Tuesday, June 23, 2015


If you're like me, you probably own a gagillion patterns.  Every season I buy 5-10 more patterns at the dollar sales at Joann's.  This means I acquire around 20 patterns per year.  That's bananas.  Last month I came home with 5 new patterns only to discover I had already purchased 2 of them previously.  This told me 1. My style is consistent (yay me!!)  2. I need to organize this nightmare and 3. I should probably refrain from buying any more patterns until I work through making the ones I already have.  After cleaning out my pattern stash of the outdated, useless, or sizes my kids grew out of, I am still left with over 100 patterns, 3 pattern books, and a sense of over-ambitious delusion that I will make them. 

This month's blog post is from a dress pattern I made from the book (I already own) Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Gretchen Hirsch (aka "Gertie") as I have mentioned her before.  I realize some home sewists may be on the fence about her, but reading her blog is a big reason I started sewing again.  I take a lot of inspiration from her.

This pattern is called the Sweetheart Sundress.

With these patterns, there are many "draft-your-own" skirts, collars, etc, which can be a fun way to customize if you're comfortable doing that.  If you're not, this book may be a frustrating and defeating pipe dream. For me, skirt-drafting is no big deal, and I did draft my own 3/4 circle skirt for this dress.  She calls for a dirndl skirt (rectangle with gathers at the waist), but I always find circles more flattering on me.

I made my version out of a navy gingham. It is lined with a sheer cotton batiste, and the collar and straps are white cotton poplin.  I did make a muslin of this bodice because a full bust adjustment for this type of neckline was totally new to me and a little tricky.  I still slashed and spread like you would for a darted FBA, but then I slashed again to close the dart on one side and add the fullness back to the front where the gathers are.  Then I had to move the apex of the bust down... like a couple inches... because these girls just ain't where they used to be.  The result was a WHOLE TON of gathers.  I can't even show you the inside of this dress... Trust.  For a well-illustrated guide on moving/converting darts, you can check out this craftsy tutorial.
But here you can get an idea of the gathery-gatheredness it required to cover me.  The result was quite pretty and fit so nicely.  If I did it again, I think I would interface those straps, but I think thats the only change I would make. I honestly never thought I'd be able to own or wear a dress like this.  If sewing has done anything, it's helping make my fashion dreams come true!  Well, sewing and the purchase of some interesting undergarments. God bless the internet and all its giant demi-bras... Amen.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A tribute to my mothers (and a new dress)

I was raised by a hard-working feminist.  She was a child of the 60's and 70's.  Over the years have I been somewhat confounded by what seems to be her complete lack of even the most basic home-ec skills.   I asked her about that.  Her response was something along the lines of "when I was in high school, the girls weren't taking home ec.  It was passe'"  This made sense to me.  My mother's generation fought to get women the right to work outside the home, to be more than just baby factories and glorified maids and cooks.  I appreciate their sacrifice and vision, because it has allowed me to be whatever I want to be.  It is more than a little strange that I chose to be a sewing, cooking, cleaning stay-at-home mom.  I like to think I made that choice, although the economic climate and astronomical cost of child care 7 years ago played a more than passing role in that decision.  Nevertheless, here I sit-- a stay-at-home mom/seamstress with a significantly feminist bent.

Now I don't mean to out my mother as home ec challenged, because truthfully she did sew and has a real knack for beautifully decorating a space.  In fact, she sewed all sorts of things for me as a baby.  She is always crafting, and is a creative explorer. Here is a photo of little baby me surrounded by a crib set and bunting my mother made for me.
I'm sure in 1979, gingham was all the rage.  I like the idea that she created a nest for me while nesting.

She learned to sew from her step-mother, Mary Emma, who was a school teacher and master seamstress.  Mary Emma also taught me to sew.  I drove out to her rural homestead when I was 19 and made my first garment... a beige cotton button-down sleeveless blouse.  Mary Emma has a stern and focused temperament, like any good school teacher I suppose, and we systematically worked through the steps of garment creation.  I wasn't inspired.  This was boring!  I wanted to be making magical dresses and trendy shirts!  What I didn't realize then was that I had THE most knowledgeable sewing source that I would ever have, and I was wasting it by being bored.  19 year-olds are extremely short-sighted and stupid. It would be 8 years before I attempted sewing again.

If I had payed more attention to Mary Emma the first time, I wouldn't have had to make so many careless mistakes.  The kinds of mistakes every newbie makes, I guess.  I sewed all sorts of dresses for my daughter, purses, scarves, curtains... everything really.  I was always eager to show her, and she was always very kind when she easily should have given me a tsk-tsk finger. As a (no-money-earning) mother of young children, our gift-giving budget was always very tight for the holidays.  I started making gifts for family.  I would give her a scarf (probably, like, way too many scarves actually) or a bag or something.  She would always graciously accept them.  As I learned more about sewing and crochet, I could look around her home and recognize that she had hand made nearly everything in it.  From the large tatted doily on the back of the couch, to the curtains (with valances and everything!), to the blankets, to her own clothing.  She had really managed to make a home with her own two hands.  Below is her wedding photo.  She made this dress in 1968 out of taffeta and organza by piecing two patterns together. 

When this is your grandmother, you have to step up your game.  She was flawless in 1968, and had spent over 40 years perfecting flawless.

She wasn't the only seamstress in my lineage, my great grandmother, Reba, and my paternal grandmother, Pearl, were also well-known for their expertly crafted clothing and housewares. Really, sewing used to be a necessity-- like if your kids needed clothes, you'd better know how to sew.  My great-grandmother left me her sewing box when she died.  It was full of crochet hooks, vintage needles and thread spools, and really cool notions.  I learned how to crochet just so I could use them.  She told me a story 10 years ago about how when my grandmother was "courting" she had to fix up her parlor so she could entertain guests.  She said she ripped up old furniture to upholster for valances, and sewed up curtains and pillows to class up the joint.  I always loved the way she recycled things, and even more, how fanciful her style was.  I like to think that is a part of my legacy as well.  As for my paternal grandmother, Pearl, she looked like a movie star.  This is my absolute favorite photo of her, with my father as a young boy.

That is a woman with enviable style and impeccable taste.  And a bad ass ride.

What I'm getting at here is that this sewing thing is a mothering thing for me.  It is a drive to adorn and create and swathe.  Sewing has become a connective thread between me and my mothers and my grandmothers and their mothers.  It is a way to carry with me my history, and use it as a fabric for my future.  I really hope to do their legacy justice.

I leave you this Mother's Day with my latest dress, a fun little cherry print fit and flare with red piping.  It was a quick and satisfying sew from a pattern I've used before, Simplicity 2444 (see the Atlanta Dress.)

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring shirtdress

Spring has finally arrived in Georgia!  Ahh, spring... buds blooming, trees covered in flowers, perpetual rain, warming trends, pollen, and giant mutant bees.  I don't exactly love springtime, but I have an asthmatic daughter and a fear of flying and buzzing insects. Winter means all those things go away, so I have to re-tune my cat-like reflexes to avoid bugs every year.  I'm not sad to see the cold weather and dreary skies go away, however. In addition to the drive to purge and minimize this time of year, I am also driven to make things... colorful, light, and airy things.  I've started sewing up a storm over here, and today I have a lovely spring dress to share.  I wanted to give a shirt dress another try, but not the old maid uniform, so I searched the pattern books and blogosphere for a better pattern.  I settled on McCalls 6696.

 This pattern is great for several reasons.  It includes a retro-feeling full skirt, and a more modern slim skirt option.  It has a slip included.  It was better than my previous attempt at a shirt dress because it did not use facings, the back yoke and gathered back bodice made for an easier fit, and the waistband and front placket made for a cleaner look.  I really loved this pattern.  It was super simple, fit well, and has great options.  As usual, I did a small full bust adjustment on the D-sized bodice, and a full bicep adjustment on the sleeve.

I'm a huge fan of Gertie.  She makes great patterns and books, and now a fantastic line of fabric.  The best part about this line is that it is available at Joann's!  Check it out!  I tell you this because I made my spring shirt dress from a fabric in this line.  Its a white swiss dot with red roses... I can't even...
I received SO MANY compliments and comments on this dress.  Friends, co-workers, the woman stocking shelves at Publix, older ladies behind me in line at Ulta... seriously.  Sometimes when you go walking around town dressed in a 50's house dress, you don't necessarily expect unanimously positive feedback.  Maybe, you think, an older woman may find your look endearing and nostalgic. I quite enjoy dancing around the line between costume and quirky style... but it felt very flattering to be noticed yesterday for a dress that I already knew I loved!

 Here's a back view.  The second photo shows that awesome back yoke with a gathered bodice, as well as a detail of the texture of this fabric.  It is very light, and somewhat sheer.  I bought a legit grandma slip to wear underneath.  I don't feel weird about it at all.
Here's a detail of the collar and front button placket.  This pattern provided such nice finish.  I want to make a million of these!

I hope the rest of you normal spring-loving people are enjoying the weather, and brightening up your wardrobes!  I will be dressing like a flower and avoiding pollen.  Happy spring!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

St. Valentine of Savannah

This Valentine's Day, my husband and I got to do something we never get to do... We got to go away for a weekend without children!  Because we live far from friends and family, the opportunity to leave our children is just not something we have very often.  Our new, and now dear friend, Sharon, graciously offered to keep our children alive for the weekend, and we ran away fast before she could change her mind. 

There were a few things on the agenda: a couple's massage offered at the hotel spa, a haunted trolley tour, fancy dinner at The Olde Pink House, and antique shopping/browsing.  Neither of us had been to Savannah before, so it was truly an adventure (like an old-person adventure, not a I-had-to-saw-off-my-own-arm-to-escape-a-rock-climbing-accident adventure.)  The massage was nice, but sort of weird.  I get them regularly, but my husband has never had one.  It was a strange thing to be in a room with him while some other chick gave him a massage.  That just wasn't really as relaxing as I had imagined it.  The haunted trolley tour was very interesting just as a sort of historical info tour, but I had really hoped to be scared witless. It was cute... not soul-scarring.

I told my husband to make a scared face.  This was the best he could do.

Anyways, as soon as our plans for this weekend had finalized, I immediately knew I needed to make some dresses.  The fancy dinner required a fancy dress.  Valentine's Day requires that you wear something red and flirty.  I did not want those to be the same dress, so in the rules I make up in my head, I needed two dresses.  First, I wanted to make a nice, comfy dress for being tourist-y in.  I've posted about Colette Moneta before, and it has really become a tried-and-true pattern for me.  Its a quick cut and sew... uninterrupted, I can start-to-finish one in about 3 hours (Uninterrupted... hahahahaha.)  For this one, however, I wanted to do something a little different.  I wanted a more fitted and flirty look, but with the same comfort level.  I decided to swap out the skirt with a 3/4 circle skirt.  

I am ever so in love with the result.  The fabric was a red floral ponte knit I ordered from Joann's online.  It is very comfortable (I don't need shapewear) but I think it still looks sophisticated.   The 3/4 circle skirt was the perfect amount of flare without being excessive.  I would love to give you a link to great instructions to measure your own 3/4 circle skirt, but I cant. Everything I looked up involved non-cream pi, so I pretty much winged it.  I used my trusty circle skirt instructions, and instead of cutting the full circle, I chopped it off at what appeared to be 3/4.  If you decide to be as imprecise and careless as I, make sure you don't remove any of the waist measurement.  You will need to remove the piece in a pie shape. See my crude illustration below...

This leaves the proper measurement for your waist, but removes the bulk in the flare of the skirt.

Now, for the fancy dinner dress, I decided to go with a LBD of sorts.  I picked up a black textured satin with a little body (to the fabric, I mean.  There were no little bodies for sale that day, or I would have picked one up fo' sho.) Again, I went back to a pattern I have shown you before, but made some adjustments.  This was a Retro Butterick, 5748.  
When I made this before, I realized it needed a few changes to really fit well.
I apologize for the poor photo quality here... it was dark and I was freezing.  I think you can see that this version fits much better than my previous one (see The Book Club dress.)  I adjusted the bust darts to point in a more flattering direction, I added about 2 inches in the back to cover up my bra properly, and for this one I made a subtle sweetheart neckline. It turned out beautifully.  I added a pretty full red chiffon petticoat underneath for full swish, and some polka dot pumps with red bows.  I was hit on by no less than 3 older gentlemen while waiting for my husband to bring around the car.  Normally I would be annoyed, but the older man game is way more flattering than young dudes.  One guy asked if I knew who Minnie Ripperton was... and naturally I do.  Evidently I favored her this evening... score one for me!  And my "regular" "readers" will be happy to note that I also IRONED this dress.  I'm a domestic goddess.

If you ever get the chance to go to Savannah, do not hesitate.  It was beautiful and interesting.  My very favorite portion of the trip had to be our dinner at The Olde Pink House.  It was the best meal of my life!  I will leave you with a few photos of our time there. Hope you all had a lovely Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A day late and a blog post short

I love the holidays.  I love them so much that I make ALL. THE. THINGS. I make cookies and presents and decorations and clothes and... and... and...  So both of my loyal readers may have been wondering where the blog posts have been.  I feel the usual mix of guilt and apathy about that, and I'm kinda sorry.  I have been busy making things, but not busy posting.  One of my 11,000 New Year's resolutions is to be more diligent about the making of the things, and the posting about the making of the things.

I like to take the family to a holiday show every year.  This year I purchased tickets to the Kid's Symphony at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in an uncharacteristically well-planned and early-executed move.  In a similarly uncharacteristically well-planned fashion, I also decided to make my daughter and I deliciously flocked polka-dotted dresses, and a luxurious velvet princess coat for myself.  I set about cutting and altering these pieces in early November.  I finished my daughter's dress before Thanksgiving--in time for holiday photos, which were in time for holiday cards (who am I?)  I had just begun the actual construction of my velvet coat when I received the news that our show was cancelled.  I don't know about others, but for me, I really need a deadline to properly plan and execute a project.  Without one I start getting all passively rebellious (against whom?) and that just leads to bra-burning and growing out my armpit hair.  Who needs these rules, man?  What is time anyway?  I do what I want...

Anyways, the velvet coat is nearly done now-- just in time for absolutely nothing.  My dress hasn't made it out of its pattern envelope.  You may be happy to know that my ass is exponentially bigger from the hundreds of beautifully decorated cookies that I made and then ate instead of sewing.  My daughter's dress... now that is finished.  And what better time to post about it than 3 days after I undecorated my house for Christmas? My sincere hope is that her dress fits her next Christmas, because next year is THE YEAR we wear them somewhere important.

I was shooting for a princess-seamed detail for both of us, so I went with Simplicity 1362 for her dress.

This is a really cute little dress with a princess seamed bodice and inverted box pleat skirt.  You'll notice that the back has two really cute cut-out options, but neither of those seemed appropriate for a holiday dress, so I did a straight back with a zipper.

This photo was taken approximately 5 minutes before the tree was removed.  I remembered just in time. 

I ordered a ton of this polyester taffeta flocked with black dots from Joann's "sew sweet" line.  It has an almost holographic sheen to it. It is lined entirely, partially because the fabric is slightly sheer, and partially because you know how I feel about facings. I used a small scrap of black velvet for the waistband. On the right you can see the squared-up back with a lapped zipper. 
Here is a detail shot of those inverted box pleats.  The instructions called for basting and crisp pressing so the pleats would lie flat.  Did I mention that I do what I want? It is tricky to press material like this without ruining the flocking. I plan on making her a cute summer dress from this pattern with an easily pressed cotton, and I promise I'll follow all ironing and basting directions.  For this, I don't mind the volume in the skirt, and had intended on pairing this dress with a petticoat to intensify the effect.

This dress was very simple for a princess seam, and it was a good introduction to this type of construction. If you are considering doing this type of bodice, I really recommend doing a girls version first.  Adding boobs significantly complicates the process.  My daughter looked really lovely in this dress, which we paired with flocked dot tights and tiny kitten heels.  I feel like I should mention that I was not on board with the shoes, but all of the girls' shoes manufacturers had a meeting last year and decided they don't care about what I think.

I hope all two or three of you had a great holiday season! I have SO many projects in queue, so I look forward to this year with a great deal of enthusiasm, and probably an inordinate amount of ambition. It's too early in the year for pessimism though, so off we go!


Monday, November 10, 2014

Channeling Lucille and Rosie

I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom.  Having also been a working mom at one point, the notion of being a SAHM was a novelty to me before it was my reality.  I can say now that there is nothing novel about it.  It is a thankless, endless, tiring, at times disgusting and lovely and beautiful thing to do.  My mother was a hard working executive, and so my idea of staying at home was based solely on t.v. moms... moms that wore fabulous dresses and heels while baking and singing to their children.  Although my actual life does not mimic this ideal even a little, I have a penchant for fantasy and a flair for the dramatic.  It was from these notions that I decided to make my very own t.v. mom dress.  A retro number that I would put on with heels and an apron and flit about in my kitchen to the delight of my husband and pride of my children.  I only wear heels for blog photo shoots and funerals, however, so the flitting bit would naturally be short-lived.  I decided on McCall's 6891 by Palmer and Pletsch.

This pattern really straddles the line between classic, retro, and plain outdated.  It was a valuable choice, however, because it teaches great fitting and tailoring techniques.  For most patterns, you will have to bring your own knowledge of how to slash and spread in order to do more advanced fitting.  For this one, the slash lines were printed on the pattern, and there were many pages of instructions to teach you how to use them.  It was great learning experience for me.  I always have to do a full bust adjustment, but for this I also did a full bicep adjustment.  I bought a bolt of discontinued chambray (lightweight denim) earlier this year, and decided it was a good choice for this dress.  I'm not sure it was a good choice.  Once I finished the dress it had a very "I'm here to clean your hotel room" feel more so than the "retro t.v. housewife" feel I was going for.  Styling would be critical.
You can see how without the addition of the belt and headband how I may be mistaken for housekeeping.  The teapot and boxed wine in the background were really just to drive home the point that I'm a housewife, dammit!

This pattern had a great sleeve option for a long sleeve with a roll-up buttoned fastener.  I liked that for the transitional season.  Here's a detail:
And another to show the button-down placket in the front:
It goes without saying that a good ironing would have been in order here.  I thought I made it clear this was fantasy housewife land, not real housewife land?  Ironing is for the birds.

I think I could make this work for real life if I shortened the hem by a couple of inches, put a cardi over the top, and maybe some rockin boots.  I don't hate it, it's just not what I was envisioning.  In the end, it really is hard to hate a dress that fits well. 

When I showed my husband the finished product, he said I looked like "that chick on the war poster."  He was right.  It was straight up Rosie the Riveter.  Since I finished this on Halloween, my long-suffered shirt dress became a costume.  Is it weird that my everyday clothes also work for costumes?  Never mind.  I whipped up a red and white polka dot head scarf, penciled in some 40's brows, and voila!
We can do it!
Four of the six trick-or-treaters I had were tweens.  They loved my costume.  Maybe.  But since I only had six trick-or-treaters, I let them take handfuls of candy from the bowl to get rid of it.  Its hard to say to what I could attribute their praise.

I learned a great deal while fitting and sewing this dress, and I think I can make it work.  I don't know if I'll make another one, but it was a valuable experience nonetheless. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Apples, leaves, and Monetas

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of people singing the praises of fall.  I'm not religious, but hallelujah! I love the cooler weather, the harvest flavors, and the absolute transformation of the landscape.  It is the perfect season.  I spent most all of last month behaving like somewhat of a pioneer woman.  I made 6 garments... 6!  My family and I went apple picking, and the ridiculous overabundance of apples warranted that I "put up" all manners of apple food.  Our trip also yielded us baskets of tomatoes and peppers, which I spun into 3 quarts of spaghetti sauce.  I also made 6 quarts of ice cream.  I spent 2 weeks in Florida with my sister, who just gave birth to her first child.  Maybe I was nesting on her behalf... I also crocheted some baby booties to go with the baby blanket I made for her shower gift. 

I think there is a anthropological drive to produce things in fall.  Our ancestors had to get ready for winter.  I had to get ready for October.  September was not a normal month for me, and probably not a normal month for anyone post 1950.  What I'm saying is-- I'm crazy.  That was a crazy amount of stuff to do.  What I'm also saying is-- suck it, Ree Drummond... I'M THE NEW PIONEER WOMAN. 

The other chorus of people I need to join is all of the Internet that already made Colette's Moneta pattern.
This is a design intended for knits.  It is versatile and universally flattering.  The construction could not be simpler. I could make a hundred.  I only made three, but you will only see two because the third one was made of an ugly, flimsy, outdated brown knit that I refuse to put on for public viewing.  I'm not giving up on it, however, and when I find the right dye/fabric treatment to make it wearable, you'll be the 6th to know.  There are 5 people in this house... and no secrets.

Here are 2 of my versions:

On the top is a navy and pink floral knit that I snagged from Girl Charlee.  On the bottom, a royal purple ponte di roma knit I picked up at Hancock's Labor Day sale.  The purple one was the first one I made.  I thought that I had irreparably destroyed it by not following the very simple directions I was given.  This pattern requires that you shirr the skirt using clear elastic.  I didn't have clear elastic, but I did have half a bottle of wine and a whole lot of chutzpah.  I used regular old knit elastic.  I kept sewing more and more seams, trying to hide the elastic.  I ended up with a babydoll dress that Courtney Love would have probably punched me for in the early 90's.  I threw this dress in the pile of "crap that I don't want to look at anymore" and proceeded with the floral knit.  That one was perfectly successful.  I returned to the purple one, painstakingly ripped out the seams and the stupid elastic.  I did it the correct way, and I'm so glad I did.  I love it.  I love them both.

These are great transitional pieces for fall... I could add a jacket and boots and leggings for colder weather.  They are easy to wear, and breathe enough for warmer weather.  I know that no one is on the fence about Moneta, because I think I could literally be the last person on earth to make it.  Its awesome.

And just because canning is a novel and exciting hobby that I will act like I invented, here is a pic of me and my apple canned goods.
Every grandmother on earth just snorted at the absolute ridiculousness of my amazement with a hundreds year-old practice.  I know.  But still... look at what I did!