Monday, March 30, 2009

Back from Miami


I had a great time in Miami! I managed to make four new wardrobe pieces (plus my birthday dress from last year) so I felt all styling, though I kind of wished I'd made a short dress. I didn't want to look like the Young Things on their Spring Break (it appears to be a "thing" to wear your booty shorts unbuttoned and the fly peeled back to expose your bathing suit and, in one instance, your underwear), but they reminded me that I used to looooove wearing short skirts when I was younger. Somewhere around age 30 my skirts settled at the knee and have stubbornly refused to budge ever since. Even when I think I'm making something short, it only barely skims above the knee. I need to put a genuinely (but not obscenely) short dress on my Spring/Summer sewing list.

Sisters I was there with my sister. We have wanted to travel together since we were teenagers, but she started having my nephews in her early 20s and by the time either of us could afford to travel she couldn't leave the kids. The youngest is now 4 so we had a window and we took it! It wasn't the trip to Italy we planned so long ago, but we both were desperate for warm weather, sunshine, and lots of relaxing.

Eden Roc Hotel I used Priceline to get our hotel; we ended up at the Renaissance Eden Roc Resort and Spa. It's right on the beach and has four gorgeous pools. Our room had an ocean view but no balcony, but for what we paid I can't complain! The bar area was gorgeous and the gym had up-to-the-minute equipment.

BoardwalkI loved the boardwalk, though I fear they are replacing it with a ground-level cement path, which is neither as comfortable nor as romantic as a traditional boardwalk. It goes all the way down to the bottom of the spit of land on which Miami Beach is situated and most days I took a long walk down, got ice cream, and walked back up.

The weather was good, which was so nice after predictions of rain for most of the days! It was a little cloudy, but there was always sun (even on my last day, which was mostly cloudy and a little rainy). It was warm in the sun, but cool in the shade. I love the beach but burn like crazy and I usually sit under an umbrella the whole time. It was too cold under an umbrella so I got a little burned, despite my liberal and frequent application of 50 SPF sunscreen with titanium dioxide. The worst place? The back of my hands! When I reach into my purse it scrapes against them and hurts!

I slept late, read books, had nice workouts, ate a lot of dessert, and lounged in the sun to my heart's content. I wasn't quite ready to come home, but I suppose better to leave with a little longing than bored.

You can see all the photos with a concentration on my wardrobe here on my sewing flickr, and a slightly different set with more concentration on the scenery on my travel flickr here; I haven't gotten my sister's pictures yet so there will be more eventually.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Sewing Back Story: Part 3, All Grown Up


Graduation DayI lived in the dorms all four years of college so I didn't do much sewing. Every year I managed to make my Halloween costume while visiting my parents during the summer or during Fall break, and of course the infamous "ugly dress" for my 21st birthday and graduation. College graduation is pictured at left, with my mom and sister. As I recall, I made my mom's dress as well--she had the fabric and pattern but hadn't gotten around to making it.

I also did a little sewing on campus. I did a play with the theater department (Hamlet) and was in the dance company. For the theater I was able to get my tech credit hours taken care of with sewing. Sweet! So much better than painting a set. The costume shop had a row of New Home machines (my first unpleasant exposure to this brand) and a gravity feed Rowenta iron.

For the dance company, I sewed just because I liked being involved. My whole life I had fantasies of being a dancer. However, my parents preferred giving me music lessons to dance classes. When I got to college I immediately started taking dance classes. Unfortunately, it turns out that I don't have much talent for dance beyond an innate sense of rhythm. I am not flexible, have very bad balance, and get dizzy just turning my head too fast, much less doing chaine turns across the floor. So sewing was a way I could excel in the dance company, because I sure wasn't doing it on the floor!

I missed sewing during those years, and when my parents said they wanted to get me a nice graduation gift--I had graduated at the head of my class with a 4.0--I said I wanted a sewing machine.


After a little bit of drama--my sister got engaged two days before my graduation and my parents completely forgot about getting me a gift--my mom took me sewing machine shopping at the end of the summer of 1996. Unfortunately, the budget range was pretty small and the machine shop guy convinced my mom to buy me a New Home. I had been working with this model in the costume shop for the past four years and already knew I hated it. Partly this is because I was spoiled because the only other machine I'd sewn on was her Bernina 930 (here's a link to another lady who looooves hers). Now *that* is a fantastic machine; I hope to inherit it many, many, many years from now. I kind of wanted to tell her that I'd actually rather buy myself a nice machine than get a bad one as a gift, but figured it would have been ungracious. I think wish I'd spoken up then, though. I could have saved myself 10 years of heartache.

Jacket FrontI had a roommate and no dedicated sewing space for the next two years before I went to law school. I also had my first real job making what felt like a princely sum and I enjoyed myself clothes shopping. I didn't sew much because of these limiting factors, except of course for the annual Halloween costume and birthday dress! I was a nanny directly after graduation for a little girl whose birthday was also in August, so I made us matching birthday dresses. I still have mine, the daisy flowered full length sundress on the left. This must have been for my 22nd or 23rd birthday.

Law School

In law school I again had a roommate and no dedicated sewing space, and absolutely no free time. I think I sewed pretty much only my Halloween costumes for those three years. I do remember giving my roommate a sewing lesson (the skirt tutorial from Amber's blog) so maybe I sewed a little more than that. But not much. I had to set up my sewing machine on a little wooden tray table that vibrated like crazy when I got going.

I participated in the law school's musical theater group, Assault & Flattery. We did an annual production of a famous musical with satirical law school lyrics and plot. It was so much fun and I met a lot of people doing it. I was an editor on the Law Review and so I spent most of my time with that crowd (all of whom I loved, don't get me wrong). A&F was an entirely different group of people. I again took care of my tech hours through costume sewing. Another score!

Post Law School, Pre Sewing Room

My first act upon graduating from law school was getting my own apartment. While I was fond *of* my roommates, I was not fond of *having* roommates, not least because I couldn't leave out my sewing machine. My first year after law school I clerked for a judge in Austin and it was really the first time in my life I had had free time on weekday evenings. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that I couldn't sew on weeknights. Sewing gets me really riled up, and if I'm in the middle of a project I can't fall alseep because I obsessively mentally sew and re-sew every single seam over and over again. To this day I don't sew much during the week, though I think I've learned to slow down my brain a little bit. Insomnia was a huge problem for me through most of my life until a switch flipped sometime in law school. I got so tired that I was able to fall asleep most of the time without any problem. Thank goodness I retained this ability after I graduated!

To fill the creative void I started making jewelry. I got really into jewelry-making, almost to the exclusion of sewing, for several years (it was in this first year after law school that my Nana passed away and I didn't think to take any of her sewing things). It's a lot easier to do on weeknights, takes a lot less prep time and space, and creates finished objects faster. I still did some sewing, of course. The birthday dresses and Halloween costumes have been constants throughout my life.

29th Birthday DressMy birthday dress the year after I graduated from law school was a pink silk burnout chiffon over a pink underlay. I wore it on a cruise with my then-boyfriend and the zipper stuck as we were getting ready to go to dinner one night! Luckily, I had my jewelry tools with me and I got him to yank down the zipper tab as hard as he could with the pliers. He was worried about breaking the zipper but I was like, "I can't live in this dress!!!!! I will have to replace the zipper anyway!" He accidentally ripped a hole in the silk, about which he felt terrible, but I tried to assure him I could easily mend it (and did) and I *had* to get out of the dress somehow.

When I moved out of my Austin apartment I could see there were beads, sequins, and glitter everywhere in the carpet. Hee.

When I moved to DC I got another one-bedroom apartment by myself. I set up a dedicated sewing space, which I hadn't had in my smaller Austin apartment, and got into sewing again. I'd had trouble with the New Home all along. Cidell thinks it's actually just a defective bobbin casing. Whatever the source, I had terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE tension problems on it. It made me cry all the time and I don't think I ever did a single project without fighting the machine on at least one seam. Now that I was sewing more it was just unbearable. I don't know why it took me so long to replace it. I felt like it would be unappreciative of the gift to get a new one. Eventually I realized I'd been sewing on it for almost 10 miserable years and decided I had given the gift enough appreciation!

The Culmination: A Sewing Room and a Bernina

Sewing Room CleanWhen I bought my two bedroom condo my dreams came true. I would finally have a dedicated sewing room. And I would buy myself a Bernina to put in it. I had accumulated quite a bit of stash at this point and had pared it down to move, along with purging patterns (like that beloved sailor dress pattern from high school, dang it). And then promptly started filling the stash back up!

At this time I was working for a law firm. I worked crazy hours (though I opted to work 12 hour weekdays and generally did not work on weekends) so I had a lot more time and energy for buying fabric than for using it. I dropped a lot of retail therapy cash at G Street and Joann's during that time. I only wish I'd had better taste in fibers then--a lot of this fabric is in bags to be given away. Even with my schedule, I still found time to sew. I remember staying up until 3 in the morning the night before I left for Italy finishing up my black and pink wardrobe!

When I quit that job and moved over to government three years ago my sewing time, energy, and interest really took off and I have been sewing like crazy ever since. I discovered Pattern Review in May 2006 by randomly googling a pattern number. Although I was an "early adopter" of the internet as a social networking tool, for some reason it had never occurred to me to seek out other sewists on the internet. Here was a whole new world for me! I immediately signed up for PR Weekend and started posting reviews. Then in 2007 I started this blog. You all know the rest of the story. `-)

The internet has had a huge impact on my sewing. I understand fit issues a lot better and have started altering my patterns; I found Burda World of Fashion Magazine; I met Cidell, Karen, and other wonderful sewing friends; and I get a ton of encouragement and positive feedback and just general camaraderie.

I'm 34 now and have been garment sewing for over 20 years, and I'm sure it will be a part of my life forever. I am not married and don't have children and really hope to have these things someday. I'm sure if it does happen I will have less time for sewing and may just do birthday dresses and Halloween costumes...for the kids. But eventually, I'd come back. No question.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Sewing Back Story: Part 2, Learning to Sew

Sorry that I have no pictures to illustrate this phase! I couldn't even find a photo of my prom dress.


Because I was around sewing so much as a kid, it was inevitable that I would pick up something. As I mentioned, my mom had a little business making nursing tops with a friend when I was a kid. This was her closest friend at the time, and they also had four kids approximately the same ages as us (there are four of us in my family), so we were all best friends and spent a lot of time together.

Starting when I was probably 5 or 6, possibly even younger, me, my sister, and the two older girls from our mirror family claimed our moms' scraps and hand-sewed lots and lots of Barbie clothes. Unfortunately, I don't think any specimens still exist. I suspect we just draped them directly onto the Barbies and had to cut them off; I don't remember putting in closures! Maybe as I got older a few elastic casings or the occasional snap. I'm not sure how other girls played Barbies, but for us the thrill was solely dressing them up and creating elaborate houses (using larger scraps of fabric to represent the floors of different rooms). Once everything was set up there was really nothing to do but take it apart and start over again with new outfits and new mansions.

I then became interested in sewing for myself. At first we made a lot of tube tops and tube skirts, still all hand-sewing. I think all those years of hand-sewing are why I really don't mind doing it these days. I mean, I groan about how long it takes, but the actual physical labor part of it I find pretty soothing.

Sienna Miller in MarchesaI hoarded large fabric scraps (another trait that continues to this day) and made elaborate plans to enlarge my favorite Barbie outfits for myself. My sister had a Day to Night Barbie whose outfit I really coveted. It was a blue satin pencil skirt with a long ruffle attached, and a sequin tube top. You could wrap the ruffle around the skirt to make a peplum and put a jacket on her for day, and then for night give her a dramatic one shoulder look with the ruffle. I really should make this for myself one day, just to have! This is probably the oldest project on my project list--planned for almost 30 years. I can't find an image for it--everyone has the pink suit for Day to Night Barbie, but I swear this ruffle thing was blue and it definitely existed. I was obsessed with the Marchesa dress on the right a couple years ago; it definitely has to do with my fascination for that Barbie gown! (And I never did figure out how the Marchesa worked; I can't find a closure anywhere or any break in the lower ruffles for a closure.) I had a beautiful full length white lace sheath dress with a nude underlay for my Barbie; this was another outfit I wanted to duplicate.

The first sewing lesson I remember my mom giving me was not auspicious. My sister and I had gotten pale blue corduroy pants and, since we are short, they were too long. My mom had us hand-hem our own pants, sitting on the back steps in the California sun. I was probably 7 and my sister 5. It is hard enough for an adult to hand hem through corduroy, but almost impossible for a kid. I couldn't get the needle through the fabric and it hurt my hand. I'm not sure why my mom decided to start here, because I resisted sewing lessons for quite a while after this bad experience.

The next clear sewing memory I have is when I was about 12. My parents were having a party so us kids were upstairs. While my mom was occupied and couldn't yell at me about using the sewing machine I made a nightgown. I cut out a nightgown shape with dolman sleeves--I'm not sure how I came up with the dimensions and I don't recall if I made a pattern or just cut straight into the fabric but it fit so I must have done some measuring--then sewed up the side seams. It was in a pale green knit (it only now occurs to me that my mom might have had something planned for that fabric). My first self-drafted project. When my mom came upstairs I showed it to her. She decided I was ready for patterns.

We did a few formal lessons with patterns. I hated that she required me to finish all edges with a zigzag (to this day she doesn't have a serger, and isn't interested in one) and press every seam. What a drag. I was not convinced about the necessity of interfacing, either. She also taught me gathers with the aphorism "always sew with a relaxed bottom," i.e., the gathers on the underside. This caused me no end of trouble with the fabric getting folded and twisted and caught up. Only a few years ago I accidentally started a seam with the gathers facing up. Rather than stop, clip my thread, and turn it over I just kept sewing. A revelation! It is sooooo much easier and more precise to sew with the gathers up. However, I eventually came around to finishing all my edges (except knits), pressing all my seams as I go, and using appropriate interfacing.

I know I was comfortable enough with patterns by junior high to make the costumes for a production of Julius Caesar one of my classes did. A toga isn't complicated, obviously, but I know I used a pattern and wowed everyone else with my sewing prowess.

High School

I sewed for myself throughout high school, mostly dresses for church. I really wish I could remember or find any of the particular patterns. This was in the late 80s and early 90s and a typical dress would be a large scale pastel floral print with a tie sewed into the side seams that made a bow in the back. I started out putting in zippers by masking taping them in place and sewing over the tape, and eventually moved onto pinning. I got really good at zippers, though now I've been doing invisibles for so long when I have to put in a regular zipper it's a bit of a disaster. I don't think I ever did any buttonholes then.

I definitely enjoyed sewing during this time and spent quite a lot of my free time and my allowance doing it. Once we had driver's licenses, a friend and I took an expedition to the garment district in Dallas. I don't know if anything is there anymore; there wasn't much at the time (around 1991). There were a few warehouse type stores with mill ends. The cutters all spoke Spanish and so it was helpful I was studying it in school! I don't remember what my stash situation was at this time. Maybe I bought for one project at a time, as I had so little disposable income. I don't remember storing any fabric in my room, and my mom has very little stash or storage room.

Halloween 1993(?)I have always loved Halloween and costumes, so I made my costumes in high school. The costume at left is from early college, but you get the idea. I was in the marching band and marched the flag my senior year. I and the few other girls who could sew made all of our costumes for our shows.

One particular dress I loved I made in white with a navy collar as a sailor-style dress. I believe it had princess seams with the center front and center back panels cut in one length for bodice and skirt. The side panels were cut straight for the bodice, and the side skirt panels were pleated and inset. The collar was a single round piece and it had a center back zip. I only got rid of this pattern when I moved into my condo 4 1/2 years ago and I've been kicking myself ever since. I really wish I'd kept it, and/or had any idea what it was so I could find it again.

Prom 1992My biggest project in high school was my prom dress. There was a beautiful polyester satin at Hancock's that was black from some angles and dark green from others; I now know this to be fake cross-woven silk dupioni but I was no fiber snob at that time. It came in many colors and I had coveted it for years; when it was time for prom I knew exactly what I wanted. I had always dreamed of a full length prom gown, but that year (1992) long was completely out. So I made a knee length dress with a sweetheart neckline, fitted bodice, drop waist, and full skirt. I messed up putting in the zipper, accidentally catching in the fabric. When I ripped it out it left a line in my beautiful polyester fabric, so I wore my long hair down to cover it. Prom is still the only time I've had my hair professionally styled! Unfortunately, my dad was pretty sick the day of my prom so all my pictures were taken in the hospital. I didn't have a date; just went with a bunch of girlfriends. I felt great in my dress, and very proud of it.

I was soooooo ready to move away for college, but one of the things I knew I'd miss was access to a sewing machine. I had been well-prepared to leave the nest, in life and in sewing. By this point I knew how to use a pattern and sew at a moderate level of difficulty. I had never made a lined garment or put in a buttonhole (or, more's the pity, a fly front--I wish I'd learned this as a kid so I wouldn't fear it so much now), but I had the tools and confidence to tackle anything I cared to sew.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Sewing Back Story: Part 1, Geneology

I'm in Miami this week. Hopefully these posts will post in an orderly fashion!

So LindsayT asked about this a while ago[ and I've really enjoyed everyone else's stories, so I'll throw mine into the mix. I warn you that I am a prolific writer. You'll probably need a coffee/glass of wine (depending on time of day) and a snack!

Both of my grandmothers sewed and my mom sewed as well. With all of them, it was at least partly a necessity thing rather than an enjoyment thing. It's hard for me to conceive of a time without cheap, mass-produced, [sweatshop], throwaway clothes but I'm told such a time existed. Both of my parents were raised by single mothers at a time that this was Not Done and money was very tight in both households. My mom stayed at home, so she did all the thrifty things as well.

Nana, My Paternal Grandmother

Unfortunately, my Nana, my dad's mother, had pretty much stopped sewing by the time my memory starts. I am told that she was really talented and turned out copies of all the fashionable clothes for her six daughters (and my dad), and I know she sewed for me when I was a little girl as well--and keep in mind I was one of 22 grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren! My mom still talks about her perfect blind hems.

She was very clever. In addition to making copies of fashionable clothes, one of my dad's favorite stories is that one year there was an It sweater brand. Apparently, people would come up behind you and flip your neckline down to look at the tag on your sweater and see if it was the right brand. The sweaters themselves were not actually anything special. So for Christmas Nana went to Penney's and got regular sweaters. Then she haunted thrift stores and rag piles for sweaters of the It brand that had been ruined and given away. She accumulated enough, cut out the tags, sewed them into the Penney's sweaters, and nobody was the wiser!
I have waxed and waned in sewing throughout my life and unfortunately when my Nana passed away I was in a waning phase and didn't want much from her sewing room. I regret this very much! None of my cousins do much sewing so nobody would have minded had I wanted more.

Buttons from NanaI took a bunch of buttons, which make all the projects I use them on very special. The top button on my Greek Tablecloth Shirtdress is one of hers, as well as the jacket button on my Vogue 8123 jacket and shift combo, and the halter neck button on the McCall 4444 dress I'm wearing in the tutorial Amber in Norfolk put on her blog for an easy skirt. This dress pre-dated my discovery of PR and blogging and is not documented anywhere so unfortunately no pics of the button. I made it for July 4th, 2004, I believe.

I later inherited two of her pressing hams when I asked my parents for a pressing ham for Christmas and my mom surprised me with them! I had no idea she'd claimed them from the sewing room and she knew how much it would mean to me to have them. I think of my Nana every time I sew.

NanaOutfitBut the most important thing I inherited from Nana was my fashion sense. She was a fashionable lady and she was never sloppy looking if she could help it (in later years she didn't have the strength or finally the mental ability to keep up her appearance, and it was really hard to see her like that). My mother and maternal grandmother are much more practical dressers. I can trace my Retro Fantasy directly to my Nana. I have a baby dress that she sewed for me, and one of her favorite RTW outfits. My Popsie wanted me to have it when she passed on. I put it on and he said it was as though she had just walked into the room. It is a cherished possession.

Grandma M, My Maternal Grandmother

My maternal Grandmother is plus-sized and always sewed for herself because it was impossible to find ready to wear. She has an old machine from the 50s that is still ticking. As a girl, I loved going into her sewing room and playing with her pattern weights. They were a white set of weights that were not quite cylinders because they flared out a bit at the top and the bottom was green felt. There were six of them in a special case and I had to be very careful to return them all to the case when I was done.

Rings from My Grandmother, 2008This Christmas she asked me what I wanted and I asked for something of hers. She asked what I had in mind and I said maybe jewelry, or buttons, or a dish, or something. She let me dig through her jewelry and I found some rings I just loved. I told her to choose which one to give me and she gave me three! I am hoping we can institute a new tradition. I would love to "inherit" something of hers as gifts rather than get something mass-produced from a store.

Family Legacy of YarnI'm hoping for buttons next, or maybe the pattern weights. But she might still be using them; she has her cutting board set up in her bedroom, and the sewing machine is out and dust free. Mainly she is a knitter, though. I always have several pairs of slippers in my pajama drawer, and I have two afghans she's made me that keep me warm in winter. The purple afghan on the left is one she made to match my decor (my mom crocheted the one on the right, also to match my decor).

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about sewing further back in the family tree, though I'm sure it was there.

My Mom

Growing up my mom sewed most of our clothes. Of course, as a kid I thought this was the worst! What had I done to deserve such punishment? I wanted the fashionable brand-name clothes my friends wore--I grew up in LA, after all. I felt the same way about her homemade bread. I thought pre-sliced bread was so superior to the loaves she made. Nowadays I sew most of my own clothes and make my own bread. It's terrible when you grow up and turn into your mom, isn't it?

I recall that going to House of Fabrics was a real treat. Not because I particularly cared for it, but it always put her in a good mood. Hmmm, I think this is a trait I inherited. I would climb up onto a stool and look at the big pattern books, where were stored on a metal file cabinet specifically designed with a slanted top and a ledge to hold the books. As I got older, I would sometimes choose my own patterns and fabrics for what I wanted her to make for me.

Pattern EnvelopeAlthough she sewed for necessity, she also enjoyed it. She took a Stretch and Sew class in the 70s--I still have one of her patterns and continue to sew from it. Since she sewed knits like they were no big deal I never got hung up on the knit phobia many sewists experience. At some point she and a friend started a small business making nursing tops. I don't know how far off the ground it got, but I know they were both excited about it.

She always made us new dresses for special occasions. She often made me and my sister matching or coordinating outfits, which we loved. We are two years apart but always liked to pretend we were twins; we were usually the same size because my sister grew faster than me and was always caught up even though she's two years younger. One Christmas she sewed me and my sister rag dolls. We were Mary and Laura Ingalls FREAKS and were very excited to receive real life rag dolls. They were made from nylon(?) socks and had yarn hair. I named mine Carrie (after Mary and Laura's little sister, natch) and she was my constant companion for many, many years. She is still somewhere in my parents house. Her face has so many runs in it there's not much left of it and I think she's lost a couple of limbs, but I could never get rid of her.

BlueGreenCapeFrontI spent long hours lounging around my mom's feet as she sewed. She didn't get a sewing room until all of us kids moved out of the house and her sewing nook was always in the master bedroom (my dad didn't seem to object; he never did any sewing himself). We would play with the scraps, and eventually started turning them into Barbie clothes. I mostly learned to sew by osmosis.

My mom doesn't sew too much nowadays, she is more of a crocheter, see afghan above and the little capelet to the right. But it is a big tradition that she always makes my nephews a new pair of pajamas for Christmas every year.

Coming up:

Part 2, Learning to Sew

Part 3, All Grown Up

Friday, March 20, 2009


Wrapping #9 Nara Camicie Blouse

I got a present in the mail! The wrapping was so gorgeous that it felt like a real occasion to open it up. Marita at Paradise for Me had a giveaway on Patrones 274, the party dress edition, a while back and I was the winner! It has lots of great cocktail wear and some fun little dresses. My top pick is this great blouse. It's similar to fabulous BWOF 01-2008-108 which everyone, their dog, and I have made but the yoke extends all the way to the sleeves. The instructions tell you to pre-pleat your own fabric for the yoke, which is a clever idea.


G Street Fabrics, 3/14/09

I took time away from work to go to Fashion Sewing Club at G Street Fabrics on Saturday. I didn't think I was going to get any fabric because I wasn't wowed by anything, but then I saw the jersey, which is just my color. It's very thin--almost but not quite that tissue weight that was such a craze in RTW two summers ago for layering pieces (layering in summer?). I am thinking another Giambattista Valli tee, fully self lined as with the first. I think the weight will be perfect for that project. The navy polka dots is a really fine cotton. There was only one yard and I suspect it was a bolt end thrown onto the $2.97/yd table, as I've bought shorter lengths of fabric from the $2.97 table before and later seen the same fabric on a bolt for a much higher price. It will be some sort of blouse.


Farewell Old FriendOn Saturday I also went to Joann, coupons in hand, and finally replaced my cutting board. I bought this board way back when I got my first sewing machine of my own, which makes it approximately 12 years old! The backside has silver paint from making the wings for my Ever After costume (of which I don't appear to have any digital pictures but it was awesome) and red dye from making my flame costume. There is a bad mushy spot from when my ceiling leaked and the fold creases are beginning to split and it's hard to cut over them. So it was time to replace it.

For a milli-second I thought about making a grain board like Birgitte's fabulous board, but then I thought, "Are you kidding me?" I don't want to lose my cred as the Slapdash Sewist, aside from which I live in a third floor walkup and the idea of wrangling a giant sheet of plywood up the stairs by myself (let us not forget that I am single and live alone) was enough to put me off, setting aside the issues of getting the employees at Home Depot to cut me a perfect rectangle (LOL LOL LOL ROFLMAO) as I don't have a table saw in my third floor walkup condo and then making the thing. To reinforce it, I actually had a dream about a grain board, and in my dream it broke into three pieces after all the work I went through to make it so I took that as the final sign. Inferior foldup cardboard it is.

A fond farewell to the old board, on which I have cut countless hundreds of projects!


My prize for winning second place in the recycling contest for my sweater hat is a free pattern from Pattern Review. I cannot decide what to get! The only thing I've come up with is Burda 7890, for the top that is from a BWOF magazine that precedes my subscription (Karen and Cabinbaby have made it, among others). But that seems kind of boring to choose for a prize.

Any suggestions on what you all would like to see me make? I always catch Simplicity on sale at Joann, though their Butterick sales are few and far between and I don't catch McCall or Vogue sales too often so I'd be open to a BMV (especially V) but it would be smarter to choose something I can never get on sale. I thought of just getting the Vogue Tracy Reese dress, but honestly for as much as I love Tracy Reese I just don't think it's that special. Nobody has made it yet; I may change my mind when I see it made up.


I have to decide what to pack for Miami! I leave on Monday. The big issue is shoes; once I decide what color shoes to bring everything else will fall into place.

I am going to try to finish my sewing back story over the weekend and set it up to post while I'm gone, but I'm not making any promises!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Giambattista Valli Knockoff Tee

My conference is successfully concluded! All the speakers showed up, discussions were lively, the audience participated, and I feel that I got a lot of recognition for my hard work. I am still completely exhausted and counting the MINUTES until I leave for Miami on Monday, but I am pleased with how well everything turned out.

Now back to regularly scheduled blogging.


A while back, Eli blogged over at The Princess Seam about projects she wanted to knock off, and this tee was one of them. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it anywhere (net-a-porter, Giambattista Valli's site, etc.) so I only have the one reference photo. I like how it retains the basic, simple cap sleeve t-shirt silhouette while still being interesting. I really like my t-shirt staples because they are easy to wear, but I get totally bored of just a plain tee. I like them to have a little twist, like my H&M knockoff (which I've now made twice).

I was immediately taken with the shirt and put it on my project list. When I switched over to Spring sewing, this was on deck first.

I started with my basic tried and true T shirt pattern. I redrafted it to have a cap sleeve and tiny bit of a mock turtle neck/standing collar, because from what I can tell of the t-shirt it has a tiny collar in the back. I made the first muslin and then marked up the draft:

Mark Up First Draft

Once I was happy with the fit of the basic shape, I marked the cutting line between the body of the front and the sleeve, and cut and spread the front to create space for gathers:

Split Front for Gather

You can see in the photo that I added some tissue onto the cut off front and sleeve to round the edges of the pieces. This turned out to create an unpleasant pooching (visible in muslin 3) and I flattened the pieces back out to their original dimensions.

Now came the real work. The issue was the ratio of the joining edge of the sleeve and the bodice. This took me forever to get right! All told, I made 8 muslins for this simple top.


You can see that the final proportion of front bodice to sleeve/inset is pretty dramatic. The bodice is gathered to about 1/3 of its original size and the sleeve inset seam line is quite short, about 4 inches.

Final Front Pattern

I made this in an aqua lace from the G Street $2.97/yd table, so it had to be lined. I'm not sure if there would be a better way to finish the neck/collar edge anyway. I made the lining from the back and the front piece before splitting, put it on my still unnamed paper tape double and marked the front divot and the gathering on the front at the side seams.

PocketsIt came out really cute, although in my thick fabric the side seam gathers are kind of lost. Looking at the reference photo again, I see the joining seam between the bodice and the sleeve/inset actually goes down below the armscye and there is gathering along the neck edge opposite the inset side, so I might redraft it with those changes. I got some very lightweight jersey from G Street the last time I was there that I think will be more apt than the fairly heavy knit lace I used for this version. I still haven't quite decided what I'm taking to Miami next week (!!!!) but this is high on the list!

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Bad Old Days

This is by way of apology for my lax blogging lately!

I worked in private practice for a couple of years before taking my current job in the government. I was extremely well paid...and totally miserable. I worked 12 hour days, and when I was at trial I worked 18 hour days non-stop for 3 weeks in a row. I was so worn out that I had no energy or creativity left, and didn't do much sewing at all during that time. I watched a lot of TV.

I have a huge project at work right now; I'm running a conference on Monday and Tuesday (if anyone is interested in the legal issues surrounding the security aspects of global transfer of data, it's free to attend), in addition to presenting at a different conference last Wednesday and then attending the other sessions Thursday and Friday and schmoozing with the people who are speaking at my conference. I have spent about the last two months of my life planning this conference and it has been so much work. I have worked late, on my flex day, and on the weekend.

I knew I was unhappy at the firm, but I didn't really understand how much it took out of me! I am exhausted and dull and have done nothing but work and eat. That was my whole life for two years. I always felt weird about how much money they were paying me. I was only a few years out of law school and knew I knew nothing. This week, in retrospect, I see that I earned every penny. They weren't just buying my time while I was at work (which was a lot of the time)--they were buying my whole life.

I have been at my government job for three years and am pretty much happy as a clam. This rare, extremely demanding time has helped me appreciate it all the more. On Tuesday when the conference ends my life will go back to normal and I will resume blogging and sewing and cheerfully not having to think about work at all when I'm not there!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Simplicity 5914, The Classic Trumpet Skirt


This pattern is an oldie but goodie. I got Simplicity 5914 who knows how many years ago; it's possible I was still in Austin when I made it for the first time in a moleskin flocked with flowers that's still in my closet. When I found PatternReview I didn't go back and review everything I'd ever made (I can't even keep up on a going forward basis!) so I never wrote about this one.

Then when I was planning to do the mini-wardrobe contest in November this was one of the pieces, along with the disastrous velvet skirt, the silk print dolman blouse, and...honestly, I can't remember what the other top was supposed to be. It was all to coordinate with the Bennetton jacket I got from Goodwill. The skirt fabric is my one and only fabric purchase from Exquisite Fabrics, whose new Georgetown location I still haven't had the chance to visit. I was in Georgetown last weekend from a bridal shower, but Exquisite is closed on Sundays.

My last minute trip to Paris for work threw off my timeline (and no, I'm not complaining) so I didn't get it done for the mini-wardrobe--though I did finish it in time for Paris. The jacket is perfect with this skirt and also works with the Vogue 7898 asymmetric wrap dress.

Shortened PatternFrom that first iteration I learned that the pattern is drafted for a giant. I usually need to shorten skirts a couple of inches, but this one needed around 4 inches of shortening. In the moleskin version, the flare was way too low; well below the knee and heading toward the calf. This was in my less sophisticated sewing days so I just chopped a bunch off at the waist (wait, that's what I'd still do) to raise the flare. however, I didn't then re-fit the waist, which I would have done nowadays. Whenever I put it on I think I should go back in and fix the waist, but I only wear it a couple times a year--I have so many clothes I only wear most things a couple times a year--and it doesn't seem worth it.

While this skirt is a TNT, it still takes some fitting adjusting because you use the same pattern pieces for the front and back. My front and back aren't shaped the same. So I have to take in the back waist. It's been easier to do this on the skirt than draft new pattern pieces.

SideI also took the seams in on this one under the booty because it was looking a little baggy there. The fit is very nice, although a tad va-voom-y. But since I'll never be va-va-voom at the top, I have to take it where I can get it.

I added a lining to this one for the first time. I just cut out the skirt pieces minus the facing and sewed in. I was hoping the lining would help prevent wrinkling but no dice. This skirt wrinkles heavily. The last time I wore it I used spray starch on the inside and it had no effect either. I fear I should go in and interface the whole thing. Ugh. Any ideas short of that?

Business Card PocketI'm a big fan of this skirt and it looks perfect with the jacket. Incidentally, the pocket flaps on this (what I'm sure was very expensive when new) suit are fake! There are no actual pockets associated with it! If I'm wearing a suit it's because I am attending a business meeting or conference and need to have business cards handy for passing around. So I sewed a little patch pocket to the inside of the jacket to hold them. Much more convenient than carrying around a purse.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Yet Another Simplicity 4539

I appreciate the comments on yesterday's dress. I totally understand the delicate intimations that this is perhaps not my best style. I should have said in the review that it is one of those things that is more trendy than attractive. And let's face it, a lot of what's trendy right now is not attractive--though the sack is comfortable to wear. Generally I look for styles that fit and flatter, but I'm totally not above jumping on bandwagons (I was in the marching band in high school, it's in my blood). It's one of those things I'll wear while it lasts and then look back on the pictures and cringe. Or probably not actually; I think at this point I'm old enough to just shrug.


I first cut out Simplicity 4539 years and years ago (probably four years now) but it became a UFO because I didn't know the proper needle to sew on my terrible plastick-y knit. Meanwhile, the pattern went out of print. After discovering the stretch needle (versus ballpoint), I finished the first one and added it to my Paris wardrobe. Then I added sleeves and made one in black and yellow for fall/winter (and my colleagues compliment me every time I wear it).

The day I left for Paris for the third time last year, in November, the Super Shuttle was coming to pick me up around 1:00. I was all packed and restless so I decided to do a realllllly quick project. That's what TNTs, especially knit TNTs are for!

I loved the black and white houndstooth from The Carol Collection, and I was intrigued by the gray underside. I wonder... The normal construction of the cowl on this top is to sew right side of cowl to right side of top, fold cowl over to the inside, and tack in place. A little experimenting and I found that by sewing the wrong side of the cowl to the right side of the top, I could fold the cowl over outward instead of inward and show a little bit of the contrast underside.

CuffsI had hoped to cut the sleeves long and wide and end them in an elastic casing, for a lower sleeve puff. But I didn't have quite enough fabric. At this point, the Super Shuttle was on its way so I hand sewed a triple pinch pleat a few inches from the end and tacked an elastic wrist band in place at the pleats and the seam while waiting at the airport. I'm a big fan of saving hand-sewing for when you have to wait at the airport.

You can see that I overlocked the sleeve and hem to get a lettuce edge.

I was very happy with my chic new Parisian top, and I felt like I'd made all the use I could of my time. All photos are here and the pattern review is here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

BWOF 10-2008-115, Stylin' 70s Gather Front Kimono Sleeve Jersey Dress

Thank you all for the lovely comments on my blouse! You've got me excited about it again. And Rosesred, if you see me in the neighborhood (which is likely, as I don't have a car and walk everywhere), please say Hi!


Well, since I declared my intentions to make the most of my stash back in January I've been very good about sticking to my plan. I bought some fabric on my last visit to G Street, which is permitted. But of course it distracted me. I became obsessed with the groovy 70s print and decided to sneak it in. I bought the fabric knowing it was low quality and flimsy (darn that print!). I assumed it was nylon but the burn test has me stumped. It burns like cotton with a slow, steady flame and a clean smoke. But it can't possibly be cotton because of the hand. It doesn't burn fast enough to be rayon, or get that rough texture when it's wet like rayon, but it has a similar silkiness and easily-snagged finish as rayon. It's cold to the touch on the hanger like polyester, but definitely doesn't burn like poly (no curling toxic smoke, no plastic bead after burning). It ends up with a sort of filmy but dry ash that smudges between the fingers. I wonder if it might be modal? It doesn't hold up to anything and already has a few snags so it probably won't even be around long enough to figure out what it is!

When I first saw BWOF 10-2008-115 it seemed like a not-quite-right substitute for Knip Mode 4-2008-13, which at the time I was still lusting over, not knowing a copy of that issue was living only an hour away from me. Plus, after how unflattering similar kimono sleeve style BWOF 10-2007-114 turned out on me, I was not convinced it would work for me. So I skipped over it.

Now that I've made Knip Mode 4-2008-13 (twice), I was more open-minded about the BWOF version. Several people have made really cute dresses of it, including Christina, with whom I share similar tastes, and the style seemed perfect for the fabric.

Neckline TreatmentI wanted to get a top out of my fabric as well, and once I was done cutting out the blouse and the top I didn't have enough fabric to make a binding for the back neck edge. But I don't think I would have used a bias strip anyway. Instead I used my new favorite technique for finishing the necks of knits, twin needling over clear elastic.

The front self-facing on this is not top-stitched or otherwise finished in place. I thought I would need to use some fusible web to keep it from flipping outward, because my mystery fabric is very flimsy. However, I found that by turning the facing over the shoulder seam and stitching-in-the-ditch to hold it there it stays put while I'm wearing the dress. It also helps that I sewed higher up the center front seam than BWOF's marking (which made it very low indeed). BWOF has you sew only for about 1 inch above the seamline; I went up another couple inches (mainly so my slip wouldn't show).

BackAfter the horror show that was the back view of the Tippi Hedren dress, I decided I needed to get serious about swayback adjustments in knits. I always do one for wovens but figured knits are easy enough to mold into shape. But the swayback on that dress is so awful I couldn't live like that anymore.

In the past, I've altered for swayback on knits by adding darts and/or taking in the back at the side seams. However, while these techniques fix the excess fabric on the horizontal axis, they don't always cure the puddling from excess fabric on the vertical axis (as seen on the Tippi Hedren dress, which has back darts). So I needed to take some of the fabric length out at the swayback, which for me is about 1 inch below the waist.

Swayback AdjustmentIt's quite easy to do, just fold out a horizontal dart, tapering to nothing at the side seam. My dart here took out about 1.5 inches of fabric, which must then be added back at the hem (it's obvious when you lay it out how much and where). I was skeptical before I did this alteration, because if you're adding it back at the hem are you really changing anything? But yes, you are.

BackUnfortunately, it requires adding a center back seam, which doesn't work with every print. I fear the print alone on this dress is widening, and the CB seam exacerbates the problem but at least there's no puddling!

I took in the side seams about four inches total at the empire seam to give a more fitted look. While it doesn't have the same saggy-non/side-boob thing as 10-2007-114, it was completely hiding me under all the fabric. It still has the same feel and style as designed, but scaled more for my frame.

The faux loop at the center front skirt gathering was completely lost in the print, so I left it off. The area needs some embellishment, however, so I went with a pin from my mom; I don't know how old it is and it may well be from the 70s. it disappears in the pictures, but I think it's a little more noticeable in person.

In the end, this dress stands on it own regardless of similarities to the Knip Mode pattern. It's fun and easy to wear but also stylish. It's perfect for this print, and I'm glad I gave it a shot. All photos are here and the review is here.

Now back to stash sewing!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

BWOF 09-2008-115, A Ladylike Blouse with a Gentlemanly Touch


Although I type very fast and writing comes easily to me, I still sew much faster than I blog! And then by the time I get around to writing about a project, I've forgotten half of what I did and the excitement has faded. Alas. If only I could type and sew at the same time.

This project is a victim of that fading remoteness of memory--I made it sometime in January--though I still love it. As part of my perpetual quest for winter work tops I was perusing back issues of BWOF and came across #115. It has several great details. The first thing I was drawn to was the shirred collar; I've seen a bit of this in ready-to-wear and liked it. Then I noticed the released pleats, which I think are a little more interesting than darts. They also make the blouse more of a 40s peplum-ish style, to be worn longer and with a belt. I love the 40s and favor longer blouses as I just don't have the hang of tucking.

I got the fabric at G Street right after I was gifted with the Carol Collection because I wanted more shirtings to go with all the wools in the collection. This is the first piece I've sewn from that set, so that justifies that whole purchase LOL. The fabric has a lot of stretch, which is great. The texture is a little weird. The maroon stripes are metallic and trap all kinds of lint. Before wearing it I have to examine to make sure there aren't any snarly bits of raveled fabric attached anywhere.

Collar DetailI wanted to have a little fun with the collar. At first I thought of doing the little collar side bands in vertical stripes with the collar in horizontal stripes but then I started going through my fabric thinking of contrasts and came up on one of my Fabric Mart tie silks. An a-ha moment! Adding a quintessential men's fabric to a a blouse is what BWOF would call a "witty detail," and I was so on board. To tie it all in (get it?), I cut the outer cuff along the fold line (with seam allowance) and then cut a longer inner cuff out of the tie fabric so that about half an inch sticks down below the fashion fabric cuff.

I got to use some of my favorite buttons from my first Fabric Mart 4 pound bag (it was still the best one, too, which makes it a little disappointing every time I order another one!). For one of the versions of the blouse BWOF had recommended double snaps. I am scared of set-in snaps because I've never had them all go in right but I liked the double button idea and went with it.

Upper Back BlousinessMy one issue with the design is the release of the pleats at the upper back. I was skeptical of it to begin with, and when I made it as drafted my worst fears were confirmed. That is awful! I do have a rounded upper back, but I feel that even someone with ramrod straight posture would have this kind of hunchback billowing. It was an easy fix, though; I just closed the pleat up as a dart at the top. You can see that the back is unremarkable now (in a good way).

On the other hand, I hadn't narrowed the front pleat on the pattern as I would narrow a dart because a tissue fit looked good. I feared it would look awful and baggy on my bust, but actually the fit is quite nice so ladies with larger busts will definitely need a full bust adjustment.

AccessorizedThis is a chic little blouse. It looks good both with and without a belt. Y'all are influencing me, though. The fit wasn't great when I first made it, as it was a little too big. I made my normal BWOF size, although now that I think about it I usually have to tweak the fit a little so maybe I don't really know my BWOF size. But I'd rather be a little too big and alter down than too small. I think the issue here was the unusually stretchy fabric. It looks much better skimming the body than standing away from it. I figured I'd just wear it with a belt all the time, who cares. Anyway, I was taking the pictures and went to look at the first set of photos and was like, "Ugh, that fit is terrible. I can't show this to the internet." Mind you, I had already worn it to work on the day of a big farewell party for a higher up. I don't care if all my colleagues see me in a blouse that doesn't quite fit. But I couldn't stand the thought of you all seeing it like that, so I sucked it up and took it back to the sewing machine for half an hour or so and tightened up the back pleats and the side seams to get a perfect fit.

I had a bit of buyer's remorse after making this and *then* noticing 03-2008-108, which I like because the collar is rounded and toned down without a collar stand and I'm not sure my wardrobe can use two ruched collar blouses, but I got over it.

All the photos are here and the review is here.

Here's my parting shot, what I stepped into yesterday morning on the way to work. The snow was dry and fluffy and beautiful. Today the sidewalks will be an impassable sheet of ice (ours is perhaps the only street in our corner of DC on which all the residents shovel). By the weekend it will be all melted.

Snow 3-2-09

Monday, March 2, 2009

BurdaStyle Kasia Skirt


Despite coming of age during the Reign (or Tyranny) of Low Rise, I'm open to new things, including the high-waisted skirt. Thus, when I perused BurdaStyle (you have to register to do just about anything on the site but it's free and I've not received any spam as a result) and came upon the Kasia skirt I was totally digging it. I downloaded it back before they started charging for most pattern downloads, but Kasia is still free because it was based on a design submitted by a BurdaStyle member.

Line DrawingIt comes in a generous range of sizes (34-46) and is easy to download, print, and tape together. The taping together is a bit tedious, but the markings are clear on which pages go where. The pieces are laid out more like a Big 4 tissue than a BWOF pattern; the pieces don't overlap so it's very easy to trace out (though it would take less paper and taping time if they did overlap). The pieces themselves are well drafted, have useful markings, and go together well. I was worried about the gathered side panels drawing too much attention to my rear view, but in the end it just adds a little interest without being too blatant.

This is a popular pattern on BurdaStyle; a browse through the gallery shows it made up in a wide variety of fabrics for all different seasons. I decided to go for a transitional piece and make it in a winter white moleskin I got from Joann. I'm not sure what it is about this fabric that I love so much. It's got kind of a crushed faux suede look and is subtly metallic. I'm not majorly into suede (faux or otherwise) or metallic, and yet somehow the combination works for me in this.

Moleskin is not easy to gather or ease, so the side inset panels were a bit of a challenge. I now see why cotton is such a popular choice for this skirt. And as an aside, moleskin wrinkles like crazy! I did not expect it at all of a heavy polyester fabric, but it is pretty annoying. The light color might not have been the best choice because I feel like my stomach bulges noticeably under it (not in the photos, but after I've eaten or something), but that is mostly my self-consciousness, I think.

Snap The only modification I made was to add a snap to the bib to hold the outer bib over the zipper. I was having a little trouble with it sagging down and showing the top of the zipper and it just didn't look good. The snap is an easy fix. You can see the buttons in the closeup, a fun bright gold metal button with a crest from a Fabric Mart 4 pound bag of buttons.

My only complaint with the pattern is that the front bib lining goes only about halfway down the skirt. When I was planning this skirt I intended to make the inner front panel go the full length but then forgot while cutting and didn't have enough fabric to recut it. If you know it's there, you can see the ridge of the bottom of the inner panel at thigh level and it just looks a little tacky.

SideOther than that quibble I am totally loving this skirt. It looks good with a sweater *and* a Spring t-shirt. However, I'm having a little trouble styling it because I like it as a more dressy skirt, but I feel like it looks weird to have a blouse with center buttons while the skirt has side buttons. It seems like too many buttons going in too many directions. However, some of the girls in the photo gallery on BurdaStyle are wearing button blouses and they look cute. Maybe the thing is that the buttons on the shirt have to blend...which is not my modus operandi with buttons! I like them to make a statement.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.