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 PatternReview.com.

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.

 

 

 

Past Projects: Grey Sundress

The grey linen sundress!

A grey sundress. Isn’t the concept kind of an oxymoron? I suppose. But I love this charcoal-dark grey, especially with the sheen of linen. And I love that it’s a completely atypical and sophisticated color for summer. Plus, I look really good in grey; it tones down my coloring (pink cheeks, brassy hair).

The Fabric: Charcoal grey 100% medium-weight linen

The Pattern: I used New Look 6774, Design-Your-Look Dress pattern with interchangeable skirt, bodice, and strap options. I used the crossover bodice with cinched shoulder straps (view H) and the knee-length skirt option.

About this Dress: The only true alteration I made in the pattern was to take a small dart along the front neckline of the pattern muslin to prevent gaping in the finished bodice neckline. I used a size 14 pattern for the bodice front but a size 18 pattern for the bodice back, midriff pieces, and skirt, thinking that it would accommodate my fitting issues. The bodice back sizing worked, but the dress turned out way too billowy through the skirt, especially considering the body of the fabric. The little gathers in the skirt front and back combine with the linen fabrication to make a very floaty garment, which feels wonderful on hot days, but wrinkles horribly and ends up looking poufy. I have yet to remove the skirt so that it can be taken in.

Not the most flattering silhouette in the end. But light and airy for hot hot summers!

I didn’t sew the zipper according to the instructions. It didn’t make any sense to me to create a lap of fabric over the zipper, so I just centered it. So much easiser, especially with linen.

If  I make this dress again, it will be in a material that doesn’t wrinkle so badly.

All in all, I like the finished garment, but it does have a lot of skirt volume. Since choosing this pattern and wearing the dress a few times, my perceptions of the benefits of empire-waisted dresses for the curvy-figured has shifted significantly. I still like the ease and casual flavor of empire-waisted sundresses, but for real figure flattery, my shape does best with dresses that emphasize my natural waistline.

Live and learn!

Past Projects: Strapless Cotton Dot Sundress

Back in the spring of 2009, I decided to make a serious attempt at making some everyday dresses, since they’re an easy wardrobe option and since finding cute, well-fitting, and unique dresses off the rack is almost impossible.

The idea was that having lots of custom-made, perfectly fitting dresses would make getting ready for work in the morning much easier, especially in the summer, when every outfit has to be weighed against the potential for sweating through it during my commute.

I didn’t get very far that summer in terms of starting projects. I’m really good at planning the projects–and really good at buying the patterns and materials–but I’m a bit slower at putting the garments together. In fact, I completed only two. But that’s really because I wanted to make sure they were constructed well and fit well, and I hadn’t had much practice at fitting and making normal everyday garments–I had much more experience fitting Renaissance garb. It’s a lot easier to make a garment that shapes the body than it is one that fits the body’s natural shape.

Anyway, I’m very happy with the two dresses I completed in 2009, and thought I’d share them here, since they’re my first non-Renaissance projects in years and since they both involved a considerable amount of learning. They’re not perfect, by any means. But probably nothing I’ll ever sew will achieve perfection. That said, they’re good enough to merit mention here.

So I’ll start with my very first dress: the teal dot strapless sundress.

The Pattern

Vogue Easy Options #7848—strapless A-line, princess-seamed knee-length cotton dress with grosgrain ribbon trim (fully lined, boned bodice)

The Fabric

Outer: Light blue-teal quilting cotton with darker teal, olive, and lighter blue overlapping dots—they look a little like bubbles in pond water to me.

Lining: light-weight bleached muslin

I wanted to start with something fun, cute, and sassy. This is a simple, cute, and easy-to-make Vogue pattern, although it did stretch my skills at the time. But it proved to be the perfect way to start my dress-making project.

I originally cut out a size 16, according to my measurements, but because pattern manufacturers INSIST (apparently) on vanity sizing, I had to cut it down to a 14 after test-fitting the muslin, which then became the lining.

The pattern doesn’t call for a full lining, only a bodice lining, which is boned. But because the cotton was lightweight, I wanted to make sure the effect wasn’t transparent, as I hate wearing separate half-slips with dresses and skirts. So I fully lined the body of the dress with the muslin, then attached the boned bodice lining per the directions.

I machine-stitched the zipper instead of using a hand finish (baby steps). But I did hand-sew a blind hem—or what was supposed to be a blind hem, and turned out to be not-quite-blind in some areas. But that’s okay. It was the first time I attempted a blind hem, and I’m happy enough with the results. The only person who’ll know it’s not a perfect blind hem is me—or another knowledgeable sewer who gets a close look.

I machine-stitched the lining hem, because it’s the lining and only muslin, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on details that just aren’t that significant, especially for a dress that’s just for casual wear.

After the construction was complete, I thought the dress was missing something. The shape is good, the fit is good, I love the material, but it just needed something. So I found some 1-inch-wide teal grosgrain ribbon and played with placement on the dress bodice. I ended up stitching one length at the neckline, just below the edge, so you can see a bit of the dress fabric above the top edge of the ribbon. Then it looked a bit top-heavy, or my eye was drawn too much to the top. So, since waist definition is rarely a bad thing, I sewed another length of the grosgrain at the natural waistline.

I really like the finished effect. The beauty of a princess-line dress is that it helps smooth  over the waist area and creates a wonderfully uninterrupted, sleek line. But for this particular dress, the fabric’s design needed a bit of breaking up, and the ribbon was the perfect solution.

I haven’t actually worn this dress out of the house yet (and it’s now 2011) because it’s maybe a bit too sassy for everyday wear, even in a very casual office environment, but I’ve put together some great outfits based on it, and this summer I WILL WEAR IT.