Saturday, 30 July 2016

Those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer

I'm pretty sure I've started my last four blog posts saying "This project was a long time coming", and not being one to break a chain this dress is no exception! I've been wanting a strappy dark wash denim sundress for quite a while now. Something simple, with interesting style lines, for easy summer time japes... something along these lines...

L-R: Free People (Sold out), Valley of the Dolls, Trashy Diva

Sometime last summer I started trying to recreate the Trashy Diva dress (right) seen on New Girl with this Burdastyle pattern. I won't lie that pattern was a complete dud! Gapey cutout, too low neckline and a horizontal bust seam that simultaneously made it impossible to fit and cut across me making me look like a chunky KitKat bar! Not good at all! Needless to say that muslin got dumped, but one good hangover from that experience was  full-fledged love affair with bust pleats! (Although this dress indicates that's  not a new development!)

So when I saw this pattern in Burdastyle 11/2015 edition I jumped on it! It was everything I wanted, strappy, sweatheart neck, simple lines and best of all BUST PLEATS! It's definitely reminiscent of my Salme sundress which I've made umpteen times and love, but with enough different details to make it interesting. Undeterred by my previous Burda experience I decided I would finally have the denim dress of my dreams!

It took me a while to get around to tracing out the pattern/adding seam allowance and then another while to muslin. But it was a nice leisurely pace, since I had no deadline. Plus, since the pattern itself is super simple, the whole dress came together in a day once I started the real thing! Matching the CF pleats look complicated but as long as you baste well, there's no issue. I made the bodice 3 times (Muslin, lining and actual bodice) and each time the pleats matched up perfectly first time. Since there are no darts and the back princess seams require no easing all of the shaping is fairly painless.

For the dress I used an absolutely gorgeous 4 ounce denim from Backstitch. It's a super light-weight with a discrete twill weave so it seems almost like chambray. It's super soft and drapey so I was a little concerned it wouldn't hold the pleats well. However, it actually does have a nice amount of body that worked well for pleating. (Plus the pattern does list drapier fabrics like crepe in the recommended fabrics, so it probably wouldn't have been an issue) One thing to bear in mind is that due to the overlapping pleats on each side of the CF seam it can get very bulky, super quick, so a crisp light-weight fabric is probably best. Being a cotton denim it handled really well and didn't fray much. I actually think it would make a really nice shirtdress for autumn, lightweight but still warm, so I might get some more soon...

Sizewise, I graded between a size 36 at the waist and 40 at the bust which actually worked remarkably well! As usual I did make a few other tweaks...

Tweak list:
-Taking in the CB seam 2" at the top, grading to nothing at the waist- A common adjustment for me due to my rounded shoulders, although admiittedly I don't usually have to take quite so much.
-Shortening the bodice length 5/8" so it hits my natural waist, since, unfortunately, my body was not drafted with the same lanky German height ideals as Burda.
-Rotating a tiny bit of front neck/armhole gaping into the top bust-pleat
-Reshaping the front neckline: I found on my muslin that the sweetheart neckline ran a bit low for my tastes and showed my bra-strap quite dramatically. So I marked the strap placement on a scrap piece of fabric pinned to the top of the neckline. I then went back to the pattern and redrew the neckline so so it covered the strap completely.

I guess that sounds like more than a few tweaks, but they're all pretty standard adjustments for me so they went pretty quick. Plus I'm pretty picky about fit (Side-effect of sewing, HA!) so it was definitely worth the effort from my perspective!

I will say that because of the difference between my bust and waist sizes there is a bit of excess fabric under the bust which kind of collapses in on itself annoyingly. It also creates these weird diagonal drag lines like a downwards pointing arrow- the complete opposite to any draglines I've had before. The issue is that since all of the front shaping  comes from the CF seam and bust pleats there's not a lot I could do to eliminate the excess. I tried curving the CF seam a little but that only made it worse It's not a massive deal and everything else fits so well I cant really complain... but still a little annoying...

Lawn lining  

I fully lined the bodice in navy cotton lawn, but kept the skirt unlined, simply french seaming the side seams and pockets (My trusty Simplicity 1873 pocket piece!) Burda actually provides a separate lining pattern with front princess seams instead of pleats to reduce bulk at the front. It's a really good idea, but I'm super lazy and couldn't be bothered to trace those pieces as well so I simply used the main bodice pieces again. This worked really well and I think in this lightweight fabric the extra volume from the lining pleats helps reinforce the bodice nicely. One thing to note about lining the bodice is that due to the nature of the straps you can't understitch in one fell swoop. Instead you have to keep on stopping and starting to avoid catching the straps. A little irritating but certainly not difficult.

I also changed up my hand-stitching technique for the waistline and hem. Usually I just catch-stitch my hems but recently I've been trying to up my hand-stitching game, so my past few dresses have used a blind slip-stitch. I won't lie, I'm a lot slower with this technique but I'm absolutely in looooove the clean finish it gives to the inside of the dress! Totally worth it!!
Pretty hem (plus bonus french seam)

The only thing I'm sad about is the skirt. You see the pattern has a gathered skirt, but I really wanted a 1" knife pleated skirt to mimic the bust pleats. Honestly, I'm not really sure what happened; either I messed up measuring the waistline or the maths... Either way when I pleated up the skirt it was waayyyyyy too small! Boo! I didn't have any left over fabric to recut, but so I decided to undo the pleats and simply gather the skirt instead. Luckily this worked really well, and for some reason these might be he most even gathers I've ever sewn! (Go figure!) I do really like the gathered skirt, as it's incredibly cute but I think next time I'll do a pleated skirt... One that fits this time!


Also I desperately need help turning straps through!! Somehow I always manage to make a hash of it and it takes forever! With these ones I accidentally stabbed through the straps about 5 times with the knitting needles I was using... not great and now there are tiny holes *Sob* I also think I probably should have interfaced the straps since they feel a little flimsy, especially with the new holes!

Can you spot the hole?
So all of this is really to say that I'm in love! I absolutely adore the shape of the sweatheart and how the underarm continues up smoothly into the strap! I love how the back is higher than my other sweetheart dresses to give more coverage- It almost reminds me of the back of the By Hand London Flora. I love the full skirt and the slight vintagey-ness of the fit and flare silhouette. And lets not forget, most of all I addoooorrrreee those bust pleats!! I love interesting details, and pleats especially, so this design is right up my alley! It was an easy sew, with a lot of visual interest. The pleats are the sort of detail that you see a lot more in vintage patterns than in modern, so I was thrilled to find them in a Burda magazine of all places and I'm now super excited to make another... As soon as I buy more fabric of course... hehe

This dress is actually part of a capsule wardrobe type thing that I decided to make a few weeks ago as a summer project. I picked out 5 fabrics in fairly neutral colours, lots of denim, black and white, khaki and a dash of red, for easy coordination. Most of the styles and fabrics I picked out are a little outside of my usual style comfort zone for various reasons but I'm definitely really excited about where the wardrobe is heading. This dress is the most traditionally "me" part of the group and unsurprising was the first to be sewn up. I'm currently 3 items down out of 5 and pretty impressed by my productivity... next up the jeans...

Capsule wardrobe fabrics

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Jean genie

I won't lie to you folks, this post has been a long time coming! Skinny jeans have been on my sewing list for pretty much as long as I've been sewing consistently (so a solid four years now) and the road to this point has not been easy...  Now I could go back to the beginning and tell you all about how before I started sewing I wore skinny jeans and oversized ironic band t-shirts everyday until a series of unfortunate events made it impossible to find jeans that fit. I could tell you how, when I started sewing, the joys of being able to make things that fit and looked exactly how I wanted resulted in a style overhaul where I proceeded to boycott jeans for 3 years. I could tell you that I first tried to make jeans in 2013, by rubbing off a pair of ill-fitting Primark skinnies, resulting in a a pair of trousers I couldn't sit down in. (Probably best not to think about that) I could also tell you that hidden in the muslin graveyard in my room there are 2 fully constructed but badly fitting handmade pairs of jeans and no less than 7 jean muslins. I could tell you how I tried and failed, and made multiple alterations and failed again and learnt a lot in the process...

...However, this is not the time for looking back at past mistakes. This is the time for victory jumping and happy dancing and singing the praises of a magical pattern! Because it finally happened y'all!

If you've been anywhere around the online sewing community in the past two years then this pattern will need no introduction; I made the Closet Case Files Ginger Jeans pattern, view B the high-waisted skinnies version. I finally caved last Christmas (after all the afore mentioned failures) and decided trying a new pattern wouldn't hurt. This may be one of the least regretted decisions of my life!

I traced a size 8 based on my hip measurement and made a quick and dirty shorts muslin from some white stretch twill I had lying around. To my utter astonishment almost no alterations were needed! *Inset gasping and spontaneous dancing!* My only minor tweaks were to straighten the front crotch curve 1/4" to shorten it a little and take in the CB seam a little as there was some gapage. (adjusting the waistband accordingly) Oh and I also raised the back pockets and moved them inwards about an inch. Looking back, a lot of my subsequent issues could have been solved if I had taken a little extra care at this muslin stage, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I didn't start the actual pair of jeans until late January/early February. I had just finished costuming a production of Phantom of the Opera at my Uni which had required me to sew a million tutus and floufy dresses, not to mention an 18th century wedding dress (Don't ask!) After selflessly sewing all those whisps I was craving a more hard wearing project so immediately cut out a pair of jeans and this shirt.

The fabric is  a grey stretch denim from Macculloch and Wallis, bought last summer. It's a nice medium weight with good stretch and recovery (atleast it held up to me yanking half-finished legs off every 3 seconds whilst fitting....) I would say it does have a slight sheen to it in some lights (see first picture) which I'm not a massive fan of. The pocket bags are left over chambray from the stash and the waistband and hem facings are navy cotton lawn, also from the stash. I also uses a knit tricot interfacing on the denim waistband in an effort to stop it bagging out. I actually really like the extra firmness the interfacing gives the waistband, and I'm pretty sure the extra stability is the reason the corners actually match up (unlike previous attempts...)

Topstitching pride, right there!

Construction actually went very smoothly. The Ginger instructions are incredibly thorough, and every pattern piece is thoughtful and fits beautifully. The fly instructions are very different to my go-to Grainline Studios version they resulted in some dreamy top-stitching, so I might be a convert. Seam-finish wise, I sewed all the seams then zig-zagged over the raw allowances using my overcasting foot for a mock-overlock look. Then I top-stitched two lines in grey top-stitching thread for  a traditional jeans look. I have to say, of all the things I love about these jeans the uniformity of the topstitching is definitely my favourite! Gotta love that precision! I also created a vague pattern from my initials for the back pocket topstitching. A bit arrogant perhaps, but a monogram is better than mono-butt, riiiight...?

Monogram buttttttttt

As you can hear, everything was perfect until I attached the waistband... You see as I previously mentioned my muslin earlier in the year wasn't the most thorough and as such I didn't add a waistband. If I had then the issue would have been clear. You see according to Heather Lou the pattern is drafted so that the top of the waistband sits just above the belly button, with 2.5" ease at the waist. However my waist is about 1" smaller than the size 8 waist and when I attached the wasitband major gaposis ran rife! To fix this I darted out the excess (a good 3-4") at various points on the waistband, ripped it out and transferred the darts to my pattern- essentially redrafting a 2 piece curved waistband. I then cut this new waistband, attached and top-stitched. If i'm being honest, I still haven't fixed the problem. The back waistline still doesn't lie flat. If I'm wearing a tucked in top then I can hide that with a belt but if I have a longer looser top then (No shame) a gather up the excess in a giant safety pin at the back.... Sooooo... that's probably something that should be addressed before my next version...
Waistband safety pinned in shame
Other than my waistband issues I made a couple of other changes on the fly for my design preferences. I increased the seam allowances below the knee by 3/8" on the in-seam and out-seam to get the SUPER skinny look I wanted. I also found that the legs would have ended up borderline cropped if I'd've hemmed them the full inch indicated by the pattern. So, instead I used a bias facing to preserve length. (Although since the bias binding is A LOT less stretchy than the denim the legs are  a liiiiiiiittle difficult to get on and off at the ankle, especially with my extra skinnification.


These jeans you guys! Despite all the trials and tribulations I love these jeans! This is evidenced by the fact that I wore them out atleast 3 times before I'd actually attached the front button. I also wore them for an interview/induction event for a job that I then got soooo... Clearly they're also lucky jeans!

I would say that whilst I love the dramatic high-waisted look, for  a more everyday pair of jeans I'll probably try shortening the rise 1-1.5" for my next pair. Oh, and lengthening the legs 1" as well! If I was feeling super nit-picky I might consider altering the back to get rid of the underbutt wrinkles, or fiddling around with the front crotch curve a little more... but honestly these fit well and feel good so I don't want to overfit...

Oh, and by the way my top is another strappy sorbetto hack, I made last June. It's an absolutely dreamy rayon (You can still find some here) and I absolutely adore it. This is a top that was worn pretty much every day of summer and has been on every holiday, day trip and night out I've been on since! It's the absolute perfect thing to throw on when it's hot and because it's completely french seamed it has stood up admirably to the hard-wearing it's received. It'll be a sad day when it finally disintegrates on me!

So that's about it, y'all. One major life goal accomplished and now I just want to jump in and start a million more pairs! Heather Lou, I absolutely tip my hat to you! The good thing is that over the years I've amassed around 8.5 meters of stretch denim op various hues, so now I've got a well fitting pattern.... expect many pairs of jeans, cut-offs and one long-awaited dungarees hack in the future! Exciting times ahead!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The Greensleeves dress

Just like my last post, this dress has been a long time coming! You see around 2012 I was working out my style and getting into a lot of fashion and craft blogs. Since I was also getting into sewing at the time I naturally started to try and recreate the sorts of things I was seeing, either direct copycats or just the general vibe, and at some point I guess I found my personal style. Woop woop, high fives all round!

Along the way I discovered Free People, and fell head over heels with their whole aesthetic. Now as a whole their style is a lot more bohemian than my own, but there are certain pieces that I needed in my life. Pieces like this dress (and this shirt...) I've loved this dress ever since I first saw it a couple years ago and have never given up the idea of one day recreating it!

Free People Brunch Date Dress (Now out of stock)
I mean that cut-out Peter Pan collar is hard to resist...

*Wipes drool off keyboard* Right, on to the pattern hack. After years of anticipation I grabbed my trusty Plantain pattern and set to work.

(Sidenote: the Plantain is drafted with a bunch of ease around the waist/hips, which is not what we want for a fitted skaterdress... Luckily, I've made enough Plantains/Plantain hacks that I have a slimmed down version of the pattern that gets used at times like this. I still ended up taking another inch or so out of the waist midway through construction, since a fitted t-shirt still has more ease than a dress bodice.)

For the hack itself everything was relatively simple...

*Cue low-tech illustration*

Pattern alterations: Red= New Neckline, Green= Original pattern

First I cut off the T-shirt pattern at the waist. Then, using the Plantain neckline as a guide, I redrew a new front neckline emulating a Peter Pan collar. I added 1" height to the CF, then scooped down (1/2" away from the CF) to get the Peter Pan look, rejoining the original neckline at the shoulder.

Then I drafted self-fabric bindings for the cutouts and the full neckline, making them each 85% as long as the openings themselves. (Mainly because I once read on Closet Case Files that the best ratio for drafting neckbands and bindings. I've applied it to every band I've made since and never had a gaping neckline.) I also added a half circle skirt for swooshiness. Swooshiness is a high priority in my life!

Much swoosh
After that it was just a case of constructing the dress as you would a normal skaterdress. Then, for the neckline, binding the two peterpan scoops before binding the full neckline. That makes it sound easy, but I actually had some major issues due to the bulkiness of my knit. It did not play nicely with the topstitching and there was a lot of frustrated unpicking... which then resulted in a hole right at the CF of the neckline *Face palm* Only I could make an undarnable hole in the most obvious place possible. So yeah, the topstitching is meh and there's a hole but I'm pretty sure the general coolness of the neckline detracts from this... hopefully...

Neckline hole + too low waist seam
The whole dress was sewn with a stretch stitch (sometimes called lightning bolt stitch), seams finished with a zig-zag and hems a 3-step zig-zag (My favourite hemming technique for knits!). I stabilised the shoulders with clear elastic and would've stabilised the waist too... but the weight of the skirt dragged down the waistline and I'm undecided about whether I'm going to chop it off and raise it at some point.

While we're on the subject of things that could be improved next time, there's definitely something funky happening with the fit of the bodice. There are a lot of drag-lines around the armscye and under the bust which other versions I've made don't have. I'm not sure if it's the neckline alterations or because this knit has much less stretch than others I've used in the past, and no recovery . Either way it's something to think about.

Moving on to my favourite topic, fabric!! Obviously my fabric choice takes this away from being a direct copycat of Free People, but personally I prefer my knit. It's a super gorgeous shade somewhere in between teal and kelly green. I don't know what you'd call it but while I was cutting it my friend it was "Cam in a colour" so I'm going with it. It's 100% cotton, hence the lack of stretch and recovery, but it is SO SOFT, almost like it's brushed. So essentially, this dress is the most comfortable thing ever!! Far nicer to touch than the 100% Polyester Free People was using...

There wasn't much left on the bolt so I bought everything they had (roughly 1.7m with a jagged bit cut-off) and set to work. The jagged fabric scuppered my plans for long sleeves and I ended up with these weird slightly-longer-than-3/4-length-sleeves. They're a little annoying but still pretty warm, so I'm happy.

Awkward sleeve length
All together it was a really quick pattern hack... minus the 3 years delay from inspiration to realisation...oops!! This dress has definitely filled a gap in my wardrobe of  comfy dresses that don't look like you've given up on life (aka things to wear when you want to be in bed but have to adult instead) It gets reached for way more often than I expected and I'm thinking I'll definitely make another... although probably not too many more since the neckline is pretty distinctive. On a similar note, this dress has also made me reconsider the Peter Pan collar. I always thought they were too cutesy, even for me, but this slightly edgier take on it has me reconsidering...

Friday, 8 April 2016

Stop dreaming of the quiet life 'cos it's the one we'll never know

I'm a big fan of circularity. You know, giving and receiving, what goes around comes around, universal symmetry, the whole shebang. So it shouldn't be surprising that this entire outfit is a kind of giant circular nod to my new town.

It seems only right that on the train home at the end of T2 I stitched the buttons onto my brand new plaid flannel shirt... plaid flannel which was the last thing I bought before heading off, fresh-faced and dewy-eyed, to university roughly 6 months earlier. (6 month fabric turn around, not too shabby...) Oh and the skirt, you ask? Well, its hem was handsewn in a hotel room, last March-ish, the night before offer-holder's open day at the uni I now call home.  How's that for circularity!

See, it all comes around in a beautiful harmonious circle of destiny... or so I like to tell myself.
Anyway, onto the sewing...

The shirt, as may be obvious from the blatant shirt monogamy in my archives, is another Grainline Archer in whatever size I always make. I mean why mess with a good thing?? It's true love I tells ya. This shirt has been on  my to do list pretty much since I got the pattern maaaaany years ago (read: three) but I was waiting for the perfect red plaid flannel to fall into my lap. (Sidenote: Wouldn't it be great if fabric just fell from the sky??.. Nope, just me? Moving on....) The urgency of the mission got kicked up a gear as I started prepping for uni. A plaid flannel shirt would obviously be what all the cool kids were wearing.... I mean it's the perfect thing to swaddle yourself in as you sat on the grass thinking deep thoughts about Foucault and what to make for dinner. It was clear I needed a shirt stat!

Serendipidously, John Lewis had just got in an order of John Louden plaid flannels and I snatched up 1.5m of this red colourway the day before I left. Stopping only for a brief  prewash in my parents' washing machine  (to delay the time when I would have to PAY FOR LAUNDRY *gasp*) I whisked down south and promptly forgot about my shirt plans, busying myself instead with wild student activities (read: Knitting and card making)

Showing off tower plackets

It wasn't until mid-February, when winter finally poked its nose out (gotta love the south!) that I finally picked up the idea again. From then on it was smooth sailing. Cutting out occurred on the kitchen floor on a Wednesday in mid-March and by the Friday the shirt was pretty much complete.

Construction-wise I kept things classy: french seams for the armscyes and side seams (Woop woop, french seams), the burrito method for the yokes (My first time, I'm now IN LOVE) and a bias facing for the hem to preserve a little length (I LOVE the slight pop of interest it adds to the inside. My trusty self-drafted tower placket saw some light and the back yoke, button band and cuffs were cut on the bias. Good stuff all round.

: Bias hem facing

Obviously I couldn't get this far plain sailing, something was bound to go wrong. Oh pattern matching, must you be the bane of my life...? *sigh* So it turns out that in a fit of baffling ineptitude I managed to match everything except one side seam. I'd somehow managed to cut one half of the back off-grain meaning one side seam was off by EXACTLY one square. It's actually so perfectly mismatched it's hilarious.
The offending seam

So, in true Cam fashion I stared at in blankly in the fetal position for a while (immensely freaking out the engineer) before deciding to get on with it, pattern matching be damned!.. Except in my madness (read: plaidness) I was completely distracted and ended sewing my french seam WRONG SIDES TOGETHER.., aka THE WRONG WAY ROUND. Cue more fetal position and engineer hugs.

Luckily I caught it after I'd sewn the first set of seams, but it did the require the painstaking unpicking of 1/4" seams on an incredibly fraying fabric... then the tedious re-pinning to match up the plaids.... Then resewing the french seams. Not. Best. Pleased.

The good seam... maybe seams are like twins: One's always evil!

After that ordeal I wasn't really feeling button holes and wore the shirt open and buttonless for a week before I tackled them. Smooth sailing... see it's all about the cosmic harmony! Also the engineer let me use his scalpel to cut open the buttonholes and let me tell you that is some next level precision!

Design feature... shhhhh
The only other minor... major hiccup was the colouring. See I'd been working on the assumption that the plaid was red/black, using black topstitching thread throughout. However, when it came to picking buttons the truth could not be ignored: it's red/navy. So,whilst this opens up my skirt matching possibilities it does mean my black thread and  navy buttons are at war. I'm also not sure about the button size. I went with 1/2" buttons, as stated in the pattern and thought there was something iffy. Cue the engineer pointing out that they're far larger than the buttons on men's shirts. I think the recommended size works a lot better for larger scale prints (see this version) but with the smaller check a smaller button would balance better. But there's no way I'm unpicking them soooo we'll just have to call it a design feature...

All drama aside, I love this shirt! It's exactly what I thought it would be, a comfy, warm wardrobe staple. I've worn it almost everyday this week, no shame. It goes with leggings, skirts, dungarees, even the Ginger jeans I'm making... and it's red so it matches all my shoes!! Total winner, plus I get a pat on the back from past Cam for finally executing her plan... You're welcome, past Cam, glad I could help.

One final mention for the skirt: I live in it! It's a half circle skirt with four 2" inverted box pleats (2 at the front, 2 at the back). It's a black rayon/spandex twill so it's comfy, drapes well and has A LOT of body in the pleats. Total wardrobe dynamite!Plus pockets, bias-bound seams, invisible zip and and hand-stitched bias-faced hem. I've worn it every week for a year without fail and show no signs of stopping.

So lets hear it for the staples! Sometimes plans just work out and I can tell you nothing fells as good as me-mades becoming the steadfasts you reach for day-in day-out... even if I you feel the irrational need to tell random strangers about your botched pattern-matching... Oh well, you can't win them all...

I'll leave you with the self-satisfied grin of a girl whose lipstick and shoes match her shirt perfectly!
Oh and a sidenote: I cannot get used to looking at my face without my glasses, it just looks weird...