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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?

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!

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!

Dandelion Top

It is the coldest day in the DC area in nearly two decades, and I am sewing a chiffon Zinnia and the tank top from Simplicity 1664. I do like to plan ahead.

I am rather behind on blogging my sewing and knitting projects, in large part because I don’t have pictures for visual aids. There was a recent knitting mishap in which I knit most of a Driftwood Sweater for my Mother in very much the wrong size. The sweater has been frogged (so called because when you take apart knitting you “rip-it” out. Rip-it, ribbit, get it?), and the yarn and I are taking a break from each other. December also included a field trip to the PA Fabric Outlet in Lancaster PA. If you need any kind of fabric or trim or button or related paraphernalia, I cannot recommend PA Fabric Outlet more highly. The Lancaster location is an unassuming warehouse packed with high-quality, fantastically priced fabric. I was thrilled with the prices on their standard stock, until I found the $.99 bins and lost my head. Many a future sewing project on this blog will feature the spoils of this trip, I am sure.

In terms of actual, still unreported sewing, I have been playing with the  Dandelion Dress pattern designed by Mari at Disparate Disciplines. The dress pattern includes a shirt-length option.  I made the dress first and worked out some of the unique foibles of the pattern, but as I currently have  a few pictures of the top, I will start there.

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It was cold the day these pictures were taken too, but not this cold.

I used a medium gray suiting three-dollar-a-yard section at G Street Fabrics. These mystery fabrics are, of course, unlabeled, but the suiting fabric washes surprisingly well, has a moderate drape and a slight crosswise stretch. I used the same fabric when I made the dress for the first time, and it worked out well, if a trifle stiff for the pattern. I think this fabric works slightly better for the top than the dress.

The Dandelion Dress offers an unusual take on the traditional sheath dress pattern. Instead of perpendicularly stacked darts, the pattern pieces are all sweeping curves that piece together organically. It is a brilliant design, though the assembly is not for the impatient or faint of heart. The trickiest part of assembly is inserting the side/back pieces. They wrap around the dress and flow beautifully into each other, but the combination of the side seam that flows into a dart is not easy, even on the fourth time sewing it. My only advice is to pin like crazy. I do appreciate that the pattern pieces all line up very easily and hit exactly where they are supposed to from the very clear directions.

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The seam-into-dart thing I’m talking about

I cut a straight size 6 and it fits well without adjustment. I particularly appreciate the clean back fit that the unusual construction allows. The garment has an easy fit that moves with you, like you would expect more from a knit t-shirt than a woven tank top. There is some very minor gaping at the neck, which I will remedy the next time I make the top by taking out a half inch at the shoulder. I could fix it on this one, but it is so minor that it doesn’t bother me.

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The pattern suggests finishing the neckline and the armholes with double sided bias tape, but I didn’t. I think the whole bias-tape-border look is rather goofy and homemade, and unforgivably, uncomfortable. Instead, I finished the armholes and neckline by machine sewing single-fold bias tape along the edge to be finished, pressing it under, and hand-stitching it in place with an invisible hem. It takes slightly longer, but the finish is professional and much more comfortable. I also hand-stitched an invisible  hem. I’m not exactly quick at invisible hems (my mother shakes her head at me when she sees me making one) but all the practice certainly helps.

I am huge fan of this pattern, and I have plans for at least one more top and a summery, printed cotton dress. I will be posting about the Dandelion Dress from the same fabric as soon as I have pictures. For now, I am very glad to be inside, wearing a ginormous sweater, and drinking hot beverages. Stay warm folks!

Sunny Summer Sundress: Simplicity 1606

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I will admit it; I might have a Simplicity pattern problem. For whatever reason, I tend to find Simplicity patterns more appealing than those from the other Big Four pattern companies (Butterick, McCall and Vogue). There is the added enticement that I have a pretty good idea of how a Simplicity pattern will fit me and what modifications might need to be made. But beyond even my general affection for Simplicity is my specific adoration of the “Amazing Fit” patterns. Amazing Fit patterns come with the standard “average” sized pattern pieces as well as “slim” and “curvy” options and cup-size specific pieces which make getting a proper fit much, much simpler. There are a number of complicated reasons for that, but the most important one is that “slim” and “curvy” pieces fit the same size frame (skeleton) as the “average” pieces while accommodating the various quirks of squishy human bodies. Could I get the same good fit from a standard “average” pattern? Certainly, but I am lazy and like it when other people do my math for me.

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I was immediately drawn to Simplicity 1606 when it came out this past Spring. I love the classic lines of the dress as well as the halter neck and lace overlay variations included. It is a multi-tasking pattern which would work for a breezy summer sundress AND fancy formal wear. I did not realize at first that the pattern calls for boning in the bodice, which I will admit made me a bit concerned. But let’s be honest – an exotic new garment construction technique that I know nothing about is exactly what I want. You learn by doing and what’s life without a bit of adventure?

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Oh hush, garment construction is definitely an adventure

Just to clarify, as this blog post will shortly become rife with double entendres, boning refers to flexible, plastic reinforcements sewn into the linings of garments to provide structure. These structural supports were originally made from whalebone, or wood or similar materials for the purpose of changing the shape of the human form through corsets. The shape of corsets changed with the centuries and the fashions (and theories of health), but they were an important component in supporting some of the more massive skirts that have at times been in vogue. In the case of my sundress, the boning in the bodice holds the dress up; the neckties could be comfortably omitted.

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As this sundress was something of an experiment with new construction techniques, I made it with free fabric – always a good idea for experiments. This dress started life as a twin bed sheet which appeared to have been used as a dropcloth at some point. Lucky for me, it was possible to cut around the occasional drop of blue paint. The old cotton is soft and thin from years of use, but the white floral pattern on a buttery yellow background is still charming. I couldn’t find the narrow boning called for in the pattern, which was problematic as the pattern pieces only allowed just enough room for the boning and this style dress needs a snug fit. The pattern suggests using 3/8 inch width boning, but I could only find 1/2 inch width. My potentially ill-advised solution? The boning I used is made with a flat plastic core surrounded by a fabric casing. I ended up taking the narrow plastic bit out of the fabric casing and just using that part. I was afraid it would be more prone to stabbing me in the side when worn, but this has yet to be a problem.

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The actual construction was very straightforward. There was very little fussy easing, the seams all matched, the neck ties were simple to attach, and the lining kept the bodice neat without any need to finish many seams. The trickiest part was sewing in the boning, but even that was simple. The bodice is lined and the boning goes in the lining seam allowances. The instructions have you sew the lining together just as you do the bodice, but then you sew your seam allowances together to make a pocket for the boning. You then cut the boning to the length of your seam, slip it in the pocket, sew along the end, and repeat for the next one. Since the boning comes packaged in a coil, it has a tendency to curl, so I just turned the curved piece in to mirror the body line. I am no expert, but it certainly seems to be working! I imagine this pattern would be easy to adjust for a wide variety of different sizes and shapes. The only adjustment I made was to take the dress in a bit at the top of the side seams to get a snug fit and keep the dress in place.

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The finished product is shockingly comfortable. I wore it all day at the office without any problems, though that did mean 10+ hours with minimal slouching. Huzzah for good posture! The neck ties are long enough without being too long. The skirt is unlined and my fabric is very thin, so I do need to wear a slip with this dress.

Would I make this dress again? In a heartbeat, but for the sundress version, I might try adding some elastic at the back instead of using boning to hold the dress up. While comfortable, the boning goes against the spirit of an easy, breezy summer sundress. The sleeveless version would be wearable year-round, so I may go that route next time.

For now, the next occupier of this space remains unclear. A busy school year looms ominously, but I’m hanging out in my sundress of sunshine and denial.

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