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Bright Red Bicycle Blouse

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Hello again friends!

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It has been much, much too long since I’ve managed to write a blog post, but these things happen when you are writing a dissertation! This is just a quick post for a quick sewing project. Long, long ago over Christmas break I sewed a wrap blouse using Vogue 8833. I can now attest that the blouse is comfortable, versatile, and durable after wearing it all Spring. This red blouse is made using the same pattern, minus the sleeves and with a different collar. The fabric is a Robert Kaufman Lawn in bright red with tiny white bicycles all over, and I am utterly besotted. I’m looking forward to wearing this blouse to death through the rest of Summer and into the sweltering DC Fall!

Blue Wrap Blouse: Vogue 8833

Ah sewing, how I have missed it! This past semester was demanding enough that I couldn’t justify sparing the mental energy for sewing projects. Knitting is one thing – by now it doesn’t take that much mental effort for me to put together even a fairly complicated project because it progresses slowly. Sewing requires much more focus because when things go wrong, they can go wrong quickly and permanently.

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It has been a pleasure to get back to sewing even though my sweater project has kept me company this Fall. This blouse is the recently discontinued Vogue pattern 8833. It is a wrap blouse with princess seams and a small dart which allows for a good fit without any nightmarish easing of pattern pieces. The pattern has alot of different pattern pieces, but the construction is straightforward and quick.

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The trickiest bit was figuring out what size to make rather than anything to do with the sewing itself. This pattern is one of those with variations for different cup sizes included right in the pattern pieces. While this is an excellent idea as it can theoretically save a good bit of effort in modifying the pattern for different shapes, deciphering how all the size options on paper translate into an actual garment is far from simple. I ended up making a 14c and am very happy with the fit.

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The fabric for this blouse is a Robert Kaufman denim that I picked up from Fabric.com to round out an order for free shipping. While it wasn’t a deliberate purchase, this denim is lovely – soft but substantial, with an interesting and subtle woven pattern. It washes up very nicely, is easy to sew with and comfortable to wear. 10 out of 10, would buy again, on purpose even!

Wrap blouses haven’t made it in my sewing repertoire before, but they make a welcome addition. I’m particularly enchanted with the collar band on this one. This pattern will definitely see at least one future project; I’m planning a sleeveless version in a magenta shirting from my fabric stash. I don’t know if I will ever sew one, but I can see this pattern easily adapted to a wrap dress too.

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This blouse has made for a quick, satisfying project to get back into sewing, and I am looking forward to wearing it in the new year! These pictures are all taken amidst an old art installation at some nearby athletic fields. They seem rather dramatic from a distance, don’t they? almost reminiscent of Stonehenge or something.

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A White Linen Blouse: Vogue 1440

Vogue 1440

Thanks for braving the drizzle to take pictures, Mom!

The Big Four pattern companies – Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, and Vogue – release collections of new patterns several times throughout the year. Because I am a sewing nerd, I always enjoy looking through the new patterns, over-analyzing the designs, and figuring out unusual constructions (… and cringing at terrible fabric choices, etc). The first time I saw Vogue 1440, I barely noticed it. A sweater/jacket thing is the focus of the main picture of the pattern, and I’m just not that into sweater/jacket things. But once I took a good look at the line drawing for the sleeveless blouse, I was obsessed. Do you see that brilliant, perfect triangle yoke? Do you see it?? I am still excited over the unusual design elements in this top – the crisp collar that relaxes into a gracefully shaped, tunic length blouse and the solid, tailored yoke.

Vogue 1440

With a pattern like this, though, the right fabric is absolutely essential to a wearable result. I knew I wanted a white blouse, but finding a shirting that was heavy enough to be opaque and drapey enough to work with the design was a puzzle. Linen always seems like a good idea. It is cool in summer heat and conjures images of lazy days and effortless dressing. Yet the reality of sewing linen is more often wrinkly (and not attractively so) and stiff and scratchy. It takes years to soften up linen properly, and I do not have that kind of patience. This is why I was pleased as punch to find the lovely Brussels Washer Linen on Fabric.com. It is mostly linen and has all of linen’s best qualities, but the rayon blend helps control the wrinkling, makes the fabric smooth and soft right away, and gives it fantastic drape. I have basically been looking for this specific fabric since I learned how to sew without knowing it.

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The only modification I made to the pattern was to take in the side seams considerably, maybe four inches in total? The fit is still roomy, which tells you how much I was swimming in it before. Vogue 1440 involves some unusual construction and lovely finishing details – I always learn something while sewing a Vogue pattern! The shaped hem is finished with a narrow bias facing which eases in beautifully (need to remember that trick), and there is a very polished hidden button placket.

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Of course, the yoke was the most exciting part, and sewing that bit wasn’t pretty. Just before making this blouse, I had been working with sewing patterns that fully spell out each step of construction, so I forgot that Vogue patterns assume a certain level of knowledge from their sewers (-ists?? seamstresses? seamsters? help!). Vogue patterns, at least the more advanced ones, tell you what to do, not necessarily how to do it. At one point when I was sewing in the yoke and the yoke facing, I thought I was looking at a how direction and not a what, so I wrestled with the pieces until I realized that my current interpretation of the directions required breaking all the known laws of physics. But fortunately, once I got my head on straight, the directions were clear enough to follow.

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This was a fun sewing project to puzzle together, and working with the Brussels Washer Linen was a pleasure. If I made this pattern again, I would move the top button about one inch north, but it is still very wearable as is.  I’m beyond thrilled with how this blouse came out, so I may stop with this one. If I ever do revisit Vogue 1440, I would definitely make it up in a color and maybe shorten it a bit. The tunic length was an unusual choice for me, especially for summer, but it is cute with jeans or khaki trousers and pairs nicely with an open cardigan. The blouse is beyond comfortable to wear and allows you full range of arm movement which I find very important. You never know when you might need to fly a kite or conduct an orchestra.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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… or is that seamly?

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.

 

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