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Lilou dress and Lazy alterations


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

Dandelion top 1

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.

Dandelion top 5

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.

Dandelion Top 4

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!

Bridesmaid Deconstructed, Ottobre

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And today, the Bridesmaid Dress Reinvention Saga draws to a close.

Having already made an exceptionally successful skirt, I wasn’t terribly concerned about what to make of the remaining bridesmaid dress fabric. While there was one layer of lining left, I was satisfied that the effort of cutting apart the dress had already been rewarded. Yet the question remained: What do you do with bridesmaid dress fabric when you have already made a skirt? As the earlier attempt to make a strapless top had mixed results, a top of some sort seemed logical.


The pattern of choice ended up being a classic shell with a good square neckline and sensible looking darts.  Nothing earth-shattering here, but a simple and flattering pattern for a classic sleeveless top is an infinitely useful pattern to have on hand. I did not have any delusions that it would turn out perfectly, especially after how fantastic the skirt came out (success like that tends to be followed by disaster). However, I did hope for a wearable muslin, a test run of the pattern, so to speak.

The pattern hails from the Fall 2009 issue of a European sewing magazine, Ottobre. It is alternately referred to as the Carmen top or Pattern #11 in the magazine. Ottobre is one of those sewing magazines with shiny, pretty pictures of people wearing the patterns all sewn up and with the patterns themselves torturously mashed on top of each other on one or two big pattern sheets hidden in the back. For this reason, and this reason alone, nothing had been made out of the magazine previously, despite some very wearable options.


I worked with a color copy of the nightmarish pattern sheet, tracing out the pieces onto a roll of brown craft paper. This was a very necessary step as many of the pattern pieces for each pattern overlap each other. You can see the back pattern piece in the picture above. I was trying to follow the orange lines. I knew that all the orange lines belonged to my pattern pieces which helped… a little. They were utter insanity to trace. I don’t know if these kinds of patterns get easier to work with the more you use them, but it felt like a practise in absurdity. Has Ottobre been conducting a social experiment in which they try to give their readers migraines and seizures?

Certain failures in my pattern-copying skills led to two notable omissions:

1. I left out the paired waist darts on the front piece. This first mistake ended up being a mercy because it helped mitigate the severity of the second mistake.

2. I forgot to add seam allowances to the pattern pieces. For whatever reason, Ottobre and many other European pattern companies do not include a seam allowance in their drafted patterns. The seam allowance is the bit of extra room at the edges of a pattern piece that provides a space for the seam to be sewn. To deal with my lack of seam allowances, I just made the seams as narrow as possible to minimize the amount of fabric taken away from the space of the garment. This isn’t a huge problem for the most part, but the shoulder straps are too short now. Leaving off the front waist darts leaves just enough ease through the torso to make it wearable.


The end result fits better than it has any right to fit. I am reasonably certain that if I had added seam allowances like I should have, the top would have fit nearly perfectly. As it is, the bust darts are too high, the shoulders could use a smidge more room, and overall, wearing it enforces uncomfortably perfect posture. So, it is a wearable muslin. I am satisfied with the project, especially since it’s not as if I lost anything by goofing up leftover lining fabric.


As soon as I finished sewing my new green top, the first thing I did was make new pattern pieces with all of the darts marked, and most importantly, SEAM ALLOWANCES. Thank goodness for big rolls of wrapping paper.


I want to wear my green top a few more times to work out the fit issues. Mostly, the added ease of actual seam allowances should get me to a sensibly fitting garment. I have some drapey magenta  fabric in mind for another attempt at getting this pattern right.

Verdict? somewhat mixed results, but still wearable and useful. The pattern is solid, so next time, with actual seam allowances, should be even better. Working with the remains of my bridesmaid dress pushed me to look at fabric differently, and I certainly learned a good bit about persuading slippery fabrics to behave.

Simplicity 1882: Duvets Never Looked This Good

Hello again after a bit of a hiatus

It has been a busy summer for me, at first  due to an intensive Latin course that crammed two semesters of Latin into six weeks.  Later, I have been much to busy actually sewing to take the time to write about my projects!

The first sewing endeavor of this recent spate of projects is the newish Simplicity 1882, an “Amazing Fit” pattern, which I am happy to say lives up to its name. The dress has retro lines emphasized by piping at the waist with a nifty pocket construction and an optional collar. I added the piping this time and used the collar and the contrasting pocket pieces, but I decided not to use the little bow at the center of the collar. I’ve always felt that putting a teeny, non-functional bow there just means you are trying to hide how you goofed up installing the collar.  The pattern has many charming little design features that can be swapped for very different looks depending on the fabric used.

The first attempt at a pattern is something of a risk – you don’t know how it will sew up, how it will fit. While it looks adorable on the pattern packet, it might look absurd made up, fit strangely, or just really, really not suit you. This is, of course, why people make quick mock-ups called muslins which may or may not be made with muslin. This particular dress was intended to be a muslin, but once I started sewing it, it took on a life of its own and became a proper dress. The fabric in this case is not actually muslin. It began its cottony life as a queen-sized IKEA duvet cover on clearance. While I haven’t bother to do the math properly, it came out to dirt cheap a yard for the fabric (just how I like it). The duvet cover included two shades of blue chambray fabric, which worked out perfectly for this pattern. I ripped apart the seams on the duvet and had fun deciding how to lay the pieces to cut them out.

This dress included a number of new techniques for me; most especially it features an invisible zipper and piping. The invisible zipper (using this tutorial)came out only somewhat invisible, but it both works and looks nice which I automatically count as a win with any kind of zipper. I might have to further elaborate on my zipper angst sometime. I apologize for that rant in advance.

An only somewhat invisible zipper

As for the piping… I suspect I may be beginning a love affair with piping. I made the piping myself by first making bias tape of the darker blue chambray. I then folded the bias tape over cording and stitched alongside it to hold the fabric in place. I used this tutorial. See how neat! I feel impossibly clever about how well it all came out. Making bias tape is enough of a trick to begin with, but when it turns into piping which looks so sharp so easily… well it’s a bit magic. I am also a big fan of the short sleeve option in this pattern. The short sleeves ease in properly without any wrinkles at the top, always a plus. The sleeves are also fully lined, which avoids any need to hem them and gives the potentially droopy sleeves some body.

I found fitting this pattern to be very straightforward. I used the curvy pattern pieces, and  the pattern includes variations for cup sizes which is rather useful. The only alteration I needed to make was taking out an inch or so at center back for my apparently weirdly narrow back. I’ve started seeing that little quirk as a remarkably convenient as it gives me extra wide seam allowances to work with for any center back zippers.

I am rather pleased with how this dress came out in fit and fabric and styling. It is ridiculously comfortable and allows for the full range of motion you would want in an easy, breezy summer dress.

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