Monday, October 24, 2016

melilot dress hack

phew. I made a dress! I'm still very excited about my life choices, but dang, I have a lot less free time than I expected. I'm spending a lot of time on classes and homework, and travel, and being sick.... and verrrrry little time on sewing for fun. I need to seriously work on my planning and time management (and my immune system?) so I can complete more actual projects. But I did finish this dress that I started way back before I left work (ie. early September). It's based on the Mélilot shirt by Deer & Doe.

I set out to make a plaid short sleeve version like the example shown on the site. I made a muslin, things looked good, I was ready to go... and then I decided I needed it in dress form instead. So I hacked the pattern a bit, made 3 more muslins, and then finally started sewing up the real thing, in a totally different fabric. I'll probably still make that plaid shirt someday soon, although a part of me really wants it in dress form too... Ah, indecision!

To change the pattern into a dress, I started by cutting the pattern front and back straight across, just above the highest part of the bottom hemline, in order to keep the waist and hip curves intact - essentially just bringing the hip width straight down for several inches. It was still very snug around the hips (a dress requires more ease for walking than a hip-length shirt does), so I widened the side hips a little more with a few different tweaks. I also added back darts on either side to take it in at the smallest part of my back. The bodice still fits more loosely than most things I own; I have a tendency to buy on the small side and over-tailor when I sew. But I'm happy with the balance I struck between a well-fitting garment and enough ease to keep it casual and comfortable. Once I got the silhouette worked out, I also re-spaced all of the buttons so that they're less dense than on the shirt version.


backsides of my adjustments

The dress is made out of what I think is a lightweight cotton chambray. I got it from my local discount fabric store so the content is a bit of a mystery. I used navy topstitching everywhere to break things up ever so slightly, and I went with natural wood buttons for a little more contrast. I used french seams everywhere, as suggested in the pattern. I always hate french seams as soon as I start doing them (why the extra pressing and sewing step when I could just serge??), but it does look really nice with no exposed seams, so I'm happy. I made self bias tape for the inside of the hem, because I've had bad luck with turning up curved hems and getting them to lay flat. I haven't washed and dried it yet, but so far the bias tape seems to be doing the trick.

I have actually never sewn a button-up shirt or a shirt dress before! This was my first collar + stand, and it was pretty straightforward, although I did reference a tutorial (here) to make sure I got everything in place correctly. My topstitching is a little wonky on the stand (you can see it in the photo below) but ehhh, I'm just going with it.


I brought this with me on a recent trip to Portland, and it was perfect in the early fall weather (shown in a couple of photos with the cardigan I made from a heavily modified Plantain t-shirt pattern).

back darts in action

I can tell the next few months are going to be very busy, but I'm really going to try to sew more (I miss it!) and blog when I do. I'd love to have a more regular cadence here. And I actually have plans for fall sewing, in the hopes that concrete goals will help me get started! Hint: there's a vintage cocktail dress in the mix, as well as some Closet Case Files patterns that I've been wanting to try out for ages.... Fingers crossed that I can knock out at least three things before winter comes along!

Friday, September 9, 2016

no regrets


I did something terrifying today: I quit tech. I've quit jobs without having the next thing lined up yet, but this time I quit with no intention of going back into the tech industry. And while I've had more than a couple of moments of "holy shit, what have I done?!", the fear of spending my entire adult life in a career I'm just not happy in finally outweighed the fear of not having a steady paycheck and potentially failing at something I really care about.

This decision was twofold, even though the two parts are pretty tightly coupled: I wanted to get out of tech and also to start a career doing something more creative that I'm truly excited about.

A part of me has always wanted to have a creative career. I used to paint and draw all the time as a kid. I even won a school-wide drawing contest, open to K-5, when I was in 1st grade. I dreamed of becoming an artist. And then as a teenager I cracked down, felt like I should something more practical, found the vulnerability of being creative too scary to pursue. I set myself up for the stable and well-paying path I've been on until now. But I've felt the tug of a more creative life - not one that I have to push aside for 40 hours a week and only embrace when I have some free time. One that lets me wake up excited to create things as a part of my job. I read this blog post back in January and it resonated very strongly with me and caused me to start questioning whether my career in tech was really the only option. Then I went on my Wildbride retreat in February and was so inspired to see Liz and Kristina living out this dream of road-tripping down the coast, connecting with women and empowering them to feel strong and beautiful. And then I found Heather's posts about quitting her job to work on her pattern company, Closet Case Files, full time. I didn't know how to get to that place in my life but I knew I wanted it with all of my heart. But doubts kept creeping in (and still do): Maybe I'm not creative enough, I can't make something anyone actually wants to pay money for, what if I have a great product but can't figure out how to market it to the right people, maybe I'm too old to switch careers? But honestly - I don't think this would be nearly as exciting and (I hope) rewarding if it wasn't also incredibly scary.

On top of that, it's really hard to quit a job that pays well, is interesting enough, and has lots of great coworkers and perks - especially when I still worry that I don't have any other skills that can actually help me pay the bills. I thought about skimming over this side of the equation, but it's important too: being a woman in tech is tough. Things are getting better, but good lord it's draining sometimes. I'm starting to believe that in order to survive in the tech industry as a member of an underrepresented group, you have to be really passionate about the work you do or it'll eat you alive. My time in tech hasn't been nearly as terrible as it has been for many other women I know, but it has felt like one paper cut after another - this post sums up a lot of it incredibly well. I've never really identified as the "nerdy" type or wanted to spend my free time doing coding side projects, which has contributed to me feeling like I don't belong (as have some real instances of not being taken seriously as an engineer because I wear dresses instead of jeans and tech t-shrirts). I really used to enjoy coding, but over the last few years I've been enjoying the work less and less, and I've just started feeling increasingly drained, unhappy, not like myself. And in turn, it's been difficult to work on all of the non-work things I really care about, because I'm just so worn down. As terrifying as it was to decide to leave, it gradually became even harder to stay. On one particular day it crossed that line for me, and I spent the weekend panicking over what to do and making "what if" budgets based on my (admittedly nice) tech savings. And suddenly this thing that just seemed impossible became an option, and a few days later I'd completely made up my mind.

So: what's next? I'm still figuring that out, to be honest, but I have some ideas. I'm going to spend now through early spring taking lots of electives at my sewing school (in addition to the patternmaking class I'm already enrolled in - I wrote about that here). After that - we'll see! I'd really love to start my own business, although I think that's even scarier to me than just trying to find a job in the industry. I'm not sure if I'd rather make ready to wear fashion or sewing patterns or something else entirely. There are so many factors involved, like the market potential, the community I could build in each space, what I would really enjoy spending most of my time doing, etc. And I don't really know the answers to all of those yet! I'm glad that I get this buffer of classes to let me ease in and figure things out a little more.

absolutely perfect pin from Colette Patterns

One of my major goals this year was to pursue more things that scare me. That special kind of fear where you know deep down that you really want to do this but are so scared of trying and failing, so you push it aside, but it keeps coming back over and over. I felt this when I signed up for my Wildbride weekend, and again when deciding to take my sewing class despite feeling like I didn't have the time or energy for it, and now with this. So far I'm 2 for 2 on life-changing decisions, and I'm pretty sure this one won't be any different!

I honestly don't know if I'll be able to create a successful career in this field (where successful means "I'm able to pay my bills and am generally excited about the career path I'm on"), but I'm sure as hell going to try. And here's what it really comes down to: I really, truly don't think I'll regret taking this leap no matter what the outcome, but I do think I would regret taking the safe route and staying in tech indefinitely. So here goes nothing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

self-drafted mini skirt

Here is my second final skirt, designed, drafted, and sewn by me. (You can see the first here, if you missed it.) I am really excited about this one - I think it's more wearable and versatile than the first, and I'm excited to sew a few more up in beautiful fall colors and wear them with tights through the colder months.

My process was pretty similar to the first. I knew I wanted something slightly 70s-inspired, a mini A-line, but I went back and forth on what details I wanted. Buttons or no? Front pockets, back pockets, both? Princes seamlines? I drew a rough technical sketch that I liked and then listed the details I would need to draft: an asymmetrical button placket for a bit of interest, just one pocket (but it's a big one), a center back seam to break things up just a little, and a yoke large enough to remove the need for darts.

Unlike the first, which was designed around my fabric, this one had lots of iteration on materials and ended up quite a bit different than I expected. I initially bought some heavy stretch denim from the fabric outlet near me, unsure if it would be a wearable muslin or my final skirt. I loved the emerald color, and before I even cut into it, I bought some gorgeous navy blue buttons to go with it from Britex. (The six buttons cost more than the fabric did!) After my first muslin (which fit amazingly well right off the bat), I began sewing it up in the denim, and I realized halfway through that this was not going to work. The fabric was incredibly stiff, and while I wanted something that would hold its shape, this was going to be uncomfortable and have almost no movement. Not what I wanted. But I loved my buttons, so I brought them up to Portland with me on a weekend trip and fabric shopped there. I found a pretty blue canvas/linen fabric (I think), and it went well with the buttons. I was a little disappointed that I didn't find anything in a pretty green, and the fabric was drapier than I'd hoped, but the buttons! And then... when the time came to actually sew the buttonholes and attach the buttons, I discovered that they were far too thick and that my buttonholes would have to be huge. This was a deal-breaker, both because my drafted (and now sewn) button placket wasn't big enough, and because the holes would be ridiculously long and probably unstable even if I'd planned ahead in my drafting. So... I ended up back at the fabric outlet and bought some boring navy buttons to match my fabric, and here we are. Despite this not being my dream fabric/button combo, I do really love the skirt. I'm excited to see how much more I love future iterations now that I have a better idea of what to look for in supplies.

those beautiful but unusable buttons.... 

Aside from my various shopping trips, this skirt felt very quick to sew up compared to the first. No finicky fabric or too-small seam allowances, straightforward serged seams inside, and very little bias to deal with. I originally interfaced only the yoke lining piece, and there was some rippling along the side of the yoke where the fabric was on the bias, but I took the yoke apart and interfaced the outer piece as well, and it was all good after that. My buttonholes went off without a hitch (always a little scary, even with help from the machine), and I figured out how to make a tidy little hem on the front corners, where the button placket meets the hem.


muslin fitting - pretty good! and you can see the outline of my massive pocket.

final production-ready pattern pieces and my to-scale technical draawing

This was a really satisfying project, and I think it'll get a lot of wear. Now to find something to do with those other buttons.....

Sunday, August 28, 2016

a self-drafted summer skirt

I've previously mentioned my patternmaking class (both here on the blog and on instagram). I started the class back in March, and after 3 months I got through all of the skirt lessons - learning lots of individual techniques, then drafting and often sewing them up in muslin and practicing fitting them. At the end of the skirts unit is a final project: designing, drafting, fitting, and sewing two real skirts using various techniques I've learned, as well as making production-ready patterns for them both. I naively expected this whole process to take a few weeks, and instead it was a solid two months (and somehow it felt even longer - halfway through the process it felt like things were just dragging on and I could tell I was procrastinating on cutting into my final fabric). But I made it, and in mid-August I "graduated" skirts and moved on to the moulage unit, which is the very start of bodices (and eventually dresses, shirts, and jackets, oh my!). I'm so excited to feel like I can draft and sew just about any kind of skirt I can imagine! It's a powerful feeling. And I also have two skirts to show for it, which I happen to like a lot. Here's the first!

This skirt was originally conceived because I had this lovely double gauze laying since after ordering it last September, but none of my patterns seemed quite right for it. I decided it would work well in a flowy summer skirt, so that was the start of my brainstorming. I wanted something more interesting than just an A-line, so I decided to add knife pleats across the center front. The rest of the skirt has princess seams, and there's a slightly contoured waistband, an invisible side zipper + matching button, and a lining that was drafted separately (sans pleats or princess seams). The front pleated panel is cut on the length grain, and all of the other skirt panels are cut on the bias for maximum flowiness. This was a bit of a gamble, but aside from some creases near the zipper and some excess fabric on one side of my back waist, the whole thing came together pretty smoothly and without much bias drama. (Fabric like this can stretch way out of shape when cut on the bias, so it's fairly easy to end up with two seams that are supposed to line up but just don't at all.)

Back to the process: I started with a sketch, and once I listed the various details that would go into it, drafting was more or less straightforward. Then I made a muslin (and was surprised by how much I liked the shape in the less drapey muslin fabric). After a few small adjustments with my teacher, I made a second muslin, this time out of a (single) gauze fabric and some cheap lining. It was slightly different from my final fabric but gave a reasonable view into the final skirt's fit and overall look.

Then it was time to cut out my final fabric, which was no longer for sale online, and I was irrationally nervous about screwing something up and ruining the fabric, so I did everything possible to procrastinate. I worked on my second skirt: drafting, making a muslin, buying fabric and buttons, and even began sewing the final garment. I got most of the way through the final pattern pieces for both (lots of notches and seam allowances and awl punches marking various details). Eventually I realized I was just stressing myself by avoiding it, so I took over the large cutting table in class one night and cut the whole thing out, including the fancy lining fabric, and things started moving again.

Construction was pretty simple from there on out, with a few small caveats (mostly lessons for the future).

  • I did french seams throughout, which look great but were time-consuming enough that I really regretted them for a few minutes while I was halfway through all 6 of them. I don't really think I care about the insides enough for the extra time to be worth it, and they do add a tiny bit of extra bulk. If I made it again, I'd just serge the raw edges and be done with it.
  • I only left myself 1/4" seam allowances for the top of the skirt and the waistband, and that was really pretty awful with gauze, which loves to fray and shift.
  • I ended up with a button that was larger than the one I drafted for, and it may be a bit comically large. It turns out drafting for a 3/4" or 1" button isn't really a common thing when you go to buy buttons (a mistake I made on both of my skirts, as it turns out).
  • And this was my first experience with a really bias-y hem, so I got to practice the "measure up from the floor" hemming technique on both the skirt and the lining, which was pretty annoying compared to just using the bottom of the fabric as a guide. 

But honestly I think the whole thing turned out okay, definitely good enough to wear in public :) And I learned a ton!

Some progress shots:
muslin #1, in actual muslin fabric (with bonus sharpie from fitting with my teacher)

muslin #2, in a very light gauze

cutting into that double gauze, eeeep!

ready to sew

french seams e'erywhere

pinning the lining up for hemming

thank goodness sewing school has dress forms, as I certainly do not.

Thanks for reading about this adventure :) Keep an eye out for my second final skirt on here soon!