Category Archives: sewing

outfit: easter sunshine

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Happy Easter! We had such lovely sunshine yesterday, so we took a walk around town and took some pictures. I wore what I’ve been calling my “dotty cowl dress”, which is the wearable muslin for my Ireland dress that I finally went back and properly finished.

Fabric: Polyester crepe (?) from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, IL. I found this poly in the discount section, but it’s been nice to work with. And the color and print is so fun!
Pattern: Self-drafted, finally wearable muslin for the Ireland dress. See the not-so-wearable in-progress muslin here.
Techniques: Self-lined bodice, fabric cut on bias, invisible zipper, bound armhole seams, understitching, bra strap carriers.

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I think my favorite part of this dress is the irregular dotted fabric in a purple-putty/bright peach color combination. It made me laugh out loud at the fabric store, and since I have an ongoing goal of wearing more patterned fabrics, I snatched it up. You might have seen this dress before, as part of the process of making a floor length gown to wear to a wedding in Ireland. The finished dress turned out beautifully, which was of course thanks to making several muslins to tweak the fit!

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One of the things the muslin helped me see was some excess fabric diagonally on the back bodice. I fixed the pattern for the final dress obviously, but since I just wanted to make this muslin wearable I wasn’t going to recut anything. Below is a picture I took while doing the fitting adjustments, and then the finished wearable muslin. I’ve taken the excess out of the side seams only, but it did help! The armholes are a little oddly shaped now (a little high and tight, and abruptly shaped from the armhole going up), but this is a totally wearable muslin. In fact, I’ve worn it several times since finishing it – while giving a gallery tour, at a nicer dinner, and at an evening work event. Success!

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In sewing for myself I don’t make muslins often, mostly just when I make very fitted garments like strapless bodices or blazer-style jackets. I think this is actually the first time I’ve even made a test garment out of “real” fabric instead of the standard unbleached cotton muslin! I hate letting things go to waste, so I’m glad this dress was salvagable.

DSC_5583DSC_5558I wish a Happy Easter to all – for me that includes a lot of oranges and tea and chocolates, knitting, reading, and sitting against a sunny wooden cabin wall wearing sunglasses. Aaaah!

hemlock tee

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Fabric: The same rayon jersey from Stoff og Stil as the t-shirt I just made, this time in the color called grey-brown. I think it’s more of a grey-warm-purple, but ok.
Pattern: Hemlock Tee from Jen at Grainline studio.
Techniques: jersey fabric, neck binding, serged seams.

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I’m on a knit fabric sewing binge at the moment, with the t-shirt I just made and this t-shirt, in addition to the two knit hoodies and a ponte dress at the top of my sewing list.

John took pictures for me, and we got some funny shots – like the one above, with a non-existent wind machine and camouflage jeans! Anyways, Hemlock Tee! I made one, like a bunch of other people have. And I’m happy with it, like it seems everyone who makes it also is. It’s a slouchy, relaxed fit, and super easy to make. I think if I make another one I will narrow the neckline opening a little to make it slightly less hyper-casual. I really like what Andrea at four square walls did with her Hemlock Tees, so I might take a cue from those and lower the front neckline and narrow the sleeves.

hemlock_tee (1)I overlocked all the seams on my serger, and finished the hems with a twin needle seam. I’m thinking of getting a coverlock machine this year, which would make these t-shirts even quicker and easier to make, and more professional looking, but for now I’m doing ok with the twin needle. Once you figure out the tension so it doesn’t pull or stretch out the seam, it works well. I tried a slightly different touch on the neckband, which was to straddle the two lines of stitches on either side of the seam, instead of having them both on one side. I’ve seen this on factory-made knitwear, so I wanted to give it a go. Looks good I think!

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Look how smug I am! Is it the t-shirt? Is it the awesome view? Is it the fact that my Easter holiday has begun? In any case, sewing knits is so quick – which makes is so satisfying!

quest for the perfect t-shirt

Lately I’ve been working on a lot of things for other people (ipad case! costumes! John’s socks! A dino-hood!), so my face hasn’t been around here much. I’ll still be sewing for other people a good while longer, since I have a costuming gig at the end of April, and two little nephew-boys I’m making hooded jackets for (tracing Ottobre patterns tomorrow!)

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But now for myself, I’ve made the first of what will be a slew of t-shirts – in the quest for the perfect t-shirt! I already had the perfect t-shirt of course, but after years of faithful use, it was falling apart. I finally took a seamripper to it, and used the pieces to trace off  new master pattern pieces. I traced off both left and right sides, averaging out the two.

Fabric: rayon jersey from Stoff og Stil, in a heathered blue.
Pattern: Self-drafted from a beloved old H&M t-shirt.
Techniques: jersey fabric, neck binding, serged seams.

This was quite a quick make! It took me 10 minutes to cut the fabric last night, and since I worked a later shift today I actually managed to sew it up in the morning and wear it to work, yey! How’s that for a productive start to the day? The fabric is a lovely heathered bluish grey, and very soft and drapey. It’s a little more substantial than the original t-shirt, which was almost a whisper thin cotton jersey, so I was a little worried it would drape differently. It’s not too far off though!

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And of course, as a first try, there are things to be changed for future versions, which I was anticipating. I’ll be adding a couple of inches to the hem, since the slightly too narrow fit at the hips means the t-shirt rides up a little. The sleeves jut out a little more than I’d like, so I’m thinking of taking out a wedge from the center of the sleeve to narrow it. Ooo, I came across the most wonderful explanation of sleeve cap shapes on a blog, I really recommend this post in particular, and her blog in general if you have any interest in patternmaking and/or fitting. Anyways, that post shows the mechanics behind why I don’t want to narrow the sleeve too much, since the sleeve cap would get taller, and therefore more difficult to sew in flat to the armscye before sewing the side seams in one fell swoop.

perfect_t-shirt1Never mind the scratch – kittens are vicious things! No, not really, just very sharp-clawed.

Enough technical talk! I have a lovely weekend planned with what’s looking like beautiful weather, a pub quiz with colleagues, a school reunion, and a Sunday hike. Anyone else have a nice weekend planned?

case of leather

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One day I got the idea to make a leather tablet case as a present for a dear friend. I had a quarter hide of leather left over from my fashion collection project, and an idea for how I wanted the tablet case to look. I only knew he had an older iPad, but fortunately they are all pretty similar in dimensions so it was enough information to go by. Ready, set, start!

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It was a surprisingly quick project once I had the measurements all sorted out, so it only took me about an hour from start to finish! I knew from last time working with this leather that the feed-dog on my sewing machine would leave marks on the bottom layer of the leather, so I opted to punch holes and handsew with a denim-weight thread (wax the thread first to avoid breakage). I think it came out quite nicely, and happily my friend is pleased with his gift too!

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portrait blouse in bird print

portrait_blouse3Fabric: Same bird-print, polyester crepe georgette I used for my latest tiny pocket tank, underlined with a remnant of fallow colored plain weave cotton/poly mystery blend.
Pattern: Portrait Blouse from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing.
Techniques: Invisible zipper, facing, catchstitching, understitching, FBA.

My first project from Gertie’s sewing book! I have several more I’d like to make, like the wiggle-dress (ooooo!), pencil skirts (can you have too many?), and the coat dress (that looks pretty awesome). The Bombshell dress isn’t in this book, but it’s another Gertie-involved project that I’m looking forward to taking a stab at. Also – this is the first batch of pictures I’ve taken with my new fancy camera remote control thingy! It’s great – it focuses before taking the picture, so I don’t have to run back and forth between each timer-set picture only to see I wasn’t in focus. Dare I say it was even… fun?

portrait_blouse_untucked I *loved* the two Portrait blouses that Gertie made back in the day, as part of her VoNBBS challenge (I hope she continues and finishes all the projects some day!), so it seemed a natural starting point for trying the patterns in this book. I noticed that her Portrait blouse looked a little different – I’m seeing a higher neckline, a slightly less fitted silhouette, and somewhat shorter sleeves. I prefer the fit and proportions of the original vintage pattern, so I made some changes to the pattern. I lowered and widened the neckline, lengthened the body a couple of inches, did a 1″ FBA (full bust adjustment), and cut the smaller of the two sizes I landed between, based on measurements.

Perhaps you recognize the fabric? I’ve made a Grainline tiny tank with this fabric, but just with a single layer of fabric. I thought this blouse would benefit from a bit more structure, so I underlined it with some leftover cotton/polyester lightweight fabric. This also helped the slight sheerness the other blouse has, making it a little more office appropriate! I did the facing for the neckline and catch-stitched it to the underlining instead of just tacking at the shoulders, and I did a bias tape finish at the armholes instead of the stitch and turn method outlined in the book. I actually can’t quite figure out how that method work would work out, since the curve at the underarm is so sharp a double turn would seriously pull the fabric.

portrait_blouse_facingThis blouse is a definite stash-buster – Gertie quoted needing a yard of fabric, and that seems about right. I think it has a flattering neckline, which, after all, is the entire point of the blouse! I think the proportions work very nicely when tucked in – a little less so when not tucked in. For next time (since I will absolutely forget the details before attempting to sew this again!) I would bring the neckline back in a little, maybe 1″ in and 1/2″ up? That way I’d be a little more confident the blouse would cover my bra straps, but sill have the more open neckline I prefer.

I’d need to lower the armhole too, since they are super tight right now! It was pretty snug in the waist as well, so I ended up letting out the non-zippered seam – I’m thinking the size I chose was a little too snug. The dart also needs to be lowered and extended, between 1/2″ to 1″ I think. I can tell the blouse is designed to be tucked in, with inverted pleats ending and opening up right at the high waistline for a controlled blousy effect. If I wanted to make a next version to wear untucked I think I might let the tucks end closer to the bust to control the shape a little more. I should also use a longer zipper since I like a snugger fit, in fact I might actually try the zipper in the “usual” position at the underarm instead.

portrait_blouse2portrait_blouse_backIt looks good though! Paired with one of my first blogged garments (wow how long this simple linen pencilskirt has lasted!) it makes for a nice outfit with a little vintage touch.

how to take in a dress shirt, part 2

I’m back with part two of how to take in a shirt! This post is a little more specific to dress shirts and their construction than my previous post on measuring and marking. I hope you guys find it useful!

howto_shirt_hemBefore we get going, make a note of how the seams are constructed. We’ll be putting everything back in the same way, so we want to note down how big the seam allowance is, if the seams are pressed to the front or the back, if one layer of fabric has been trimmed back or not. Jot it all down! This will be happening both before you start seam-ripping, and during.

Now we’re on to cutting, seam-ripping and re-assembling the shirt. Making sure you’ve removed all the pins, go ahead and seam-rip the side seams to within 3 or 4 inches of the cuff seam on the sleeves. Trust me when I say it’s super difficult to get close to that cuff seam on a sewing machine! The topstitching can be seam-ripped back a little further, as we need the fabric to lay flat to join the old and new stitching, and the topstitching is in the way of doing that.

howto_shirt_sleeveYou can see with my sleeve that the two layers have been cut to the same width, and folded under before topstitching. You can also see I’ve put my final pin right where I’ve stopped ripping the structural seam, while the topstitching is undone a good inch or two further.

Oh, the fun part! We are going to do the whole business with the pins one more time, just in reverse. Mark every two inches as before, and measure in at each point the amount you determined in the last round of measuring and note-taking. I like to pin with the pins pointing towards me, so that when I’m cutting the head of the pin isn’t in the way of the scissors and I can cut just on the inside of where the pin is. When I get to the point in the picture below I pull out the pin and aim for the next one. Try to maintain a smooth cutting line. If you’d rather use chalk or something instead of the pins, that’s totally fine.

howto_shirt_cutBut wait, I hear you say, what about the seam allowance? What if it isn’t the same as the shirt I’m showing you? Actually, it doesn’t matter one bit! As long as you resew with the same seam allowance as the original was done, you’re good. Since the original measurement was from the sewn edge to where we want the new sewn edge to be, that exact measurement still holds true when we measure from the original cut edge to the new cut edge.

By the way, in the picture above you can see that I move the pins marking the 2 inch points to the new cut edge after I’ve cut each section. I still need to keep my layers together when I sew the side seams!

howto_shirt_dart2At some point you’ll need to sew the two darts in the back. I don’t have a strong preference on when I do this; as the first thing; after seamripping; after sewing the side seam… Whenever you want to is fine – shirts are big enough that it’s not too much easier to do this flat than when the shirt is sewn up. Same procedure here as earlier – re-mark the measurements you calculated earlier, and sew.

howto_shirt_flatfelled_downloadBack to the side seam! I’m demonstrating how I’m folding my seam allowance in half and pressing under, in preparation for the flat felled seam to come. The picture isn’t quite accurate, as I went back and trimmed down that inner layer to about half the width. I found it difficult and lumpy to do both layers! I know that’s the way it was sewn originally, but factories have special machinery that does all the work, and I don’t. So I just find a way that gives as similar as a result as possible.howto_shirt_armpit-e1392730229537

If the shirt has a staggered seams (as in, one seam has already been trimmed before being sewn) you can either trim each layer independently the same amount, and then layer them staggered before sewing again, or you can measure in from the outermost cut edge, trim away the excess, sew, and trim down the inner layer before continuing with the flat-felled seam.Here is a tip, which is related to not having factory-style equipment as home sewers: Trim away a triangle from the inner layer, right at the underarm seam. There are so many layers of fabric at this intersection of seams, that trimming away one of them allows the other to fold over much more neatly. This is a matter of “turn of cloth”-allowance, which Sherry has written about on her blog.

howto_shirt_sewWhen you’ve pressed under the seam allowance you can take your nearly finished shirt to the sewing machine, and edgestitch the pressed under edge. You should be sewing this from the inside of the shirt, at least with traditional flat felled seam construction. The final step will be to resew the hem across the side seams – same goes here as with everywhere else, which is to sew it back the way it was done originally.

Step back and enjoy the results of your hard work! Model checking himself in the mirror optional…

john_shirt_front_after3I’d like to add on a “part 3″ to this at some point, showing how to deal with the shoulder if it needs to be moved up. I’m not sure when that would be – John and I will have to inventory his shirt-collection and see if we find a candidate.

I hope this is useful information to those of you wanting to make this kind of alteration, and please do ask if you have any questions!

how to take in a dress shirt, part 1

As I mentioned, here is the first part of my tutorial on how to take in a dress shirt! At least, the methods and tricks that have worked for me the last few times I have taken in John’s shirts. I’ve separated this into two posts; this one on pinning and measuring, and the next on cutting and general tips.

Let’s start! You can kind of tell that I’ve pinned in the sides in the picture below, but I also added another to show where the pins are. I pin the shirt in while on the person of course, making sure to make it as even as possible from side to side. For the sleeves I taper from the elbow down to a point 3-4″ up from the cuff seam, since it is very difficult to get close to that seam with a sewing machine. Make sure to always put the pins in pointing to the floor – it’ll reduce the chance of the person wearing the shirt pricking themselves! The whole point of taking in a shirt is of course to make it slimmer, but keep an eye on draglines.

There is a limit to how much you can take in without distorting the fit, so I’d recommend not taking in much more than 4 inches total at the armpit / side seam intersection. If you need to take in more, you might want to think about reshaping the armscye and sleeve head (not covered here).

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I find that the biggest job in taking in (or letting out) any garment is this next step of recording the points you’ve pinned, then averaging those numbers out. This is the same technique I used when working in the bridal shop, and in pretty much any setting where I need to let out or take in seams equally on both sides of a garment. It makes sure you get a smooth line from top to bottom, and of course – being the same on both sides!

You’ll need:
- your pinned shirt
- pen and paper
- measuring tape or ruler

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I start by measuring out every 2 inches (or every 5 cm if you think in metric) starting from the hem and working my way upwards. I mark each point by a pin perpendicular to the stitching line. When I get to the armpit I mark that seam with a pin even if it isn’t quite at the 2″ mark from the previous one. I start counting from zero at the armhole, moving towards the sleeve cuff. Repeat this for the other side.

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Next I revisit all the 2″ marks and measure how far in the pins are from the original side seam. If the 2″ mark is between two pins, just eyeball it the best you can. Note down the distance for each point, first for one side and then the other. As you can see, I curiously marked points in 2-inch segments, but I measured from the side seam in centimeters! I find centimetres much more accurate for smaller distances, but whatever floats your boat works.

Now get in touch with your mathy side. Again, I find the next step easier to do in centimetres, mostly because I can so easily see where the midpoint between two numbers should be. For example, if I’ve measured a particular point on the left side to 2.4 cm and 2.8 cm on the other side, I average it out to 2.6 cm.

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I average out each point individually first, and then I work my way down and make sure my new line won’t resemble a zig-zag, darting in and out. You can maybe make out in the picture above that I changed the average number for the 8″ mark from 1.9 cm to 2.0 cm. Looking at the big picture I can tell that the amount taken in increases steadily from the hem to the armpit, and then back down, so it makes no sense to dip down at the 8″ mark when the big picture tells me otherwise. So I changed it! This is the time to smooth out all these lines, and to trust your eye, your gut and your experience.

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The process is pretty much the same for the darts I took in. The darts are more freestanding in the middle of the shirt back piece, so you’ll have to get some important measurements recorded and evened out. They include how far up from the hem you start the dart, the length of the dart, the deepest point of the dart, and the distance from the side seam to the bottom of the dart. You can see my drawing in the picture below. As with the side seams, I measured out 2″ distances, recorded the pinned in amount at those points, then figured out the averages.

howto_shirt_notesThat’s it for today! And quite honestly, it’s the part requiring the most concentration, and is the groundwork for everything coming after. The hard part is now done! I’ll have the next post on cutting, sewing and general tips up later in the week.