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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.

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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.

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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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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.

Zinnia Skirt

In the last post, I mentioned working on a Zinnia skirt from Colette Patterns during that ridiculously cold streak. Sewing chiffon feels absurd when the thermometer hovers around zero. Now that the weather is evening out to more typical DC winter temperatures, I’ve been wearing the skirt with cozy sweaters. The finished product is comfy, and it looks adorable with both a heavy sweater or a tank top. I think we have a year-round skirt here (success!).

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Photo-taking credit goes to my helpful and notoriously modest roommate – the one with opposible thumbs

I got the pdf version of the Zinnia pattern, printed it out and pieced it together. Of the pdf patterns that I have assembled, this one was easy to put together accurately. The skirt pattern is nothing earth shattering, but it is well-designed and simple to work with. The pleats are intelligently placed, giving the skirt fullness without being too fluffy (fluffy skirts are highly objectionable). The pattern comes in two lengths: knee length and just below knee length. I made the knee length version,but next time I might shorten it further. The pattern calls for a button to close the waistband above the zipper, but I used a hook and eye instead.

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The pattern includes optional features like patch pockets or side seam pockets and belt loops. I forwent all of these in favor of maintaining my sanity when confronted with chiffon. The pattern directions walk you through working with a lining and adding pleats at the same time; the most important thing is treating the lining and the top layer as one piece of fabric throughout. This lovely camel chiffon with the little white and red flowers came from the PA Fabric Outlet trip. It is a very soft chiffon, and I knew it was destined for a skirt as soon as I saw it.

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I found the chiffon fussy to work with, but not particularly difficult to use. Chiffon simply requires patience. It is prone to slipping and stretching out of shape, but a careful approach while handling it prevents most of these problems. I didn’t treat the fabric with any stiffener before working with it. I  did trace the pattern pieces onto the fabric before cutting them out, which helped significantly. Once there is at least a double thickness of chiffon involved, my sewing machine had no problem working with it. But when there was only one thickness of chiffon, specifically when stay-stitching the waist edge, it slid all over the place. I didn’t worry about this much as that mess is hidden in the seam allowance.

I am very pleased with the skirt, which shouldn’t be surprising. By the time my projects make it to the blog, I tend to have worked out whatever may have been frustrating me along the way. I do have a few hibernating projects that I am not speaking to at the moment. They know what they did. There is another, mostly finished Zinnia skirt in the works, at least on baby sweater, and I suspect a coat pattern will be cut out very soon. This year I am chasing consistency and plan to make at least one blog post a month. Fingers crossed.

Mustard and Navy Blue Polka Dots

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Have you ever had an outfit which was so delightful you wanted to wear it every single day? But because it is so much fun to wear, you instead saved it for days that would be “worthy” of it? I find myself doing that with my mustard sleeveless blouse and navy and white polka dot skirt. After all, I wouldn’t want to waste mustard and navy blue polka dots on an average day. These lovelies have been finished and in use for some time, but are only now making it to the blog because pictures were pending.

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The skirt is the remarkable Vogue 7798 which I used when reinventing my bridesmaid dress into a skirt here. Making the skirt again has proven the pattern to be both reliable and versatile. The polka dot fabric is a polyester with a bit of texture to it, so it is stiffer than the fabric used in the green skirt, but it is still quite drapey. I suspect that fabric with a fluid drape is essential with this pattern. I cut the top layer to be two inches shorter than the bottom layer and finished both layers with narrow hems. This gives the hems some visual interest which might otherwise be missing when both layers of the skirt come from the same fabric. I was uncertain about how to install the zipper, but ended up just doing a standard lapped zipper with both layers of polka dot fabric held together. The fabric is thin enough and non-slippery enough that I didn’t have any problems setting the zipper in this way or with sewing with it in general.

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The end result is a great skirt which, like a good pair of jeans, works with nearly anything. The navy blue polka dots are more versatile than the lovely but unusual bridesmaid green. I have found the green skirt a challenge when looking for color combinations that don’t make me cringe. There are few rather gorgeous ways to pair it, but the green is definitely not a neutral. Despite the polka dots, the neutral navy of this skirt makes getting dressed in the morning quick and simple.

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The mustard blouse was started at the height of my bow blouse phase. It is the blouse from Simplicity 2154, a set of 60s reproduction patterns including the blouse, a jacket and a skirt pattern. Initially, the blouse fit strangely because I made it a size too big. It then hibernated until there was time to take it in. Some blouses can be worn oversized without a problem, but between the bright color, the collar and the bow, there was just too much going on to be wearable. Also? sleeveless blouses are much more comfortable when they actually fit properly.

The blouse includes a number of finishing details which I suspect are relics of what was more standard sewing practice in the ’60s. Instead of the expected armhole facing, the armholes and neck edge are finished with a bias strip folded in half, attached like a facing and then stitched down for a much cleaner finish. The side zipper opens to the bottom of the blouse, which is again unusual in modern patterns, but makes the blouse easier to get in and out of. The bow itself and the little button closure at the back of the neck all combine to make a fine garment with sharp details. I learned several new finishing techniques while making this blouse.

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Following the pattern instructions to the letter (which I rarely do) proved highly rewarding in this case. The only real change I made aside from alterations for fit was leaving out the interfacing on the bow. The interfacing is what makes fabric stiff enough to hold a shape, as it does in the collar, but I wanted a drapey bow. By sewing the bow without first applying interfacing to the fabric, the bow looks softer and a bit less conspicuous than it would be otherwise.

The blouse is made from a mustard polished cotton, a thin but crisp cotton fabric. Polished cotton is a bit shiny from how it is processed, which is where the fabric get its name. The fabric for both the blouse and the skirt came from a wholesale fabric warehouse in Allentown, PA. Nick of Time Textiles’ website is here . They do most of their sales in huge quantities online, but my mother and I stopped by the warehouse on a whim last summer. You can purchase fabric in person and in smaller quantities, but they definitely prefer larger amounts. I think we ended up getting ten yards of both fabrics, as well as some others.

Visiting the warehouse was… an adventure. Mom and I had no idea what we were getting into and picked a swelteringly hot summer afternoon to visit. It turned out that the fabric was all on the third floor of a large, un-air-conditioned warehouse, which was reachable only by climbing some impressively steep stairs. We wandered around a warren of massive bolts of fabric, slightly freaked out, until we got to the main office. There are racks and racks of fabric samples which represent the full contents of the warehouse, and, after sorting out what you would like, you request the fabric and quantity desired and someone retrieves and cuts it for you. Everyone was friendly and helpful, but it is definitely not the place for the faint of heart or the inexperienced sewers. Also, I would avoid visiting on a hot summer day as it is difficult to make fabric decisions when your brain is cooking. But if you are feeling adventurous, I would definitely recommend a visit – they have high quality fabrics at great prices.

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May has been busy and this Summer promises more of the same, but I have been binge-sewing since the semester ended. There is a seasonably irrelevant sweater finished and at least one more sleeveless blouse ahead. Stay tuned!

Bridesmaid Deconstructed, Vogue 7798

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What is the perfect skirt?

The answer to such a question is, of course, highly subjective. Yet certain qualities would likely be desirable to a substantial segment of skirt-wearers: comfort, versatility, and aesthetic appeal. Does the skirt fit correctly without unduly restricting movement? Does it work well with a variety of clothing combinations and for a variety of settings? Does it look appealing on a hanger? on the person wearing it? Does it, through some arcane means, confer upon the wearer the suspicion that they are in fact wearing the platonic ideal of skirts? Different skirt-wearers will undoubtedly come to different conclusions about such questions depending on the skirt involved.

But folks, I think I’ve found my perfect skirt.

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Last time, by applying scissors to my bridesmaid dress, I ended up with a strapless top and a pile of fabric. My primary goal for that pile of fabric was a skirt which maintained the charm of all those yards of swishing chiffon. At the same time, I was hesitant to duplicate the ruffles that I so disliked in the strapless top.

My first thought was to make a two layered skirt – the bottom layer a simple, straight skirt and the top layer gathered chiffon, but not so tightly gathered as in the bridesmaid dress. This would have involved making the pattern up as I went along and quite a bit of trial and error to get the gathers just right. But that approach would involve math, measuring and alot of luck, and frankly, I had never worked with anything remotely as slippery as chiffon before. It’s a squirmy beast to cut out and to sew with, and while I love a sewing experiment, they tend to come out better when there are fewer variables in play.

Vogue 7798: surprisingly excellent casual skirt

Vogue 7798: surprise casual skirt

This was when my Mom suggested Vogue 7798, a pattern that had been languishing in my parent’s basement since 2003. For whatever reason, it had never been made up despite being a perfectly respectable set of dressy separates. I will admit, I looked at my mother like she was crazy – wasn’t the goal to NOT end up with a formal, floor-length skirt? But she was, as she so often is, perfectly correct. The skirt pattern was made with precisely this kind of dressy fabric in mind, it had layers built into the pattern already, and it was easily hacked off at the knees for a much more casual and functional look.

The skirt has a narrow waist band and nice lines, despite its bland appearance on the pattern picture front. I used the pattern pieces, but completely ignored the directions (that’s a shock). I kept the center back seam of the skirt from the bridesmaid dress because that made one less seam to sew. Of course, this left a bit of a challenge for figuring out what to do with the center back zipper. What I ended up doing for the zipper finish was a centered standard zippper in the bottom layer and a rolled edging to the top layer of chiffon. I did that bit by hand and learned as I went – it’s not the prettiest, but it is serviceable.DSCN3561I will confess that I used a… nontraditional approach to hemming this skirt. As you can see above, I finished everything else in the skirt before hemming it, which is pretty standard. The wildly uneven bottom edge came about from my insane method for cutting across the bottom of the pattern pieces. When I was cutting out the skirt pieces, I got frustrated working with the slippery lining fabric and the chiffon. It just kept moving every time I cut it! By the time I got to the bottom of the skirt pieces, I was so annoyed that I guesstimated the length of the skirt and just quickly cut straight across (a word to the wise: Don’t Do This At Home). You can see the varied resulting lengths in the picture above. In order to fix my mess, I needed to true the hem. You get the most accurate results for a straight and even hemline by putting on the skirt or dress in question and having someone else measure and mark a consistent distance from the floor.

measuring hemsI took the lazy but practical approach of measuring and marking an even length from the waistband. You end up with nearly the same result with much less fuss. The hem itself was just each layer folded over twice and stitched down, as narrowly as possible. I think my slightly uneven hem is actually an asset in this skirt. It shows off the layers and gives the skirt more movement.

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Having worn it a time or two, I am still pleased as punch with the result. The skirt has great lines and hits a middle ground between a full A-line skirt and a narrow pencil skirt. I think you could cut off the skirt in this pattern at pretty much any length and still get a nice result. It is comfortable and not restrictive, but it still feels neat and sleek. I will admit that I have already made up this pattern in a polka dot fabric and it is similarly delightful (more on that later).

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The skirt doesn’t need a slip, what with the layers, but it isn’t very wearable with stockings. This skirt will be seeing the outside of my closet much more when it warms up.

DSCN3638Bridesmaid Dress Reinvention Part Two: Success. One more adventure to come! There is one more layer of dress lining to use up and more pictures of green clothing in a green room on a gray day to squint at. Stay tuned!

Hypoallergenic Ginger Skirt

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Last summer I acquired three yards of 60 inch wide red imitation linen fabric from a fabric store in PA. I’m reasonably certain it is entirely polyester. While this means the garments I’ve made out of it aren’t magically cool in the DC heat and humidity, it also means that they are not maniacally wrinkled every time I move. I am alright with the trade off and will save the challenges of sewing with real linen for another day.

Just how many garment can you make out of 3 yards of 60″ wide fake linen? Well, I managed three. Working very, very carefully I just managed to cut out a Ginger Skirt  from Colette Patterns in addition to the dress and the blouse I already posted. Ginger skirts have been blogged to death, so I suppose this is my rite-of-passage skirt post.  As I was trying to conserve fabric, this skirt is cut on the grain with the narrow waistband. I’ve made a Ginger skirt cut on the bias before, which is equally versatile and wearable.

Fun fact: I’m a bit allergic to ginger, especially if it’s uncooked, but the last thing this skirt does is give me the hives (or, you know,  anaphylaxis).

I will certainly be making more of these skirts in the future, especially now that I’ve worked out how long a zipper is necessary. In my first Ginger skirt, I used a standard 7″ zipper. Because the waist is so high on the skirt, a 7″ zipper doesn’t leave enough room to pull the skirt over the hips. I’ve since resorted to pulling that first skirt on over my head, but this pretty red one has a longer zipper and doesn’t share that problem.

Overall, the red fake-linen was terrific to work with because it takes a press easily but doesn’t spontaneously wrinkle if you breathe on it wrong. I have a whole new appreciation of just how many pattern pieces you can squeeze onto 60″ wide fabric as opposed to 45″ fabric. Of course, not needing to contend with a directional print that required matching helped to conserve fabric too.

New Goal: Sewing something that is not red.

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