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Baby Sweaters: In which there is actual yarn and it is actually autumn

There comes a time in every young person’s life when suddenly, seemingly without warning, there are babies everywhere. Reactions to this state of affairs are varied, but when my Facebook newsfeed started overcrowding with tiny people who need knitwear,  I was rather more than excited. I got bitten by the baby sweater bug sometime last winter and descended into the black hole of baby sweater patterns that is the internet. Beguiled by the rationalization that as babies are smaller their sweaters must go faster, I dreamed of happily knitting endless, tiny, adorable sweaters.

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Sadly, the tiresome constraints of real life squashed this delusion, as did my horrified realization that knitting a sweater for a baby out of sock yarn means that it takes roughly the same amount of time to knit as a sweater in worsted weight yarn for a grown-up. Ah well. The months have past, my fervent ardor has cooled, and I am left with an embarrassing number of baby sweater patterns bookmarked on Ravelry.

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Last January, I began knitting Nova for my disturbingly adorable second cousin. I used two sock weight yarns that I had on hand: Knitpicks Stroll Tonal in Golden Glow and Araucania Itata in a grayish periwinkle color (both machine washable, no worries!). The little knitted dress has stripes AND buttons at the shoulders, so naturally I was powerless to resist.

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It was a fairly simple knit with miles of stockinette stitch made bearable by the simple pleasure of switching colors every six rows. The only real modification I made to the pattern was to knit the sleeves flat and then sew them up before joining them to the body and reducing for the yoke. There is absolutely no reason to be fiddling about with rows and rows and rows of tiny stitches in a small circumference on double point needles when knitting the sleeves flat is faster and less fussy.

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At some point last Spring, I also knit up Ewan, a cardigan pattern with lots of texture. This cardigan was made with Berroco Comfort DK in a dark blue-green for a friend. (I am ashamed to admit that I may have boxed up half the sweater, a ball of yarn and the knitting pattern for the baby shower). If I were to knit this pattern again, I would knit it all in one piece from cuff to cuff. The pattern has you knit from each cuff to the center back and then graft the two pieces together. If you are a grafting virtuoso, this is no problem, but it makes for rather too much grafting otherwise.

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While planning this post, I discovered that it is a bit tricky taking pictures of knitting if you have no one to wear the garments in question. My stuffed bunny, Bunny made a valiant effort but was not entirely up to the task. The roommate’s cat Re seemed eager to volunteer, but I didn’t want to risk the inevitable tangled disaster that would follow. Models these days – there’s just so much drama.

Lilou dress and Lazy alterations

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The pattern for this darling dress comes from Tilly and the Buttons book, Love at First Stitch. This post is not a book review, though I may write one at some point. (My academic brain actually wants to write an annotated bibliography of sewing resources which might be my nerdiest idea ever.) I will confess that my summer sewing was entirely spent with patterns from this excellent little book, and I have loved each one I’ve worked with so far. If Love at First Stitch had been around when I first started sewing, I never would have panicked and run away to hide among skeins of wool.

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This is the Lilou Dress, made with only small alterations for fitting reasons. The fabric is a dark blue, finely woven cotton that I picked up in the clearance section at G Street Fabrics. While this dress was definitely an experiment to test run the pattern, I was shocked by how nice this fabric is as I worked with it. It’s practically silky, doesn’t wrinkle unduly, and the drape is an even balance of crisp and fluid. I want yards and yards of it in every color. But the quality of the fabric pushed me to finish what was meant to be a wearable muslin very carefully and even to add embellishments.

I wanted to do something clean and subtle to enhance the prosaic expanse of dark blue. I dithered between embroidery and all sorts of beading ideas before settling on simply duplicating the lower portion of the neckline with seed beads. I have literally zero experience with sewing beads on fabric (case in point – I bought three vials of seed beads and maybe used an eighth of one) but at least knew enough to pick up a special beading needle. Sewing the beads on in sets of three got weirdly addictive.

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I am between sizes, so I went with the larger one and used an inch seam allowance at the center back. The fitting problem wasn’t initially apparent, but I really should have raised the waist on the bodice by an inch. As the zipper was already installed and the lining stitched down, I remedied this problem the lazy way by shortening the shoulder straps. All things considered, maybe I should have made the next size down?

To demonstrate the Macgyvered straps: I began with the nicely finished shoulder strap, unpicked the seam, slid the front strap into the back strap, and hand stitched it in place on both sides of the strap with teeny, tiny stitches. It’s not the best solution as this approach can make the fit wonky in other ways, but it is serviceable.

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The Lilou Dress falls in my favorite category of sewing projects: classic silhouettes with interesting details and room for variation. The nicest feature of this pattern is the arrangement of the pleats which align with the darts in the bodice. Next time I make a pleated skirt, I may just add a waistband to the skirt from this pattern. The bodice is fully lined, which, my goodness, I had no idea how much more comfortable a lined bodice would be. It adds a couple more steps, but I am slowly finding that meticulously finishing makes for a more comfortable and longer lasting garment. Gusty sigh. This must be what it’s like being a grown-up.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying

Pretentious post title? Check.

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I didn’t want to bring Robert Herrick into it, but considering the dress and the date, I couldn’t resist. Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” undeniably has some creepy overtones. Yet the poem calls for a more deliberate enjoyment of fleeting moments, a perspective which is very relevant in this last week of August. Blooms, summers and lives all end. I’m beginning another busy semester of teaching, research and writing, and while that is exciting, I will miss mellow summer days.

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Summer flowers may have an expiration date; the flowers on this dress do not. I adore the bold red flowers on this fabric, perhaps in part because I rarely go this bold with my clothing. The dress is made from stretch cotton from G Street Fabrics. The fabric is relatively heavy and not very drapey, so the finished result is more structural, especially in the bodice. I used Simplicity 1460 for the pattern (which I have made previously here). I used a lightweight, solid shirting for the blouse last time, and the pattern works well with both. Design features like the double darts are more subtle with the crazy flowers in this version.

I am super impressed with the versatility of Simplicity 1460. This dress has the same sleeve and neckline options as I used before but turned out as a very different garment. There are still other sleeve and neckline variations to the pattern which I might experiment with at some point.

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The blouse pattern was very simple to convert into a dress pattern: I just extended the length of the peplum to 24 inches. The resulting skirt is pleasantly full without being heavy or overwhelming. Who wants to haul around a huge skirt that gets in the way? Not Me. My preference for skirts is based primarily on the fact that they are not trousers, so comfort and ease of movement are rather important to me. This dress would look cute in a shorter length as well, but the large scale fabric pattern demands a knee-length skirt (the flowers look huge and ridiculous with a shorter length).

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After a few wears, it became apparent that I should have shortened the waist by an inch as it currently hits enough below my natural waist to be annoying. Since tearing the whole thing apart to fix this currently holds zero interest for me, the dress will be staying as is for the time being. Wearing a belt does help, and it makes for cheerful, comfy, and office appropriate summer wear. I have more completed summer projects to blog, but I’m starting to get the itch for cozy fall clothing. Cool weather can’t come soon enough!

The Anti-sleeve Crusade

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Today we have a slightly different kind of post – more tutorial than project log or pattern review. Herein you will find suggestions for altering a shirt with sleeves into a sleeveless one and more insight into my mental processes while sewing than is advisable.

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Cat to annoy not provided

Step One: Clean out your closet and get annoyed.

I recently regrouped my closet after the stunning revelation that professional attire which is comfortable for teaching is not necessarily professional attire in which you can comfortably haul document boxes up and down a ladder. Shocking, yes I know. This minor regrouping, however, meant I finally confronted some problem blouses I have been deliberately ignoring.

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Adorable, no? It was a one of those $5 finds in Target clearance that it takes a stronger woman than me to resist. There are very practical reasons that I don’t make it to Target very often. But this adorable blouse which I earnestly love – the color, the details, most of the fit –  has a dark secret. I can’t lift my arms to shoulder level while wearing it.

Shut up, it was cute and $5. We all make decisions we regret.
What follows is the resentful confrontation between my “No Blouse Left Behind” policy and and the “It’s Not Staying In This Closet If I Can’t Wear It” policy.

Step Two: Recklessly Unpick the Sleeve Seam.

Well you don’t need to be reckless about it. I suppose “patiently” or “painstakingly” would be acceptable adjectives too. I won’t police your moods and methods. But I will acknowledge that there is some risk to this step – you can tell by looking at the sleeve seam what the shoulders will look like without the sleeve attached, but it may not be to your liking once you’ve done it. In my case, I ended up with the makings of a totally wearable sleeveless blouse.

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Step Three: Finish Your New Armholes

This is a multi-step process. Firstly, I strongly suggest you acquire some of this:

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This is rayon bias binding, and I have no idea how I could stand to sew clothing before discovering it. This stuff is vastly superior to the polyeser bias binding that you can pick up in packages  at the big box stores. It is also a kajillion times better than making your own bias binding, because who wants to waste good sewing time that way? This stuff is thin and flexible and drapes just as well as your fabric. It finishes seams, it makes hemming so easy, it just generally makes your finished product easier to create and with a cleaner finish. Seriously, rayon bias-binding is magic. I’m trying not to write odes here. No one wants that.

Lacking the magical bias binding, you could use a flexible length of ribbon, make your own bias binding, use the terrible packaged stuff, or fold the edge of the armhole under twice. These are all perfectly workable options, but in my book, this approach is vastly easier and vastly superior in results.

So, Step 3.1: With the right side facing, align the bias binding with the unfinished edge of the armhole (created when you unpicked the sleeve seam). Stitch together close to the edge – between 1/4 and 1/8 inch – trying to be consistent. It should look like the one on the right when you finish.

Step 3.2: Press the binding away from the body of the blouse.DSCN0179

Step 3.3: Fold the binding to the wrong side and press so you can’t see the binding from the right side. Seriously, doing this in two steps will give you a cleaner result and save you headaches and burnt fingers.

Step 3.4: With the right side facing, stitch your new hem in place, 1/4 inch from the edge. You have made a little fabric sandwich to enclose all the loose ends of the armhole. Good Work!

Step 3.5: Press your new hem again to set the stitches and get rid of any odd little ripples that may have developed. Cackle in triumph if you feel so led.

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Step 4: Feel Smug
Enjoy your new sleeveless blouse and your increased ability to fly kites and direct aircraft to land. Go you! Beware the addictive power of removing annoying sleeves and try to remember that cold weather will return eventually. You are going to want some clothing with sleeves then.

Buttonholes and Polka dots: Simplicity 1590

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Waaaaay back in September of last year (2013) I was preparing for some major exams and frantically sewing as a distraction. The project in question was Simplicity 1590, a vintage reprint pattern for a blouse. The blouse was mostly finished in September, only making the buttonholes and sewing on the buttons remained, but this is where the project stalled. The exams loomed ever nearer, and I still hadn’t figured out how to work the buttonhole function on my sewing machine.

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I have mentioned my struggles with the buttonhole function on this sewing machine before in passing, but I sheepishly omitted that there was a  project languishing for six months because I couldn’t figure out how to work the darn thing. I had something of a breakthrough while making the buttonholes on the red plaid coat (i.e., there were actual buttonholes), but i have since refined the process. While the buttonholes on the jacket are serviceable, I wasn’t satisfied with the quality or the reliability of the result.

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yes, languishing, just like that

In case you were wondering, I did consult the manual, and tried every possible interpretation of directions which I am quite certain were poorly translated into English. Despairing, I made some bold and rebellious decisions. I would ignore the manual, and I would not use the buttonhole attachment. GASP! What blasphemy do I dare speak? Ignoring the directions AND not using the designated tools? Well as reckless as this may seem, using the standard presser foot seems to have done the trick – I can now reliably coax a nice buttonhole from my sewing machine.

Once buttonholes were attainable, this project wrapped up quickly. It has been sometime since I initially sewed the blouse, but I don’t remember any major issues in  making it up – the directions and construction are pretty straightforward. I do remember being rather hesitant about the peplum initially – it is rather… voluminous? I haven’t quite worked out how I want to wear the blouse. It does seem that the six months hanging unfinished in my closet actually benefited the final result. The drape of the peplum is smoother now that the fibers have had a chance to hang out and settle.

The blouse is made out of a lovely navy and white polka dot voile. I would suggest only using fabrics with significant drape for this pattern; I think the blouse is wearable only because it is a voile. As for the design? I love the smooth swoop of the neckline and the non-sleeve sleeves, but I am still not a huge fan of the voluminous peplum. I would duplicate the neckline and sleeves in another project, but not the rest of the blouse. That would take some major alterations, so it doesn’t seem likely right now.

DSCN4740What’s ahead? I’m knitting away at a baby sweater at the moment, and I recently finished two more versions of Simplicity 1460. After that? who knows. I’m getting in my sewing while I have time.

 

Simplicity 1460

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Simplicity 1460 is one of Simplicity’s reprints of patterns from previous decades. This blouse and tunic pattern from the 1950s has been updated so the pattern pieces and markings are familiar to modern sewers, but it is unclear whether or not adjustments have been made to reflect the difference in sizing systems. My only quibble with the pattern is a sizing one: the waist measurement listed on the pattern is larger than the actual waist measurement of the pattern pieces. It is not a huge difference, but if you choose your size based on Simplicity’s typically generous ease, you will be frustrated. I just sewed my waist seams with narrower seam allowances, and it all worked out.

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The design of this pattern, like most of these reprints, includes many delightful details that rarely show up in contemporary patterns. While there are options for multiple necklines, I used the scalloped neckline. The graduated scallops look unusual and tricky but really are not any more difficult than any other neckline facing. I would recommend tracing your stitchline for the neckline on the back of your facing to make things go smoother. The resulting scalloped edge is so pretty, and it even continues onto the back of the blouse! The scallop at the back of the neck is such a simple little detail, but it makes the design way more exciting.

My other suggestion regarding the scallops is that you trim the seam allowance close to the stitching rather than notching the seam allowance the way the directions suggest. Trimming rather than notching makes a HUGE difference in the smoothness of your results. I learned this only recently thanks to the detailed explanation offered on this post. The difference between a notched and a trimmed curve is immediately noticeable, and you will be wondering why you ever notched your seam allowances at all.

I love a scallop edge on pretty much anything, but the other design features of the pattern add to the charm. The pair of parallel darts look rather nifty. The peplum is not voluminous, so it is very subtle, comfortable and wearable. The not-sleeves are great because they give the look of a cap sleeve without the fuss of actually attaching a cap sleeve. I was somewhat apprehensive about this feature because my shoulders sometimes do odd things with cap sleeves, but these fit fine without adjustment. The only other change I made was making the buttonholes vertical rather than horizontal.

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This blouse was made with another mystery fabric from the G Street Fabrics clearance area. It is a rather soft and lightweight baby blue shirting. As ever, the specific content is unknown, but it is substantially cotton. Now that I have made one of these blouses, I have a number of other versions in mind. There is already a nearly finished blouse in green, and I cut out a flowered dress using the same bodice but greatly extending the peplum to a skirt length. Once you have worked through the more unusual features of this pattern once, it actually sews up very quickly.

The Zinnia (Skirt) Blooms Again

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Gray Zinnia 1 Here we find my second Zinnia skirt,  made this time from a gray, microfiber, mystery fabric.  The last time I made a skirt from this pattern, I used a flowered chiffon (here for a more specific pattern review). While working with the fluttery, slippery layers of the chiffon Zinnia, this single-layered, more sturdy skirt began to form in my mind. I knew the drape of the gray microfiber that I already had on hand would be perfect with this pattern, making for a more fluid yet more substantial skirt.  The fabric was another clearance find from G Street Fabrics. It is medium weight but very drapey and needs a bit of a press after washing. Gray Zinnia 2 Along with the change in fabric, I shortened the skirt by several inches. I generally prefer an above the knee length, and with this fabric, it only makes the skirt more swishy (swishy is a very desirable quality, in case you were wondering).  This skirt also includes the optional pockets  that come with the pattern.  The pockets are great, but the pattern belt loops are kind of awful. I made my own, much less fussy belt loops by folding over a strip of fabric rather than turning anything inside out. This skirt is turning out to be a reliable, year-round wardrobe staple – it works with a tank top and it works with tights. But that might just be the pockets. Wardrobe staples are always better with pockets.

Most of the project pictures on this blog have been taken by my mother. It’s hard to take pictures of clothing you are actively wearing that aren’t terrible, especially without a tripod or something similar. Inevitably, we get a bit silly, and for once I am including documentary evidence. Be careful kids. Don’t try this at home.

Really, the main problem, is what on earth are you supposed to do with your arms?

April got crazy busy, so I will be fitting in two posts here as May ends to make up for the lack of an April update. The post a month goal will be met even though “month” is now rather loosely defined. I promise to resist the punning urge with the next title. Honest.

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