creating a home-sewn* wardrobe, I decided to post a round-up of the garments I’ve sewn in the past three years, since I really started sewing seriously again. That should help dispel this sense of failure.

 First up, the popular Sewaholic Cambie dress. I made this in 2012. It’s cute, the pattern’s well-drafted, and I didn’t have to make too many fitting changes since Sewaholic’s creator drafts patterns for a pear shape, and bust measurements on her sizing chart go up to my bust measurement. I made it out of deep purple cotton Swiss dot and lined it with pale pink cotton batiste. It’s a bit fluffy for my current taste, due to the full gathered skirt, but I think I can re-do it by re-cutting the skirt into the A-line option. I may do it eventually. But it’s a fun dress to wear, regardless. If you want to read my review of the pattern, it’s here, on

My fluffy purple Sewaholic Cambie dress.

My fluffy purple Sewaholic Cambie dress.

 I have a thing for dresses, so most of what you’ll see here will be dresses. They’re so easy to throw on in the morning and they’re an outfit all on their own but accessorizing them can turn the look into something completely different. Next up is an emerald green, tightly fitted sheath dress from the Sew Chic Beatrice dress pattern. This thing is over-fitted and the bodice fit is way off. I didn’t fully understand my proportions and how to make a pattern fit them until very recently, despite my years of sewing experience. I made this in 2014, so the fact that it’s so poorly fitting and what I sew now is much better fitting says something. I only wore this dress while filming some sewing tutorials. It looks good enough when I’m standing, but sitting is uncomfortable because I took someone’s suggestion to peg the skirt a bit, which looks good, but unfortunately doesn’t accommodate how my lower body spreads when I sit. Oh well. But I really like the idea of this dress, the color, the fabric I used, and I like the pattern. I just have to completely re-do it from scratch. And I will; I even bought more of the same fabric I used for this one so that I can have the dress I really wanted–with a better fit. Again, click here for my review of the pattern.

My Sew Chic Beatrice dress is actually ill fitting, despite the fact that it looks pretty good from a distance.

My Sew Chic Beatrice dress is actually ill fitting, despite the fact that it looks pretty good from a distance.

 One of the more recent tops I’ve made, this is Simplicity 1896, a kimono-style tunic with bag sleeves. I’d been hoarding this gorgeous purple hand-painted silk crepe de Chine for a couple years since I purchased it (for $$$) at a sewing expo. This tunic was the perfect thing to turn it into. I love this fabric; its so beautiful and yummy and wearing it is a lovely experience. (I have a serious weakness for anything silk.) This was one instance where I was afraid to cut into the fabric, but once I did I was thrilled and I’m so glad I didn’t let that fear of ruining it keep me from using it forever. My review here.

A hand-painted, silk crepe de Chine kimono tunic, Simplicity 1896. This is one of my favorite tops, and I will be making lots more eventually.

A hand-painted, silk crepe de Chine kimono tunic, Simplicity 1896. This is one of my very favorites, and I will be making more from this pattern, eventually.

 Next up, a series of maxi dresses that I made last summer (2014), all from the same pattern: New Look 6774, a mix-and-match pattern (choose the bodice option, choose the skirt option, etc.). Next to silk, rayon challis is my second-favorite fabric to sew and wear. Especially for summer dresses and skirts. My stash contains as much rayon challis as silk, because it’s available in really beautiful prints these days, and it is so comfortable to wear and easy to sew. It makes really lovely summer dresses and skirts. I think I’ve maxed out (heh!) on this particular maxi dress pattern, although I really liked it when I first used it. As you can see from the images, it really emphasizes my full bust, which is very full and doesn’t really need any additional emphasis. So this pattern is being retired. In fact, I remade one of the maxis that I made from this pattern into another pattern. Here are the three maxis I’ve made from New Look 6774 (and here’s my review):

New Look 6774, which I called the Peacock Nebula dress. I hand-dyed the rayon twill fabric myself using the ice-dye process, and I'm fascinated by ice-dyeing now.

New Look 6774, which I called the Peacock Nebula dress. I hand-dyed the rayon twill fabric myself using the ice-dye process, and I’m fascinated by ice-dyeing now.

My last New Look 6774. It's time to retire this pattern. Too much boobage!

My last New Look 6774. It’s time to retire this pattern. Too much boobage!

Another New Look 6774, this time in printed rayon challis. So comfy to wear!

Another New Look 6774, this time in printed rayon challis. So comfy to wear.

Then I remade the Peacock Nebula rayon dress. Just removed the New Look 6774 bodice, cut down the skirt to natural waist level, and added a new bodice, made from leftovers of the fabric and the bodice from New Look 6373, a jumpsuit pattern. It has a pretty neckline flounce. I didn’t do any fitting on this dress; I just wanted it to be fast and easy. That was probably a mistake as it’s very gapey and far too loose through the back bodice (due to my flat upper back and erect posture). Too bad, but I’d have to wear it with a  cardigan in the office anyway. Here it is (review here):

It still has its Peacock Nebula thing going on, but the bodice gives more coverage now and isn't as strangely droopy as it was as NL 6774.

It still has its Peacock Nebula thing going on, but the bodice gives more coverage now and isn’t as strangely droopy as it was as NL 6774.

Whew, just two more for this post. Okay, next is a circle skirt that I drafted to my measurements in 2014 and made from a drapery fabric that I found in a home décor fabric shop. It’s cotton; but beyond that I have no idea what the weave is supposed to be. It stretched like hell on the bias, even after I let it hang for 1 week before hemming the skirt. It drapes like a challis, but it has a slightly brushed, flannelly feeling wrong side. The print is pretty, but old fashioned; I fell in love with the fall colors. This looks killer with cognac boots in fall.

The circle skirt of doom, which continued to stretch on the bias AFTER hemming, so I had recut and sew the hem. Shown with one of my Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono Tees.

The circle skirt of doom, which continued to stretch on the bias AFTER hemming, so I had recut and sew the hem. Shown with one of my Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono Tees.

I don’t make many skirts; they fit my curves oddly and tend to shift around as I walk and they don’t sit securely at a place on my waist that I want to draw a lot of attention to. But it’s nice to have some on hand. I really love this tropical print rayon challis sateen–so called because it has a superb glossy finish on its right side due to longer yarn floats than a typical challis. This pleated maxi was self-drafted to my measurements this summer (2015). I usually wear it with a sequined tank and a navy or white cardigan, but it doesn’t look too bad with a striped tee.

A self-drafted pleated maxi skirt in lovely rayon challis sateen. Skirts are problematic for me, but sometimes they're the best dressing option.

A self-drafted pleated maxi skirt in lovely rayon challis sateen. Skirts are problematic for me, but sometimes they’re the best dressing option.

Well, that’s a brief update on some of the sewing I’ve done in the past few years. There’s a lot more, but there’s more to say about each of those others, so they’ll get separate posts. This is just to get me started!

* I prefer the phrase “home-sewn” to both “hand-made” and “me-made” for a few reasons. 1) They are sewn at home; this does not make them inferior. 2) ALL clothing, even those purchased in stores, is hand-made. People make them, not robots. These people have hands and they use a sewing machine to make the garments, just like I do at home. And most often clothing is made by people living and working in conditions Westerners would acknowledge as deplorable and abusive if we allowed ourselves to be aware of them—and for what most Westerners would call a pittance in pay. 3) “me-made” just isn’t grammatical; I’m an editor, and these things matter. Plus it just sounds awkward and cutesy in a contrived way. **

** To anyone reading this that gets their undies in a bunch because I’ve just cast aspersions on a phrase you like to use because it sounds cute or something—this is no reflection on you. This is my personal preference, and these are my opinions, and it’s my blog, and I’m allowed to say whatever the hell I want.