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This pattern really straddles the line between classic, retro, and plain outdated.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!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Flashdance flashback

I'm an unapologetic child of the 80's.  I'm also biracial.  Under those circumstances, I had two options for style icons back then: Lisa Bonet or Jennifer Beals.  I was far too young to really dress like either one of them, but let's be honest, in any style competition--Lisa Bonet is the winner.  I mean,  she had eye makeup that looked like Hollywood's sunglasses from the movie Mannequin.  Nevertheless, Jennifer Beals in Flashdance was the quintessential look for the decade.  Like many stay-at-home moms, my look these days is a hilarious farce of athletic wear that is worn to the grocery store or Starbucks, but not ever to work out in, because frankly I don't want to.  It's no mystery why so many moms like this kind of outfit--they wash and wear easily, they are usually figure skimming but not revealing, which makes them forgiving to post-baby bodies, and because you quickly figure out that wearing your other cute stuff is a futile exercise in keeping yourself clean and preserved all day.  While I love making dresses, I really find myself reaching to find occasions to wear them.

In light of all this practicality, and the inescapable influence of my youth, I found myself looking for easy knitwear to make that I would really wear.  I decided to tackle my take on the Flashdance look.  You know the one?

I also wanted an easy project to acquaint myself with my serger, since this would be all knit.
Here's my version... of the shirt AND the picture.  This is how I entertain myself.

I picked up one yard of a super inexpensive hacci-type heathered grey knit at Hancock. Hacci knit and ITY knits have a really loose weave and are unstable. It probably wasn't the best material to start with, but all the problems with it ended in happy accidents.  I didn't own a pattern, or even see a pattern that had the exact look I was going for, so I drafted this top from another pattern that was close to what I was looking for... Simplicity 1690.
This pattern is not meant for knits, which is important to know because the ease plays a big role in the end fit.  Ease is the difference between your body measurements and the finished garment measurements--the tightness or looseness, if you will.  Knit patterns usually have 0 ease or even negative ease due to the elasticity of the material.  I knew I wanted this extra drapey end fit, so I used the ease included in this shirt pattern.  I wanted a wider neckline, longer (tunic-like) length, and a straighter line on the side seam (obscuring the waistline more), rather than a shaped line.  Using the landmarks on this pattern (like bust point, armhole opening, waistline) I drafted those changes onto a fresh piece of paper.  I'm not exactly comfortable drafting from complete scratch yet, though I make things with the intention of learning how to make them and not just following the directions.

As I mentioned, this fabric was really tricky.  I tried to hem it with a twin needle on my sewing machine, but the hem was all over the place.  It looked like I let my kids take turns chewing on the edge of it... not good.  The solution I came up with for the hem was to make them all cuffs!  I cheated!  To do it, I just measured the length of each edge that required finishing-- the armholes, the neck hole, and the bottom.  Then I cut a length of fabric to each of those lengths.  The width was determined by what I wanted the end cuff width to be.  So, the width would be 2x's the desired cuff width + the seam allowance. So for a 1 inch cuff with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, you would cut the fabric 3 inches wide.  The benefit to doing a cuff was that I could use my serger for the entire thing.  I think it finished well too...

So, I love this shirt.  Its comfy.  Its semi-stylish.  It took only a yard of fabric, and I know I'll wear it.  In my mind I am indeed a maniac, maniac on the floor.

And I'm grocery shopping like I've never grocery shopped before.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Copycat separates

I'm sincerely obsessed with Modcloth.  I love their extended sizes and retro-inspired looks.  I find more often than not, however, that some of things I love most are out of my price range.  Such is the case with this Essential Elegance skirt.  I was feeling a desperate need for one in white.  It seemed silly to pay $70 for a simple circle skirt, so I decided to make my own.

Because the construction was so basic, I chose to use a circle skirt calculator I found online in lieu of a pattern.  You could also just calculate the measurements yourself, but I feel obligated to tell you that I have an art degree, and that happens to be incompatible with math.  After all, figuring out these measurements requires pi, and not of the fruit or cream variety, so I passed on that.  Using the link I provided, you just plug in your waist measurement, desired skirt length, and fabric width, and it will generate a graphic that shows you the cutting layout.  Since I was copying the Modcloth skirt, I added a substantial waistband (reinforced with interfacing), a side zip, and created it with two layers of a bottom weight white twill.
Circle skirts can be difficult to hem, and rather than fussing with easing the edges under, I chose to finish both layers with a double fold bias tape.  I have a serger now, so if I make another one I may try a rolled edge hem.  With about 1.5 yards of white twill, a 9 inch zipper, and 3 packages of double fold bias tape, this skirt set me back about $20.00.  Sweet!  I would love to make another (couple) (hundred) circle skirt(s) with an elastic waist.  I would also love to make some 3/4 or 1/2 circle skirts for everyday wear.  The cutting layout is similar to the full circle, but with the obvious adjustments of removing portions of the circle to reduce the circumference.

The shirt here was from a Leanne Marshall Simplicity pattern--1690.
The only adjustment I made was to grade the sides a bit bigger at the bust.  I really like the shape of this shirt.  I bought the fabric in the fabric district in downtown Chicago this spring at Vogue.  They had an entire room of polyester prints for $2 a yard!  That room would have been in trouble if anyone ever lit a match. Because of the finicky nature of that silky, chiffony polyester, and my previous lack of a serger, I finished this shirt with french seams.  If you are unfamiliar with french seams, it is a construction technique that involves sewing the garment wrong sides together first, then flipping inside out and sewing it right sides together.  This technique encases the raw edges inside the seam, and for fabric with a propensity for fraying, it can prolong the life of your garment considerably.  Here is Professor Pincushion's video tutorial for french seaming.

I am very happy with these pieces.  It is nice to make separates sometimes... it makes it easier to incorporate your handmade items into your everyday wardrobe when a dress isn't always appropriate.  For me and my life, knitwear would be even more useful.  I plan to tackle that next!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The book club dress

In true 50's fashion, I was a member of a "book club" for several years with a group of my friends in Indianapolis.  I put book club in quotations because there was very little about that group that was related to reading books.  I like to imagine it was like the "bridge club" or "jr. league" from years ago, in that it was mostly bored housewives looking for a good excuse to have a night without our kids and with a few cocktails.  Over the years I became quite fond of my monthly "book club" meetings, so much so that I still made an effort to attend after moving to Chicago.  I'm slightly further away now, so this dress was technically to be my farewell-to-book-club dress.

I regularly attack calmly assess and acquire new patterns during the Joann's pattern sales.  You only make the mistake of paying full price for a pattern once before you would rather plot the schematics of a year's worth of $1 sales (using graphs and probability statistics) (or just the Joann's app that you regularly check) to stock up on all the patterns you want.  I keep a running list in my phone, and knock them out one by one.  I went with a great Retro Butterick 5748 from the early 60's that I had in my stash.
This is a fairly simple scoop neck tank with a circle skirt and side zip.  The bodice is lined, and has two variations.  I made the notched neck/back line with a bow.
 I suffer from a condition known as resting bitch face.  No, I'm not mad.  I also have a portion of my bra showing most of the time.  When you have giant boobs, you also have giant bras.  Sometimes they make an appearance.

I really, REALLY love this dress.  I like the way it shapes me.  I used a sort of eyelet-y looking fabric.  It was a navy cotton with little circular holes surrounded by what appeared to be embroidery, but I later surmised was some sort of raised applied material.  It felt like the non-skid stuff on the bottom of slipper socks or kid jammies.  I don't know what it is, but I liked the look of the fabric.  Because it was full of holes, I had to fully line the skirt in addition to the bodice.  Although I made two bows for the front and the back notch, I ended up just attaching the front bow.  
This pattern was a rather simple FBA, with both waist and side darts.  I really only had a little trouble with attaching the bodice lining at the end.  Because this was a circle skirt, there was very little room for easing the lining into place.  I machine stitched-in-the-ditch on the first pass, but about half the lining wasn't caught and was still flapping open.  I ended up hand-stitching the remainder of the lining down over the skirt seam.  I think if I make this again I will either interface the notched parts for reinforcement, or more likely, make the other bodice version of just a straight scoop-neck.  I will probably also raise the back neckline by an inch or so to ensure that it covers my bra hooks. And finally, I would choose a fabric with a little more give or add a little room in the waist.  You know how you look so great while standing, and then you sit and suddenly your waistline looks like the letter B?  Well, I'm not trying to teach my 2 y.o. his ABC's with my belly fat, so yeah, a little more room in the waist.

If you are on the fence about this pattern, I would say definitely make it.  I think the shape is pretty universally flattering, and its basic enough that you can make fitting adjustments easily.  And its perfect for pretending to be a bibliophile while bitching about your husband with a cocktail in your hand. (Just kidding, honey!  I've never spoken a foul word about you!) Happy sewing!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Atlanta dress

Round about February of this year, we learned that the hubs' job would be moving to Atlanta, GA.  I'm sure many of you have been in the position to make decisions about following your or your partner's jobs all over creation... and we found ourselves having to do just that for the second time in 3 years.  We decided to stick with the bird in the hand, and despite my willful procrastination, we had to set up shop in a new region.  His company sent us to Georgia at the end of spring to get our affairs in order in preparation for a summer move.  Enter the Atlanta dress, which I made for all my very important meetings (at restaurants) (with my husband.)  Technically, this pattern was my first full bust adjustment, and first muslin (whaa?!?!)  I let the adjusted pattern lie in wait for a suitable fabric.  With the glowing recommendation of Gertie, nay, the whole internets, I went with Simplicity 2444 .

If it wasn't for Gertie's creations with this pattern, I don't know if I would have made this dress.  Sometimes its hard to imagine what a garment will look like in a fabric that is more suited to your tastes than what is on the envelope.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, the double angled waist darts on this dress made for a difficult fba.  Typically, you would have a straight dart or darts coming up from the waist, and those are easier to re-size at the end of an fba.  These bad boys are angled from the center and point toward the shoulder, and create a sort of X shape with the darts on the skirt.  Its no joke.  If you, like me, are looking for a method to adjust this, then I will again refer you to Professor Pincushions video tutorial.  This is an atypical adjustment, and her recommendations are really best only for this pattern, or a pattern similarly styled.  There is no slashing and spreading involved for this one, although I did do that for my version because I didn't see this tutorial until afterward.

This pattern uses facings... you know, those demonic fabric flaps from hell.  I don't do facings.  Luckily, the eyelet fabric I chose required a full lining anyways.  In addition to fully lining this dress, I also chose to pipe the arm, neck, and waistline in a white cording.   I rather like the bright green against the crisp white.  If you are new to sewing and aren't sure how to line a dress that doesn't have linings in the instructions, its pretty simple.  If you are an intermediate beginner, you have probably lined something, and are aware of the process.  The most simplistic version of instruction is that you you cut your bodice and skirt out of 2 different fabrics (one outer fabric-the green eyelet here, and one lining fabric-the white here) and sew the bodice right sides together and flip.  If you want a tutorial on this, I suggest Angela Kane's video tutorial. She goes through the steps of an entire lined dress, start to finish, but you can select the pertinent sections.  I also love a dress with pockets, and this dress has nice big pockets sewn into the lining.

Overall I would call this dress successful.  The pattern offers many choices in terms of sleeves and collars, and I would really like to make a 3/4 or long sleeved version.  The beauty of adjusting patterns to fit your body (rather than lamenting your body for not fitting industry-standards) is that you have the basis to create entire tailored wardrobes that fit YOU!  That's a nice thought for Boobs Mcgee over here.  I spent a lifetime feeling like something was wrong with me, but it turned out I just needed to learn how to sew!  I wear the Atlanta dress all the time.  I love it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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Back in the saddle

There have been so many changes in my life since my last post.  My family has moved from our long-suffered Indiana home to the western suburbs of Chicago, and then again to the northern suburbs of Atlanta.  I had another baby (a boy who is nearly 3... not so much a baby anymore.) And in that mayhem, I wasn't in any position to create much of anything (aside from the errant drop-in studio drawing class-- so I have some charcoal drawings of random naked strangers to show for my absence.) I had tucked my machine away in our tiny Chicago apartment until Easter rolled around this year. My daughter asked if I could make her dress, and I obliged.   
We had a bit of a turquoise theme.  Even my husband reluctantly participated, though I won't post pictures of him for his benefit.  I did not approve the shoe choice... but evidently when kids turn 9,  I no longer have any say in shoe choices.

It was very nice to be back at my machine, and in addition to whetting my appetite for sewing again, this project highlighted my self-taught, rookie habits.  I began studying my nicer professional clothes... how the seams were finished, subtle cutting techniques, shaping methods, etc.  I felt like I had a lot to learn, and was suddenly so dissatisfied with the quality of my me-makes.  I took to the Internet (glorious Internet!) and I DISSECTED every you-tube, blog, online (free) class I could digest.  Can you imagine what people must have had to do before the freaking Internet?  I can't believe all the information I could find at my actual fingertips.  Before long, I was fully immersed in a sewing education that 8th grade home ec simply could not offer.

If you are a home sewist, you probably already know about full-bust adjustments.  You know what?  With the ample bosom I have been cursed blessed with, there is no legitimate reason I shouldn't have known about them.  My novice dress-making skills included cutting the pattern in and out of the graded sizes, but that doesn't work for more tailored or shaped garments.  Enter the full-bust adjustment (FBA.)  I don't need to explain FBA's to the Internet for the eleventy-billionth time.  If you are looking for a good tutorial, there are a couple.  Check Christine Haynes for a good FBA with photos, or another static (excellent) tutorial is here at sewyourboatProfessor Pincushion's video tutorial is a very thorough set of instructions for a specific pattern (Simplicity 2444), or similar patterns.  I'll be blogging about that in the future, but be assured that an angled double waist dart is no easy FBA.

So, armed with my new-found knowledge and a great deal of zeal, I attempted my first fitted dress.  I worked with Simplicity 1419, a Lisette pattern.  I made the sleeveless dress with a peter pan collar.
 It is an adorable pattern, and I love the result.

There is no explanation for the bicycle print.  My tiny Chicago apartment had zero open spaces, so I just moved my dining room table and shot the pic there.  I feel like I fabricated some kind of hipster scene.  I don't even own a bike.

I chose a black-on-white polka dot stretch cotton poplin.  I love stretch cotton poplin.  It washes well, and holds its shape. I had to do a monster fba.  You can see the enormity of the darts in the second photo.  I'm alright with that... 

This could still use a few adjustments.  For instance, there is some excess fabric at the upper bust.  The collar is a little high, and can be uncomfortable (read: if I bend over, I'm choking.)  I would definitely correct that bit in any future iterations. I also had to tack the collar down inconspicuously because I chose a rather heavy bottom weight from my stash, and the peter pan nomenclature became very apropos.  All in all, though, I would rate this dress a success because A. I wear it and B. it fits for real.  Woot!

You probably don't know me, but if you did you would be surprised at my new-found interest in wearing dresses at all.  I just became some kind of girl-acting woman.  To further illustrate that, and to punctuate this post, I leave you with the coordinating nail art I painted when I first wore this dress.
Au revoir!