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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!

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.

Vogue 1440

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.

Vogue 1440

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.

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.

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.

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.

A Simpler Simplicity 2154

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Back when I scored the gorgeous burgundy shot cotton that went into Mom’s birthday blouse, I also purchased the end of another bolt of shot cotton. (I may be bitter that Exquisite Fabrics moved from Georgetown to Culpepper, VA, but that moving sale is the gift that keeps on giving). This teal cotton only amounted to an uneven yard of 60 inch wide fabric, but it was so lovely that I held out for a project that could be a wardrobe staple. The burgundy shot cotton made up beautifully into a fairly structured blouse for Mom, so I knew I wanted to make something structured and tailored for myself.

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When I made Simplicity 2154 before I loved how it came out, though in my previous attempt I cut the pieces a size too big and wrestled unnecessarily with fitting. I cut out the correct size this time, and lo and behold, it fits without adjustment. (On the sensible and mature hand, I learned many useful altering skill by starting with the wrong pattern size. On the sane hand, UGH.) Arranging the pattern pieces to cut them out required creativity as the pattern calls for just over a yard of fabric and my piece was just under a yard. You can usually squeeze all the pieces into less fabric than is called for on the pattern packet, but these pattern pieces called for a lot of squeezing. The element of suspense just makes sewing more exciting, right? There wasn’t enough fabric to cut out the bias bow pattern piece, but this was more a happy accident than tragedy. The detail of the mustard blouse for which I bear the least affection is the actual, rather floppy, bow. Minus the bow but with the “knot,” the blouse looks more stream-lined and modern.

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This sleeker blouse also reprises my favorite feature of Simplicity 2154 – the zipper. Gasp! Did I say that my favorite part was the ZIPPER? Aren’t zippers the most obnoxious step in sewing a garment? Putting them in nicely is fussy and miserable, and they are installed near the end when you just want the project finished and wearable already. Placing the zipper as the best part of this pattern is a rather bold claim.

Now that is a gorgeous zipper if I do say so myself.

But I have my reasons. Prior to sewing my first Simplicity 2154, I had always installed zippers by following the instructions that come on your average Coats and Clark zipper package. For a standard zipper this meant either a centered or a lapped application, but in both cases the seam where the zipper would be installed was sewn shut and the zipper was stitched in place essentially blind. This is a perfectly reasonable way to sew in a zipper, but I always disliked not being able to see what I was doing. For the Simplicity 2154, I followed the sewing directions in the pattern to the letter (which may be more rare than I am willing to admit) and thereby discovered a completely different approach. The pattern indicates that the seam should not be sewn shut; rather, the seam allowances should be folded under and pressed, and the zipper sewn in place accordingly. For whatever reason, this approach makes much more sense to my brain, and it obviously gave sharp results.

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Also, the whole pull-tab at the bottom seam design is fantastic. I have an illustrious career of getting myself tangled in garments with side zippers. The bottom opening zipper, however, combined with the button opening at the back of the neck have thus far compensated for graceless dressing on my part.

I’ve been wearing this blouse like crazy at the office this summer. It is polished and professional but cool and comfortable, AND it is such a pretty, versatile color. This blouse makes dressing professionally for DC summer bearable.

This long holiday weekend (huzzah!) has meant a bit of time to blog and sew (and pretend I shouldn’t be studying instead). I am working out how to sew in the new apartment without losing my mind, disrupting the roommate, or accidentally killing her cat. I made the very grownup decision to purchase an actual, life-size ironing board. There is a proper, if pricey, fabric store a twelve minute drive from my new apartment. I am cautiously considering all of the above as positive developments.

Up next? There may be a sundress, sewn from a bed sheet, with boning in the bodice. Just saying.

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