Monday, September 29, 2008

What's next?

Pattern Description: Cropped, lined vest with darted front and back, CB seam.

Pattern Sizing: Mine. Approximately a 38 in BWOF/12 in Big 4.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? It looked like what I had in mind, more or less, which is always gratifying.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I'm starting to work on a gray-themed wardrobe. The first piece was a white shirt with gray vintage buttons. The shirt decided that even with those buttons, it was too plain and it wanted a vest to jazz it up. I didn't have a pattern for one in my stash, and after going through 3 years of BWOF issues, the closest I could come up with was the vest from the 2/2008 issue with the shoulder ruffles and the peplum. I traced off the basic pieces - back and front, minus the peplum, extending the shoulders out and narrowing the front. I also cropped the pieces about another 2" to get the length I wanted.

Fabric Used: I didn't have anything in stash that would work with the gray bottom weight fabrics that this is intended to be worn with, so I hit the thrift store down the street and a skirt that I liked. Soon it was a skirt no longer. There was just enough fabric to cut out the major pieces, plus the facings (which were pieced as neatly as I could). The lining was made from a poly satin blouse from the same thrift store. Total cost for fabric: $3.45.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: Once I pinned the vest together, I knew I was heading in the right direction, but even roses on herringbone wasn't quite enough. It needed more. I remembered that I had a roll of black leather piping squirreled away from a purse project that had gone nowhere, so I tried that and liked the effect. But it needed more leather! My original thought was to make leather ties for the back, but I thought that was too expected. Then I remembered that last year I had purchased 3 of these miniature black and silver buckles at Pacific Trims in NY for a BWOF jacket that hasn't yet come to fruition. That was perfect.

I lined the jacket with poly satin using Sandra Betzina's method from Power Sewing Step-by-Step, except I left the entire bottom open because I was still fiddling with the length at that point.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I won't sew this exact vest again, but the pieces I came up with fit well and I could maneuver them into something different if I took the time. I'm not big on vests, but there are a few fabrics that are thinking they might want to be combined into another one. We'll see.

Conclusion: This is piece #2 of the gray wardrobe. I really need to get cracking on a pair of pants and a skirt. I wore this vest and the white shirt today with an old RTW gray skirt and I like the outfit, but the skirt's a creeper. Now I remember why I wanted to replace it.

And the poor receptionist at my job is getting tired of (and no better at) playing fashion photographer, but she's come to expect the request when I come in wearing something new.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The vest comes together

I love it when projects take on a life of their own. Yesterday this vest was a skirt; today it may not be finished yet, but it is definitely a vest, and it has made its wants very clear.

I had been thinking about using leather piping for the edges; it said yes to that. It said no, however, to leather ties in the back, reminding me that I had a couple of these cute black leather buckles that I picked up at Pacific Trims last year for a BWOF jacket that never got made. And one of those looks adorable on the back. At this point I'm debating putting one on the front as a closure; it's not necessary because I narrowed the vest so that it wouldn't close because I didn't want to hide the vintage buttons.

And I stopped back in the thrift store yesterday afternoon because the only lining I had on hand was black acetate and that just seemed to bleh. The thrift store served up a poly satin blouse in a wonderful oyster/light gray color, much more interesting. It's awaiting the scissors.

As I mentioned, this vest started out as based on BWOF's 2/2008 vest, but it's looking less and less like the original, and really only started from that point because I was feeling too lazy to draft a vest pattern from scratch. If the fabric had had a less definite design, I might have simply taken a princess-seamed jacket and cut that down, but I didn't want to disturb the roses any more than necessary. I think it worked well - the only thing I didn't like about the original skirt was how perfectly even the flowers were.

Back to the workroom. I'd like to get this finished today, if it lets me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A white shirt needs a vest

First off, thanks to everyone who convinced me that using the gray buttons was the correct move. They definitely add something to the shirt that otherwise would be seriously lacking.

I've finished the shirt except for the hem, and have you every had a project turn out perfectly well but you're just not satisfied? I can't figure out what it is with the sleeves on this - they don't pull at the top, they're perfectly comfortable, but something just doesn't seem right. And if I don't know what's wrong, I can't fix it so ... I'm making a vest to wear over it. Since there's nothing visibly wrong, the vest isn't necessary but it will make the little questioning voice in my head go away.

You don't want to know what the living room looks like after tearing through 3 years worth of BWOF looking for a vest pattern, other than the really cute one from the 2/2008 issue with the ruffled shoulders, which I liked but didn't think would work. Well, 30-some issues later, I traced out the vest from the 2/2008 issue, minus the ruffles, minus the peplum, minus the welt pockets. I didn't want a lot of detailing on the vest, I wanted the fabric to shine.

BTW, the fabric. I stopped in my local thrift store last night after I got the vest idea at work, and headed straight for the skirt aisle. I figured someone out there would have gotten rid of the perfect gray or black plaid skirt that would be waiting for me to cut it up. And they did!

Behold the Willi Smith herringbone skirt with printed roses. How cute is that? I wish it had been slightly larger than a size 4 - my first destination in that store is always the plus section in the hopes of extra fabric - but I figured there would be just enough. This morning, I took it apart and pressed it, and there was just enough fabric for me to cut out fronts, backs and (by a little strategic piecing) the facings. Somewhere in the workroom I have a roll of black leather piping, and I'm going to use that to trim the vest. I may go a little further and use some leftover black leather for the ties in the back and also (possibly) for faux welt pocket bands, but then again I may not. It depends on how it feels as I'm putting it together. I don't want the effect of "too much leather" to detract from the piping, which is my favorite part.

So the gray wardrobe is moving along. At some point I might even cut out the gray pants that started the whole thing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The White Shirt, not as originally planned

I bought this pattern a while back. I thought it was a nice, simple Kwik Sew take on the BWOF pattern that had similar ties (though BWOF's top also had interesting gathers down the front). When I decided to make a white shirt as the first piece to my gray wardrobe, I thought that this pattern was a good combination of basic and interesting.

It still is, it just doesn't look much like the pattern drawing anymore. One thing you DO have to say for Kwik Sew that makes up for all their bland envelope drawings and photos is that their patterns are always beautifully drafted, and their instructions are very clear. Everything always lines up on a KS pattern, which I greatly appreciate.

On the other hand, sometimes they eliminate things that would improve the pattern for no reason but to make it quicker and easier to sew. Like the ties. Which are supposed to have a 3/8" hem. Would you want to see a hem on those ties? I wouldn't; it seems like cheap RTW to me, one of those shirts you can buy in the $7 store. Would it kill anyone to cut 4 ties instead of 2, sew them together and turn them right side out? It wouldn't make the side seam appreciably thicker, it would actually add a nice bit of weight to the ties so they wouldn't stick out in the front, and it would give a nice clean finish. So why don't they do that? It's a mystery.

And why am I talking about the ties when my shirt doesn't have any? Because my white stretch shirting fabric, clearly marked on my list as being 2 yards, wasn't - by a long shot. And there wasn't enough fabric to cut 4 ties, and I tried cutting 2 and hemming them and they looked cheesy and awful. And then I decided I didn't want them on the shirt anyway.

Back to the shirt as drafted: I love the collar. It's not actually a collar, per se. There's a 2-part under-collar, which gets sewn to the back of the shirt. The visible collar is actually cut in-one with the facing, which makes for a nice smooth look. Interfaced, it has an almost starched feel which for some bizarre reason reminds me of those curved white nun's wimples from old movies. Flying nun, anybody?

The 3/4 length sleeve has the nice touch of an elbow dart to make it fit more smoothly, and while the notched sleeve is kind of a cheat from making a proper cuff and placket, I didn't necessarily want buttoned sleeves on this shirt so it was an interesting enough alternative. There are bust darts and back darts for fitting, but I think (especially without the ties to adjust the fit) that I'm going to add vertical front darts as well, just for a bit of shaping. We'll see.

One complication with making this shirt was that my sewing room seems to have eaten my edge-stitch foot, just after I found it again. And I wanted this to be top-stitched, so after an hour of fruitless searching, I taped a piece of cardboard to the machine for a guide and I edge-stitched it that way. Now that will guarantee I find the foot, right? And now I'm really torn. I have a ton of white/pearl buttons for this shirt, including some vintage mother-of-pearl ones that I really like, but I'm tempted to use these really cool gray and white vintage ones with rhinestone centers instead. It would limit the shirt to being worn mostly with black and gray, but then it would also force me to make another white shirt, perhaps a bit more classic, where I could use the mother-of-pearl buttons. Tell me that those gray buttons wouldn't be fantabulous?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

McCall's 3129 - The Leni Dress

Pattern Description: Dress with princess seams, neckline variations (round or square), sleeveless or short sleeves, optional pockets and trim, back zipper. McCalls calls this "8 Great Looks, 1 Easy Pattern." Close enough.

The dress still needs to be hemmed and ironed, but that will be taken care of by the costumer, so this was my one and only chance to photograph it on the intended wearer.

Pattern Sizing: 8-24. I made this in a size 10. This was made for a local actress/friend who is a part of the theater company I do costuming for each year.

The play this costume will be worn in is based on Kafka's The Trial. The costume is worn by Leni, the ingenue character, and is definitely an easy, feminine dress. There are only 2 actresses in the play, but they are playing between them 10 different roles, so another point in favor of this dress was the ease of getting in anc out of it without disturbing wig and makeup.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes. Even better, it looked a lot like the drawing I was given to replicate.

Were the instructions easy to follow? I didn't really look at them, but this dress almost makes itself.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? This pattern was more or less chosen because it had a square neck and a pocket, and the rest I could "work with." Easy enough. Is there anything more forgiving than princess seams? I pretty much knew what the actress's measurements were, so I cut the dress out and basted all the princess seams and the shoulders, and when she came over on Sunday, I just pinned the side seams until I got the fit I wanted, and then tweaked the fit on the princess seams.

Fabric Used: Sky blue cotton (with white rickrack). This was purchased for me by the costumer, and it was definitely 100% cotton because it shrunk by about 10-15% when I pretreated it. SO glad I did that, since the costumes are often washed during the course of the play's run.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: None at all. None were needed. This pattern may not look particularly exciting, but it's one of those patterns that looks better on a real person (kind of like a KwikSew pattern illustration, sometimes you have to just take it on faith).

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Funny you should mention that. Most of the way through, even when I was thinking how well it went together, and how pretty the square neckline was, I couldn't wait to hand it over. Last night I wiggled my considerably wider self into the dress so that I could place the pocket, and I fell in love. It's a really cute dress, and even a size too small I could see that. I also didn't realize how flattering the square neckline would be. So yes, I'm planning to sew it again. The pattern isn't going back to the costumer right away - I need to make a copy for myself in a size 12, and the actress is going to trace off a 10, so I can make another version for her at a later date. Preferably not with white rickrack.

Conclusion: I can't believe I've done the first review on this pattern. If you come across it, give it a chance - it's much nicer than the bland pattern envelope photo would lead you to believe, and because of the princess lines, it's a breeze to fit on just about anyone.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Future is Looking Gray

Not in a bad way, in a wardrobe way.

I reorganized the fabric shelves recently, and aside from being appalled at the amount of fabric I have post-stash reduction, I was surprised to find out just how many different shades of gray I have in the stash. Such a collection calls for a wardrobe, obviously, and there will be one, in fits and starts, over the next few months.

So far, the plan is as follows: BWOF 6/07 #126 pants (TNT pattern) in the darker gray; BWOF Vogue 8280 dress for the lighter solid gray with accents of either black or white; the BWOF 1/08 bib-front blouse for the gray and white stripe; a white blouse from KS 3620 (their version of the BWOF tie-front); yet another BWOF pencil skirt (pattern to be determined out of about a half dozen already traced); several stretch tops, one in striped jersey, one in a cream/pale gray/gold paisley jersey from EOS (not pictured because it's in the dryer) and one in the black/white/gray stained glass jersey from

I also have a charcoal gray sweater knit from that hasn't announced its intentions yet, and a blue/black sweater knit that thinks it wants to be a jacket, so I'd better find it some underlining and a nice bright blue satin lining. Or so it says.

And then there's the black/white/gray flamestitch fabric that I got from Kashi a month or so ago that needs to be something particularly deserving. It's got both stretch and drape, just to be difficult, so I need to think on that one.

And then (notice how the "and thens" just keep coming?) there's a black and white boucle I got on end-of-roll sale at EOS. It's really sturdy and I think it might be a jacket from the new issue of Patrones that just arrived on my doorstep in all of its illegible glory.

And then, I'm just about done the dress for the play, and I try it on. It's a little snug on me (I'm being kind to myself here), but the overall effect was still good enough that I've decided I can't give the pattern back until I make a copy for myself. Princess lines are always flattering, but I hadn't expected the square neck to look that good.

And last but not least, BWOF's 9/08 #114 (the adorable vintage jumper/shift dress that Dawn did such a spectacular job with), in a light gray/aqua windowpane plaid from Jomar last year. Going by the few reviews so far, I might actually have to attempt a full bust adjustment on this one, but I need this dress, so it'll be worth it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Busy Sunday

There is some sewing being done, I promise, but nothing worth taking a picture of yet. Soon!

Early this afternoon I got together with my friend Jen, the actress who will be wearing the costumes I'm working on. We finished the fitting on the blue dress - I had basted all the princess seams and the shoulder seams on Friday night and today I just pinned the side seams and did some adjustment to the bust and her narrow back. Overall the fitting went well and I don't have a lot of adjustments to make, so that was good news.

After that we went to the gym for a while, part of my ongoing plan of sweating out my crankiness, but before fitting, before exercising, there was - finally - demolition.

I've been planning to take the ceiling down ever since it started leaking, and things just keep getting in my way. Finally this morning I went in there with a prybar and a collection of fashionable dishtowels -- Karen is wearing the latest in home-repair-wear, two 1960s linen dishtowels tied for maximum cleaniness and breathability; available in various colors for the discerning renovator -- and I beat the crap out of the ceiling. As you can see.

And it needed it, as you can also see. Lots of moldy, wet stuff was still up there, but now it's in two big contractor bags on my front walk and I put out an SOS on my neighborhood listserv to see if anyone has some remnants of drywall or pink insulation so that I can repair what I tore out. And could someone tell me how I managed to forget I have a reaction to fiberglass insulation until I looked down and saw that my arms were bright red? A quick wash and some lotion made them feel better, but honestly, what was I thinking? I swaddle my whole head so as not to get my hair filthy or breathe the stuff in, but I'm wearing an open-neck shirt and short sleeves. And gloves, what gloves? I don't need no stinking gloves, I am She-Ra, Queen of Destruction. I am also, occasionally, an idiot.

Now back to sewing so I have something to show you tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's that time again

The local theater company is gearing up for its new season (Kafka's The Trial, which I read in high school and am probably still recovering from), and at this point I'm making two dresses. Thankfully, I can do both from the same pattern using different versions.

Right now what I'm looking forward to is getting together on Sunday with the actress who will be wearing both dresses - she lives around the corner from me and would be very accessible if only she didn't have rehearsal 5 nights a week.

So this is the dress: the first one will be version A, in a sky blue cotton with white rickrack trim and pockets. This is for the ingenue character. BTW, the play is set in the 1930s, so I think the general lines of the dress will work well.

The second version is meant to be a uniform, and will have a round neck, long sleeves and a narrower skirt. It's going to be olive-greenish (it's a court uniform but I'm assuming the idea is vaguely military) and it's actually supposed to button on one side, but since it's a stage costume and won't be looked at closely, I'm going to just extend the princess seam to the shoulder on both sides, add binding to the side that's supposed to be the opening, and add buttons. It's probably not the best solution, but with limited time and budget, and having worked out the fit already on the first dress, it's the solution I've come up with. Pictures to follow.

Sorry for the radio silence lately; I've been in the dumps about the roof mess (repaired to the tune of $550, not bad except I was saving it to go to NY), very busy time at work, a wadder or two, and a good case of the general blahs. I've been at the gym a lot trying to sweat it out of my system.

Today's photo: Thomas, one of my best boys.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Really Random Wednesday

I try to walk to work most days. It's about 2.5 miles and since I'm not a morning person, I really don't become awake and aware until I'm at least halfway there. It's easy, mindless exercise ... unless something wakes me up.

Yesterday, the weirdness of my city woke me up.

First, this: probably the safest - and weirdest - way to lock up your bike I've ever seen, but (a) how hard is it on the tree, and (b) can you imagine getting that thing down in the morning?

The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful. The students are back at the University of Penn, and I'm just appalled (and feeling my age that I'm so appalled) that so many of these girls think flannel pajama pants are not only outdoor wear, but classroom wear. Huh?

Photo stop at one of my favorite not-particularly-affordable boutiques for this really cute jacket. I love all the detailing, and I think I could probably put something similar to this together from some of my various jacket patterns.

Add one more thing to my endless List of Things to Sew.

Work was quiet, which was good because the coffee just wasn't kicking in. Somewhere around 10:30 a.m. it started getting dark, and I started worrying about the leak in my house.
I was in one of the offices looking for a file that was hiding from me when I saw the clouds starting to roll in, and I had to go back out to my desk for the camera so I could catch this shot of Approaching Doom.

Or at least approaching rain in my house again. Now it's two buckets, and because it rained, the roofer didn't make it over today. I think tomorrow's forecast is better.

Maybe the weirdness levels will be down, too, and I'll be able to make it to the office without waking up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New Look 6429 Dress

Pattern Description: Misses' surplice dress with faux wrap front and sleeve, collar and belt variations. The bodice comes to a point at the small of the back. I did short sleeves, no collar, no belt.

Pattern Sizing:8 to 18. I made a size 12 but could have probably cut a 10; this dress runs big.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes.

Were the instructions easy to follow?Yes. I actually read the instructions first this time because there is nothing I hate more than picking stitches out of knit and I didn't want to mess up. The instructions were very clear.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? There are 42 previous reviews of this pattern, and everyone, no matter what their figure, looks great in this dress. How can this not be a winner? It's comfortable, it's flattering, the mock wrap in the front covers tummy issues, and the dress gives me the illusion of having more of a waist than I do. No dislikes at all.

Fabric Used: Animal print-ish (the addition of green to an animal print is enough to qualify it as "ish" for me) jersey from Metro Textiles on my recent visit with Ladybirdlove and Carolyn. Loved the fabric on sight, but had no idea what I was going to do with it. The fabric instructed me to make this dress.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: None on this first attempt. Next time I'll raise the neckline by just a bit - I've got a bit more cleavage at work today than I would normally, but I also invested in a decent new bra, so at least the girls are elevated for the display. I also might take the side seams in a little more. This is a pretty snug knit, but I could see where in a slightly more flexible fabric the dress would be a little loose. One other change I'll make next time is to lengthen the facings about an inch, because for some reason or other when I sewed them to the fronts, the facings ended up shorter. Don't know how that happened but since it's caught in the side seams it doesn't really matter anyway.

This dress has been sitting on the table in my workroom for the better part of 3 weeks now (worked on it between pieces of my min-wardrobe), and I realized last night that all I needed to do to finish it was to hem the sleeves. So why had I not gotten around to that? 5 minutes later and I had a new dress to wear to work today.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?Absolutely. There's a 3/4 sleeve black version of this dress in my near future, as well a sleeveless one for next summer when I come across the right fabric. It didn't take long to make, discounting my laziness in finishing the sleeve hems, so with the right motivation this would only take an evening or two. The hardest part was vacuuming the living room carpet so I had enough room to spread out the fabric and cut out the bigger pieces.

Conclusion: This dress would fit under so many categories -: wardrobe builder, highly recommended, great for beginners - it was hard to pick one. Great dress.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Welcome to my Sunday

What I wanted to work on today:

Pajamas for Mario's sister Debbie. These are from BWOF 12/06, made in a dull maroon poly satin and trimmed with leftover floral from her Christmas robe from last year. I traced the pattern and cut out the fabric yesterday, but all I got done today was the collar, facings and shoulder seams. Grrr.

What I did work on today:

My house.

It rained yesterday. A lot. And I spent some time futzing in the workroom, cutting out Debbie's pajamas and doing some finish work on random other projects that have been sitting around and never really spent any time downstairs except to occasionally check and make sure that the old leak in the dining room hadn't started up again (it hadn't).

Dinnertime came, and Mario went into the mudroom to throw something away, and I hear him say, "The floor's wet in here." It's not supposed to be wet, and when I look up, this is what the ceiling looks like. There was a leak in that exact spot about 6 years ago that I patched, and now I know how long DIY roofpatches work. Put a bucket under it and went upstairs for the night.

Today I looked out the workroom window (overlooking the mudroom). Obviously it's been a while since I looked out there, because this is what the roof looked like, and if I'd noticed I would have gone out there earlier this summer with a bucket of roofpatch.

I don't feel like roofing; I feel like sewing. I called the handyman who repaired my downspout earlier this spring and he's coming out to look at it later this week. Hopefully before it rains again.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Virtue is Highly Overrated

I've done a few shameful things in the name of fashion before today, but now I'm defacing (semi) public property.

It's raining. It started last night, it rained this morning and it's still raining now. Once we finally got up, we went to the gym. Seemed like a good idea at the time: the weather prevented us from doing anything more interesting outdoors and we could feel virtuous, right?

I was on the elliptical exercising my newest skill - reading on the elliptical without getting dizzy and falling off - when it happened. There aren't many magazines at my gym, especially if you've had your fill of news already, so I've been reading back issues of a magazine called More, which I'd never heard of but is apparently aimed at women in my age group (40+).

So I'm reading, and there's this picture of Lili Taylor, who I like, wearing a jacket that I immediately covet. I think about it for maybe 5 seconds before carefully tearing the page out of the magazine and folding it gently in my towel. Maybe 5 seconds.

I require this jacket. The actual one in the photo looks like the fabric is quilted, or at least textured, but I wouldn't mind just doing it in a stripe. It's the general shape that I like, and the zip pockets, and the contrast bands. Oh, and by the way, her shoes.

After we got home, I was going to actually take the picture into the back room and start futzing around, but instead I traced a set of PJs out of the December 2006 BWOF for either a September birthday gift (or a Christmas present, depending on my motivation).

Ah, virtue, I'll miss you ... while I'm wearing my extremely fabulous jacket.