Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 roundup: cowl-back silk dress

If you were following along last December, you may recall that I was invited to a wedding and had nothing to wear, so I sewed a dress using a vintage Vogue pattern (more on that here and here). Here's the thing about me and sewing: until this fall, I still disliked a fairly large percentage of what I made, either because the construction just wasn't quite where I wanted it to be, or (more often) because the fabric, silhouette, and overall look just ended up not being my style. I think this is a fairly normal process to go through as you get used to the freedom of being able to design and sew literally anything you can imagine. I used to make something, wear it a few times, and then many months later have the realization that I just didn't like it, and that it certainly wasn't something I would be interested in buying if I saw it in a store. Fortunately that process seemed to get quicker every time, going from months to days, and I think I'm finally getting to the point where I can plan and make something I do actually like and want to wear. Back to last year's dress: I was honestly really excited about it when I wore it to the wedding, and I don't think it looked bad. But looking back at pictures after the fact, I realized it was less of a muted gray color (what I had envisioned) and more metallic gunmetal. The almost foil-like sheen is a lot and isn't what I was going for. And I've realized this year that I'm just not as into the vintage fit-and-flare look as I used to be, even though I think it complements my body type very well. There's more to dressing than just showing off our best assets, amirite?

Given all of that, and the fact that one side of the bodice started to rip open and I don't know if there is enough seam allowance to successfully mend it, I decided to take what I learned about patternmaking, construction, and my ever-evolving personal style and make a new dress for some summer weddings earlier this year.

I went back and forth on what I wanted the dress to look like for a long time. I originally wanted to do a silk version of the rayon maxi dress I drafted and sewed for class back in February, with an added slit up one leg for a little more glamour. (I apparently never posted a photo of the dress on! In large part because I feel like my construction was subpar. But the technical sketch is here.) I of course went back and forth until the weekend before wedding #1, leaving myself very little time to figure out fabric and create the whole dress. I decided to look for a silk crepe, and I headed to a local fabric store that has ends of bolts for lots of pretty silk. Unfortunately, I only found a few colors that I really liked against my skin tone, and none of them had more than 2.5 yards left - not nearly enough for the long, paneled dress I planned to make. I went home and looked into ordering online, but I realized I didn't trust the photos enough to know what would look good on me, and there was definitely no time left for swatches. So I went back to the fabric store again and bought up my favorite silk, even though there were just under 2.5 yards left and I had no actual plan for the dress. I also picked out 2.5 yards of Bemberg lining and an invisible zip to match.

I wanted to make something more understated than the fit and flair look, less vintage, less complex, more room to just let the beautiful silver silk be the star. I learned from the busted side seam of my previous silk dress and planned to make this one with a looser fit, so as not to strain the delicate fabric. And I'm all about the shift dresses lately, so that was a good jumping off point. The silk deserved something that would show off its drape, and since a floor-length skirt wasn't going to be possible, I decided to put last spring's draping class to good use and use my dress form to drape a low back cowl.

I haven't yet gotten to the point of feeling comfortable draping with my final fabric, a la Project Runway, so I started with muslin. The muslin looked awful on the dress form and on me, but I knew it would regardless of whether the final fabric version was going to look good or bad - it just doesn't have the drape needed to create a nice looking cowl. I had some cheap floral poly in my stash that I'd been planning to use for a muslin eventually, so I made a second version in this to get a better idea for how the cowl would drape. I made a few tweaks from here, including lowering the back cowl for a little more drama. I made a second version in the drapey fabric to confirm my changes, and then finalized the pattern pieces, including seam allowances and updating them to not be cut on the fold.

 first muslin attempt - awful in this fabric, but good enough to try in something drapier

the polyester muslin

and some final tweaks to lower the back and change the lining + facing situation

Cutting the silk and lining was a beast. I hadn't yet built my cutting table, so I cleared off the dining room table and did my best with my rotary cutter and 2 cutting mats that weren't big enough for the pattern pieces. It took a full 2 hours to cut four pieces out (front and back of each the outer fabric and lining), but overall it was a success. I believe this was the afternoon that I vowed to finally stop putting off making that cutting table, and a month later I did it.

The sewing part actually wasn't bad, even with slippery fabrics. My still new Bernina helped a ton, as did its walking foot and straight stitch plate (a plate under the presser foot with a small hole instead of a wide rectangle opening - it means I can't move my needle or do zig zag stitches with that plate on, but it makes it much less likely that delicate fabric will get pushed down into the machine).

With only 4 pieces, sewing was mostly straightforward, although the cowl and lack of back zipper made things a little interesting. The cowl's facing (part of the outer fabric piece that folds under to the inside of the dress) is shaped so that the back lining doesn't actually reach the shoulders. I had figured this construction out on a muslin first so it wasn't totally confusing when I sewed the real thing, but it was still pretty tricky, and I when I look too closely I worry that one back shoulder doesn't lay totally flat. The armholes were a pain because I had to sew the lining and outer fabrics right sides together, but with the garment right side out. This meant doing a sort of burrito with each armhole, the front and then the back, and sewing up toward the shoulder as high as I could. It's hard to explain this in writing, and I tried to show this in instagram stories when I was working on it but even there it was difficult to really show what was going on. Just know it was very annoying, slippery, and tricky, but I got it all together! And then I just had to sew the side seams - one big french seam going from the outer hem, through the armpit, and down to the lining hem on each side. Then I let it rest on the dress form for about a day and hemmed both layers. Done!

armhole burrito situation in progress, with little 1/4" seam allowances because that's how i roll.

I bought a beautiful necklace from Altar here in Portland to add a little interest and edginess to the front, got some shoes that matched the silk super well, and made this work for two weddings. Unlike last year's wedding guest dress, this one survived both and I still like it, so it's nice to know that it's still in my closet if I have another event to go to. If you're wondering about the bra situation with a low back like this, I bought some stick on pasties to cover any nipple show through and said "fuck it" to the idea that I need to wear a supportive bra with everything. This was definitely a departure from anything I'd worn to a nice event before, but I really felt great in both the relaxed shape and the open back. I'm excited to push myself out of my comfort zone more in the future, in terms of things i design and also wear.


Before and during wedding #1 in NYC (feel free to ignore the hotel room chaos surrounding me):

And wedding number two, at dusk in San Francisco. Yes I did style it exactly the same way, idgaf.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 roundup: not-quite-Ginger jorts

After seeing just so many awesome Ginger Jeans floating around the internet, I vowed to finally make my own this year. I bought the pattern and the flares expansion (I will always and forever have a place in my heart for flares), plus the Closet Case jeans ebook to help with some of the construction and fitting parts. I even bought a Cone Mills denim kit, but I'm far too cautious to cut into that for my first jeans attempt.  My hip to waist ratio is pretty non-standard, and I've had a really tough time getting shorts I've made previously to fit through the butt. So I bought some cheaper denim with the right amount of stretch and decided to start with shorts so that I could focus on the hip and waist fit without using quite so much fabric in case they were unsalvageable. I had already printed the PDF pattern months ago, and I taped it together one evening and got to work figuring out which size to cut out.

The size chart put my waist at two sizes smaller than my hips, which made for some awkward grading between sizes across multiple pattern pieces (front + back, pocket facings, yoke and waistband). Then I compared the back crotch curve to the one on my decently-fitting pants sloper that I drafted and fit in patternmaking school, and they were way different. Given my previous issues with fitting shorts straight from the patterns, I started trying to modify the ginger pattern piece to match my sloper more closely, and I finally realized that I was just butchering the thing. What to do? Draft my own jeans, of course. (This is really my answer to every pattern woe I have, big or small, these days. No regrets!)

my sloper, compared to ginger after a few mods to try to get it closer to the same fit

I pretty much guessed at how much negative ease I needed to work with the stretch denim, but otherwise the drafting was pretty straightforward: trace my sloper, cut off the waistband, cut off a back yoke, draft some front pockets by using the Ginger pocket pieces as a reference for how the various pieces related. I drafted my own fly based on my patternmaking class, and the pattern pieces are slightly different from the ones used on the Ginger jeans, so I used my notes from class when I got to constructing this part. I used the back pocket and belt loop pieces as-is from the pattern, because I might as well take a shortcut where I can, when fit isn't an issue. From here I followed the jeans e-book for construction - since I based my pieces off of the Ginger pattern, the instructions worked great. I basted everything together for a fit check, which was honestly not as bad as I feared, made a few tweaks, and moved forward with sewing.

baste-fitting before taking them apart and sewing for real

At some point I decided I wanted to make a button fly for these, but my jeans notions kits were for zip flies, so I had to source some more buttons. TaylorTailor had me covered for some great jeans buttons and matching rivets - highly recommend!

The worst part of the construction process was the topstitching. I didn't yet have my Bernina, so I was constantly switching between regular and topstitching thread on a single machine. My machine was just awful at the topstitching part, jamming up, eating the thread, making big thread nests on the wrong side, and sometimes breaking needles. It was an ORDEAL and I definitely cursed out my machine several times and swore to never make jeans again. But then - they were done! And they were beautiful and I was so proud. I always really love hammering on hardware, so the rivets were a satisfying way to wrap up the shorts.

So, how are they? Pretty good, not perfect, but I'll take it. I did wear them a ton this summer - to picnics in the park, out in muggy NYC in August, to the blueberry patch with Tumbles. I love having a pair of high waisted shorts that go with seriously everything. Honestly my only complaint is a perpetual wedgie situation in the back, and I think I just need to make the crotch curve a little longer on future pairs (this is something that I think would have been far worse had I used the Ginger pattern, based on how the two pattern pieces compare, but I need to investigate more). They were also just a bit snug through the hips, but I've burned off some fat due to my newfound love, aerials, so they are just right now. I'm still planning to make some full length jeans but got caught up in other projects, so we'll see when I get back to those. Hopefully soon, as my RTW jeans are getting pretty worn out and I don't plan to buy more!

out in the wild - New York hotel, blueberry picking

I took some photos back in late summer when we had some spooky, smoky wildfire light for a few days. Also featuring: a linen tank top that I draped, then hated and hacked into a high-low crop top, and still don't really like but would love to replace with something better in a similar breezy linen!

And some in progress/detail shots:

sewn, pre-hardware installation. (they look so naked!)

And... the only photo I got of the delightful pocket cotton I used, plus my finished button fly!

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017 roundup: sparkle romper

Ooh, this was a fun one. Ever since I made my mini summer collection, I'd been wanting to make a summer romper based on the crop top pattern. I figured the tie back would lend well to getting in and out, and I really love the having shorts instead of a skirt for general ease of wear. I didn't know what fabric I wanted to make it in, and then I went to the fabric store near my house and saw this gorgeous cotton with gold metallic threads running through it, and I was sold.

one of my better attempts at capturing the metallic sparkle

My first muslin attempt included the double tie back that the crop top has, with shorts added to the bottom, plus a center back zipper to get into the shorts. While it's technically possible to put it on, both ties have to be fully undone and I can't cleanly tie the upper one by myself. (The crop top is easy enough to slip on over my head that I can leave the top tied and just tie the bottom once it's on - not possible with shorts attached.) Ok, two person job, definitely not ideal, but I could have Tim help me into it before I go out. Then I thought about the eternal romper/jumpsuit issue - bathroom breaks. Definitely not going to make something that requires a friend coming into the bathroom stall with me to help me get dressed when I'm out at a bar. So, single tie it is! And a side zip that goes up to the armpit, making it possible to get in and out without untying at all.

As a side note, it's been interesting to discover how many of my clothing design issues combine both technical and design tradeoffs like this. Just because something is possible to draft or sew doesn't make it feasible, and this very often leads to design compromises in order to get the fit or wearability to an acceptable place. I tend to get really frustrated whenever something like this comes up - I finally had an idea that I like and I don't want to compromise on the aesthetics! But more often than not, I actually like the later version better than the original, and it's not something I would have come up with if my hand hadn't been forced. So there you go - single tie, low back romper, and easy off and on to boot. I'm a fan.

Construction-wise, I bought some black sheer cotton to use as lining for the bodice and waistband and left the shorts unlined, since my outer fabric is opaque. The main fabric, a stable cotton, was easy to work with, and I'm happy with everything except the slightly pointy darts in the front, but that's not enough to keep me from wearing it.

I feel like the fabric makes it fairly dressy - I wore it with bare legs and platform clogs to an outdoor fashion show this summer, and I think it would look great with black tights for the holidays (as styled in the photos). I would want to make it in different fabric if I were going to wear it to a picnic in the park or a casual bar. This is another one of those no-bra outfits, which I have a tendency to design unintentionally, but the fabric is thick and dark enough that I don't feel like I need one, and there's no risk of anything shifting out the neckline or sides. I thought about adding pockets, but I didn't want to disrupt the clean lines of the shorts, and the side zipper prevented me from adding inseam pockets on both sides. So for now it's pocketless, but it's something I'll think about more for possible future versions.

I've only worn this once so far, to the aforementioned fashion show, but I'm hoping it gets some more wear this holiday season. Looking at these photos is making me antsy to make another that's more casual for day to day wear - it would be the perfect throw-on-and-go piece for next summer.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

2017 roundup: some cozy flannels

Basically the moment we decided we were moving up to the Pacific Northwest, I knew I needed to make some cozy plaid flannel shirts for layering. There are a ton of indie button-up shirt patterns out there (most notably, imo, the very popular Grainline Archer shirt). I thought about using an existing pattern but decided I wanted full control over the fit and details - a tunic length that I could wear with leggings without it being a dress, an oversized fit but with enough shaping to keep it from being completely boxy. It was also a great opportunity to practice drafting a collar with band and sleeve plackets - things I'd drafted and sewn in muslin for class, but I hadn't practiced applying them to a real garment. The plackets make it easy to roll up the sleeves when I want to, and there are buttons on the cuffs to close them up when I wear the sleeves long.

sleeve placket + cuff details

center back collar, yoke, and pleat - I inverted the pleat to stick outward on my second and third versions, but I think it works ok both ways.

The shirt details (collar, sleeves, plackets) were all straightforward and by-the-book to draft. The biggest issue I had was with making the shirt a little more oversized - it turns out I've only ever drafted things that are well-fitted, so this was new to me! I compared to some of Tim's button-down shirts and made a few attempts until I got the right combination of dropping the shoulders and armholes in addition to bringing out the side seams. Eventually I got a body and sleeves that all worked well together and gave the look I wanted. I kept bust darts and a curve to the side seam through the waist, and I really like the gentle shaping that comes from those details.

Sewing without instructions is always interesting. Back in my classes, I took notes on some things like sleeve placket construction. But there is nothing telling me where to begin or the overall ordering, so it ends up taking a lot of focus and thought to make sure I don't miss a step. But I really enjoy this process, reminding myself that I can figure basically anything out if I'm left to my own devices, and eventually putting on the finishing touches and knowing I did the whole thing without someone else telling me how.

This is one of those designs that I don't think is very ground breaking (how many button-up shirts like this exist in either ready-to-wear stores or sewing patterns??). It's not something I'm really considering selling either ready made or in pattern form for various reasons. But it's been such a delight to make and wear for myself.

This shirt has gotten a ton of wear. I made it in June and it warmed up before long, but since fall weather has set in it's been a staple, one of those things I reach for constantly and have to convince myself to skip sometimes just to mix up my outfits. I worry the cheap fabric I used won't hold up super well through many more washes, but I'm going to keep wearing it to death in the meantime.

perfectly covers that leggings bum

And, I just finished sewing up two more - one in black and white buffalo plaid and another in a deep red herringbone - after working on those in parallel off and on this month. See below for an earlier in progress shot of the delightful Robert Kaufman flannels. I just need to buy and attach some buttons and sew their buttonholes - 22 across both shirts, eep. I'm excited to expand my cozy flannel collection by 3x and stay cozy all winter.