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Citron Mimi Blouse

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Here we find a second Mimi Blouse from Tilly and the Buttons’ Love at First Stitch. I am still in love with the Chelsea collar and the neat fit at the shoulders! This blouse was made with a cotton voile which is a much more summer-friendly fabric than flannel.

citron voile mimi blouse front

I love wearing and working with voile, but finding budget-friendly voile can be a trick. This pretentiously named fabric is “Bromley Voile Arbor Citron,” and it comprised my inaugural order from Fabric.com. Yes, I have surrendered to the siren call that is online fabric shopping. I love the range of fabrics available (especially apparel fabrics), and if you are careful, you can find quality fabrics in a price range that won’t break the bank. Yet at the same time, I find nothing can substitute for actually handling a fabric before purchasing it. Also, digging through actual piles of fabric is undeniably more fun than scrolling. My best advice is to get your hands on sample swatches whenever possible – it helps to know what you are getting into!

citron voile mimi blouse back

Still, I am gleefully happy with this voile – it was very reasonably priced, the pattern and colors are interesting, and the quality of the fabric is good. The buttons were originally intended for a different project, but they work nicely here with their simple shape. There were two extra buttons on hand, so I added them on to embellish the sleeves. Both the sleeves and the hem have two rows of top-stitching.

citron voile mimi blouse sleeve

Speaking of those troublesome sleeves…. With the other version of the Mimi blouse, the only fit issue was some tightness at the sleeve hem. For this version, I added two inches of width at the underarm seam and thus revealed that I still think more like a knitter than a seamstress at times. You see, modifying fullness at the seams is standard practice in knitting. Sometimes patterns use “full-fashion shaping” in which increases and decreases in the number of stitches are made deliberately visible, and I would say there has been more of this sort of design in the past decade or two. BUT for the most part, in knitting, shaping is concealed at seams whenever possible, simply because it is easier to add there and more discrete. Now when you are knitting, the fabric you are creating has built-in stretch. This means you do not need to be much concerned about additional fullness ending up in the right place – the garment adjusts to fit the body.

Here, have some silliness - this is getting technical

Here, have some silliness – this is getting technical

In sewing, you adjust fullness at the seams too, but as I have learned,  you need to be much more careful about how that fullness is distributed because even fabric with good drape does not behave the same way a stretch fabric will. All of which is to say, I added two inches of fullness to the sleeve hem at the underarm seam as drawn in this picture, and it was not a very good idea. The resulting sleeve tends to bunch up, and when I move my arms, the sleeves still feel a bit constricting despite the added fullness. It is not bad, but I over-analyze everything – why would I stop here?

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Now as I was adding width to the sleeve hem willy-nilly, I had a vague awareness that this was not the proper way to go about things. I read enough sewing blogs and old sewing books for fun that I really do know better. But on some level, I have never been entirely convinced that I needed to make adjustments for fit the way all those fussy diagrams suggested. I mean, all you need is the correct circumference on a garment at any given point on the body, right? Wrong. You can cheat some, but I am learning that woven fabric is not a particularly forgiving Overlady.DSCN2018

So instead I have altered the sleeve pattern piece using the “slash and spread” method. Typically, you would just slice the sleeve pattern vertically at the middle, but there is some complicated folding going on there that I do not want to mess with. Instead, I split the sleeve on either side of the folds and separated the bottom edges to add in the desired width. As you can see from the phantom sketching and the first pattern picture, you end up with a rather differently shaped pattern piece. You can see the final version below.

DSCN2019So now we all know what I should have done! The blouse fits well enough as it is that it’s not worth ripping out the sleeves to fix. The altered sleeve pattern will just have to wait with its brethren until the next time I make a Mimi blouse with short sleeves. I am toying with the idea of making a long-sleeved version first, possibly stealing the sleeve pattern from the Bruyère pattern? We shall see. In any case, I have plenty of projects lined up first, a dissertation to write, and a rather cheerful blouse to wear.

The Blue Bruyère Dress

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When last our intrepid seamstress met the Bruyère Shirt on the sewing table, the cozy, plaid Bruyère Dress resulted. Today we find another Bruyère Dress, this time made in a blue cotton pique with a few modifications.

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In order to resolve the odd, no-woman’s land placement of the waist on the plaid version of this dress, I lengthened the waist band by one inch and lengthened the bodice itself by one inch as well. Arguably, it was only necessary to lengthen one of these, as lengthening either one or the other would have gotten the waistline on the dress to meet my actual, natural waist. Still, I wasn’t sure where everything would fall until the entire dress was together, and by then the look of the longer lines through the waist had grown on me.

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The lower waist did create one complication  – the waist pieces now extended long enough that they hit the top of my hips. Combined with the more tightly woven pique and some overly generous seam allowances, the waist on the dress was suddenly super snug and not particularly comfortable. This was partially remedied by using more narrow side seams, but the dress does still encourage good posture…

There is always more to learn when it comes to fitting, and next time I will remember to factor in the other dimensions when I adjust length.

The shirting fabric used in this dress is stiffer than in the flannel version and gives the dress a more polished look. It always amazes me how much a simple change in fabric can affect the outcome of a garment. This fabric and the buttons came from the now defunct PA Fabric Outlet (Why did you have to close???). The more tightly woven cotton pique made the sleeve cuffs and the collar much more crisp than in the soft, flannel version, which I think is an improvement.

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This dress hasn’t seen much wear yet as it is rather warm for the humid DC summer, but I suspect it will become a favorite when the weather cools.

Is it fall yet?

Mimi Blouse in Plaid

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In my previous post, I talked about some gray flannel plaid fabric – cozy, lightweight and loosely woven. All of those qualities make it a delight to wear and suitable for clothing that can be worn into warmer weather than is typical with flannel. Of course, those lightweight, loosely woven qualities that make it comfortable in a wide range of temperatures also make the flannel miserable to work with, particularly when your cutting surface is an uneven, carpeted floor. Surprisingly, the carpet pile makes it easier to slide the scissors along without disturbing the fabric, but flannel sticks to carpet like the Dickens.

Also, there is the Mostly Benevolent Overlord to contend with…

What can I say? Cutting out sewing projects is always an adventure.

The end result of this particular sewing adventure is a short-sleeved blouse with an unusual Chelsea collar and gathered sleeves. The easy fit makes this blouse breezy in the DC heat but also works neatly tucked into a skirt. The pattern for the Mimi Blouse comes from Tilly and the Buttons book, Love at First Stitch. I continue to be impressed by the patterns from this book – the designs are clean and stylish, easy to wear, and fun to make. The pattern directions are admirably clear and helpfully illustrated with extra attention given to potentially new sewing tasks and techniques. I am slowly sewing my way through all the patterns in the book.

plaid mimi blouse 1

According to the fitting charts, I am between two sizes, but because of the Mimi Blouse’s generous cut, I chose the smaller size. I’m very happy with the fit. The only issue I ran into was that the sleeves were rather too tight around the bicep – a perpetual problem for me. To solve this problem, I simply made a very narrow sleeve seam and did not reinforce the hem facing, but I would definitely widen the hem on any subsequent Mimi blouses. The blouse is wearable, but the sleeves are still more snug than I would prefer.

plaid mimi blouse 3

The folded sleeves are interesting, but I can’t decide whether I love the unusual and flattering collar shape or the soft gathers at the shoulder more. Really, I just love the way this garment sits and drapes from the shoulders. Shoulders can be tricky to fit, but they make such a huge difference in how an entire garment hangs.

plaid mimi blouse 2

The pattern book suggests a number of variations, and given how comfortable and wearable this blouse is, I can see many Mimi blouses in my sewing future. Perhaps, after making up some short sleeve versions, I might try for a long-sleeved one? I am currently very charmed by the paired button arrangement on this version, and of course, matching plaids brings me more satisfaction than is entirely seemly.

plaid mimi blouse 4

… or is that seamly?

Bruyère Dress

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Ah May, that gentle season when the semester ends, the weather warms, and the time and mental energy for blogging returns. While warm weather is upon us, this post concerns a dress meant for colder weather that was sewn this past winter. The pattern in question is the Bruyère Shirt from Deer and Doe patterns – I clearly decided to lengthen the shirt into a dress, but that was the only real modification made here.

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I don’t tend to wear tunic-length garments very often, but I loved the fit and the lines on this pattern. Fortunately, the shirt pattern lends itself very easily to this sort of modification. I simply extended the existing skirt pattern pieces to 20 inches and squared off the hemline. Of course, if you decide to make a dress out of the Bruyère Shirt, learn from my mistakes. Those button placket pieces? Those should probably be lengthened too or your dress is going to look very silly.

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One benefit of getting behind on blog posts is that the additional passage of time makes for more opportunities to wear a garment and figure out its quirks before writing about it. After a good bit of wear this winter and spring, I can confidently say that I like how this project came out.  The fabric is a loosely-woven, lightweight cotton flannel that my mother sent me. While the fabric was murder to cut out because the plaid kept skewing, all the careful cutting was worth it because the plaids match everywhere and look quite sharp. The flannel makes this dress cosy, soft and perfect for wearing on cool days with tights and boots.

Multiple occasions for wearing this dress, however, have only confirmed my initial suspicion that the high waist would annoy me. The waistband of this dress hits me in the odd, no-woman’s-land above my natural waist but below where an empire waist would sit. This may have happened because I over-generously french seamed the waist band to keep the plaids in alignment. I am unsure. In any case, the next time I make this pattern I will most likely lengthen the bodice. Other than this small adjustment for fit, this pattern is a delight to sew. The sleeve placket is fussy – they always are – but the outcome is very neat.

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In case you are wondering (though you probably aren’t), it is rather difficult to get a picture of shirt cuffs and/or plackets without verging into the ridiculous. Frankly, I think the “I Dream of Jeanie” option above was the best we could hope for because the cat? Was absolutely no help this time.

Delphines and Lace

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Hello again friends! I have been falling behind on the intended posting schedule of one blog post each month. As I am currently fever-ridden and useless, a blog post seems the safest venue for any feeble attempts at writing. I am not going to admit how long it took me to string all of these words together, but you should be impressed. Sometimes when I have a fever I can’t figure out how to read.

hanging lace delphine

Here we have the Delphine Skirt from the book Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes. I have made several projects from these patterns, but most have yet to be blogged. The Delphine Skirt is a workhorse pattern – A-line, knee length, basic waistband. I made one out of purple uncut corduroy at the beginning of last summer, wore it frequently, but could not figure out what was bothering me about the fit. I loved the skirt, or at least I wanted to love it. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of the skirt and started making this lace version that I figured out the problem.

You can see the fabric pooling at the small of my back in the purple skirt – the zipper even buckles! This was mostly tolerable in the soft corduroy, but the stiff lace and underlining of the second skirt was much less forgiving. To fix the problem on both skirts, I pinched out the excess fabric at the bottom of the waistband and re-sewed the waistband seams. I ended up taking out two inches of length at the center back and easing it out to nothing at the side seams. This did shorten the length at the back on these skirts, but I plan to add length there on any future skirts. In any case, you can see in the picture of the lace skirt that the back is not noticeably shorter, and the fit is much more comfortable for the swayback adjustment.

lace delphine back hanger

The fabric combination on the lace skirt is so pretty I sometimes hesitate to wear it. This is, of course, rather silly as the lace outer layer is a sturdy polyester lace and the under layer is cream cotton broadcloth: both substantial and washable. I cut out the pattern pieces for both layers and then basted the lace and cotton layers together around the edges of each pattern piece. When sewing the skirt together, the combined lace-and-cotton pieces functioned as if they were one piece of fabric. The edges were all finished with rayon bias seam binding. I had planned to hand-stitch the hem, but I found that the lace was complex enough that machine stitching was not noticeable from the outside. Also unnoticeable from the outside? wrinkles in the underlayer! This skirt is basically wrinkle-proof, and I love it.

I’m excited about the lace skirt in particular this summer. It has been a nicely dramatic winter white option, but I think it will pair well with all sorts of brightly colored t-shirts and blouses. The fit on this skirt still needs some perfecting, but I have some warm brown wool twill that will eventually make an awesome Delphine Skirt.

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Christmas Knitting and How to Block a Beret

This delicate beauty is a modified version of the free pattern, Foliage Hat, by Irina Dmitrieva. The lace pattern itself is stunning and easy to memorize. Once you knit through one repeat of the leaf pattern, you can see how the stitches fit together and how the leaf pattern interlocks with itself. I always prefer lace patterns to be charted, and the chart in this pattern is a perfectly accurate one. My many misadventures while knitting this hat were in no way the fault of the pattern. I can only blame reckless knitting without a swatch. It’s a real problem with the youth these days.

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This hat began last October with some Malabrigo Silky Merino yarn in the colorway Wisteria and vague plans for knitting a Christmas present for my mother. After deciding on the Foliage Hat, I knit through one repeat of the lace pattern before noticing that the knitting was coming out very soft and open. While the knitted fabric was beautiful, I worried that it wouldn’t survive contact with water without losing its shape. My super-scientific method* of testing this theory was to dunk the knitting, needles and all, in a sink full of water. My fears were confirmed when the hat grew to a ludicrous size as soon as it hit water.

*Seriously kids, don’t do this at home, especially with bamboo needles. You will ruin the finish on the needles which can take ages to fix. 

My attempts to fix this problem were similarly well-considered and scientific: I messed around with the gauge until I thought it looked right. The pattern recommends that you knit the hat at 5 stitches per inch, but I ended up knitting it at 7 stitches per inch. The knitting still relaxed while I was blocking it, but it was much more controlled. The tighter gauge also meant that I needed to increase the length  which I did by knitting seven repeats of the lace pattern instead of the suggested four.

Once the hat was knit, it needed to be blocked to have the beret shape. This bring us too…

A Very Technical and Precise Beret Blocking Tutorial

What on earth do I mean by blocking? Blocking is the process of gently washing and shaping a knitted item. It is the last step of any knitting project, and depending on the project, can make a significant difference in the appearance of the knitted item in question. I tend to knit with wool and wool blend yarns because they respond so well to blocking (the shape they are given while wet remains after drying).

  • To block a Beret or Tam o’Shanter style hat, you first need a hat to block. I suspect that this blocking method would work with any basic stocking cap (or toque or beanie or whatever the heck you call these things. Why are there so many hat names for the same thing?) You want the hat to fit comfortably on your head. I think they block more easily when the band at the opening is a bit snug but that is not strictly necessary.

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  • Once you have a hat, you will want to complete the water-based portion of blocking. My favored approach is to fill a sink up with warm water and a bit of shampoo. You don’t want to use a harsh detergent with wool unless you want it to shrink and felt, and shampoo is for hair anyway, right? It works pretty well with sheep hair too! Dunk your hat in the water, swish it around once or twice and leave it to soak for a bit. Once the hat has hung out in the water for a while, gently squeeze the water out of the knitting and roll it up in a towel to speed up the drying process.hattowel
  • Take your partially dried hat and go explore your dishware. This is a time when having an unruly assortment of plate sets is a good thing – it increases your chances of finding the perfect plate. You are looking for a plate that can fit into the hat snugly. If the plate is too big, you won’t be able to fit the hat around it, and if it is too small, it won’t stretch the knitting enough to get the shape you want. Shift the hat around until the knitting is evenly distributed. I prefer the hat opening to be on the top of the plate, so the crown of the hat sits over the raised bottom edge. hat plate back
  • Let the hat dry completely. This will take at least 24 hours. Be patient. Flip the plate over a couple times as it is drying. If you are so inclined, feel free to coo over how pretty your knitting is.DSCN0865
  • Once the hat is completely dry, carefully take the hat off the plate. Now that it has dried, the wool keeps the shape it was stretched to while drying. I am always amazed by how different the final product looks from where it starts out pre-blocking.DSCN0868

You can now wear your hat on the adventures of your choosing, or give it to your mother for Christmas depending on your current hat-related needs. The same basic blocking methods apply for washing wool sweaters, mittens, etc. except with fewer plates involved. Knitted lace is its own beast, but lace actually comes out pretty well using this highly sophisticated plate method.

Testing, Testing Vogue 1423

I always enjoy looking at new patterns when the big pattern companies put out their seasonal collections. It is entertaining to see the alternately terrifying and terrific styles and poses and fabric choices they come up with. This fall, I was immediately fascinated by Vogue 1423. It has a nice, classic shape with seriously complicated cut-outs at the neckline. The overall lines of the dress – the slight a-line skirt, the princess seams and the short sleeves – are all things I like in a dress, but the crazy neckline had me fascinated.V1423

While I have had the pattern for a month or two now, I kept waiting for the internet to supply me with someone else who had tackled this dress. I wasn’t completely sure that taking this project on was a good idea, and I am completely okay with spoilers as to where the particularly tricky parts of  a pattern can be found. At this point in time, however, Google search continues to fail me in this regard. With some extra free time over Christmas Break, I present to you a muslin of Vogue 1423.

Behold, the socks of great dignity

Behold, the socks of great dignity

It actually fits without adjustment to the pattern which is a real shock. I worried that the shoulders or the bodice wouldn’t fit correctly because I have no desire to make substantial modifications to a bodice this complicated. I wore the muslin around my parents’ house for a couple hours quite comfortably. I think I will use 1/2 inch seams rather than 5/8 inch seams around the waist area to accommodate the lining. It fits correctly as-is, but a touch more ease will be preferable with the additional layer of fabric.DSCN0892

There are lots of seams and pieces to match up in this pattern, but the pieces match up and ease well. The most important thing is to be very precise with your markings and seam lines. I was a touch lazy in sewing exact seam allowance at a few spots in this muslin, no more than usual, but enough to make things sloppy when precision matters. Figuring out where the pattern requires real exactness now will hopefully save some frustration when I make the “real” version of this dress. To be honest, I expected this pattern to be more difficult to make.

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This muslin is made in clearance fabric in a blah shade of beige that wrinkles easily. I’m still debating over what fabric to use for this dress, but it might be some mystery synthetic-blend suiting in a dark brown. We shall see!

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