achievement unlocked: pink gingham swimsuit

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Hey ho, I have made my one trillionth swimsuit. Actually just my third. But three swimsuits is still a lot of swimsuits for a person who does not spend much time in the water. I used to be deep into water aerobics & water walking. I went almost everyday while I was pregnant with Ramona, & was back at the pool again as soon as I was cleared for water immersion after giving birth to her. But then I discovered sewing & it’s been a tug of war ever since. Do I want to suit up & head to the pool, or do I want to keep wearing my jammies & chill at my sewing machine, listening to podcasts? Sewing almost always wins.

I decided to get back into it last fall & splashed out (see what I did there?) on an annual pass, with the thinking that I’d definitely use it if I spent so much money on it. (An annual pass costs a little more than $200, which is a great bargain if you’re planning to hit the pool several times a week.) I was diagnosed with cervical cancer approximately two seconds later, & was forbidden any kind of water immersion during my treatment. I was just cleared to get back in the water (& that includes baths) in May.

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Anyway, I have been wanting a pink gingham swimsuit for years. Having made two suits previously, why didn’t I make one of them in pink gingham? I don’t know! When I started sewing & realized that gave me complete control over the textiles, colors, & prints I wore, my immediate instinct was to make everything PINK because I love pink. There’s precedent. At one point in my 20s, I wore nothing but pink for a few years, right down to my shoes & shoelaces. I even dyed my hair pink & had pink-framed glasses. But I guess I had this idea that pink was too “expected” of me (by who?) & that having the opportunity to branch out & experiment, I should.

& before I sewed, I got most of my swimsuits from Modcloth, & usually chose a retro bombshell style in gingham, with a brief time-out for a woodgrain print with a cute belt, which exploded off of me one day at the pool when I was pregnant. I guess I didn’t want to sew one because they were too easy to find in RTW, even though finding a suit that was EXACTLY what I wanted/needed was next to impossible in RTW.

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My big issue with swimsuits has always been support up top. I have a big rack, & it’s not very self-supporting. Swimsuits are not exactly known for their lift & separation. Halter necks are bafflingly prevalent in larger sizes, even though they are torture devices for women with large busts. I’ve also learned that I have an unusually high quantity of breast tissue deposited at the top of my bust, which makes finding a suit with decent coverage a big challenge. I want some lift to keep my bust from blending imperceptibly into my belly, but a bit of lift leaves me spilling out the top of a traditionally-cut suit.

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Okay, so this suit: I decided to just follow my dreams & get some pink gingham swim fabric. I combined two patterns to make a tankini style with swim shorts. The tank is based on the Harriet bra from Cloth Habit, & the bottoms are hacked from the Closet Case Patterns Ginger jeans.

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I made myself a Harriet bra last month that I have yet to blog, but I will say that I was quite impressed with the pattern. I’ll make a few small alterations next time, but I was generally very impressed with the fit right out of the gate. The cups in particular were absolutely perfect: no wrinkles, no flat spots. I did find the neckline & underarm coverage a little low–see again my proportionally larger volume at the top of the breast. Since I was adapting the pattern for a swimsuit, I knew I’d want even more coverage than I like in a bra, to keep me decent with all the other preschool moms (& dads!) at the wading pool. So I added an entire inch of height across the cup & frame.

I converted the cup pieces to make them suitable for foam (trace ’em off & eliminate the seam allowances where the cup pieces are joined together). I made foam cups & separate gingham cups & sewed them together along all the cup seamlines, to maintain that bra-style topstitching. Then I set them into a frame made of very firm powernet & gingham basted together. I added the channeling & wires as you would with any underwired bra.

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For the tank part of the tankini, I just drafted it according to my measurements. It’s easy. All you need is your underbust, natural waist, & high hip measurements, as well as the distances between them. Quarter the diameters & draft yourself a trapezoid kind of shape along the edge of a big piece of paper, so you can cut your fabric on the fold. (The edge will also serve as your grainline.) No need to add seam allowances, as a bit of negative ease is desirable in a swimsuit. I added another 5″ to the back piece at the top to account for the height of the bra portion on the front, & I added 4″ of length to the front piece so I could gather it into the lining for a ruched effect. Seam the bra to the front, & then sew the side seams. There’s no need for a back bra piece because the back of the suit can serve that purpose.

I guesstimated the length of straps I’d need to cross over in the back (no surprise looking at a lot of my recent makes–I love crossover straps) & made them from two tubes of swim fabric with strap elastic sewn through. I finished the back & underarms with swim elastic, with the tension distributed the same way you’d finish a bra (neutral in the back, pulled taut along the underarm). To cover up the bartacks where I attached my straps & channeling, I sewed some decorative buttons to the straps, & added a cute little retro tie to the bridge. The tie is just a fabric tube with tapered ends, sewn to the center of the suit & then tied in a knot. I’ve never had good luck with the kind of tie that actually gathers up fabric from the suit because I really need the coverage there. I think my purely decorative tie is a really nice detail that pulls the whole suit together without compromising my desire to keep my cleavage to myself.

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I decided to make swim shorts rather than a traditional swim bottom because I just like the idea of swim shorts. They’re not easy to find, you know? So often they are attached to an ostensibly thigh-concealing skirt, which just screams “I’m insecure about my body” to me. I mean, I get it. We are all constantly beaten down with a fusillade of insistence that we hate our bodies. Swimsuits are an especially fraught apparel concern for many women, as I learned from “Cathy” cartoons as a child. But my philosophy is that there’s nothing I can wear that is going to fool anyone into thinking I am slim. & when you actually go to the pool & look around, there are all types of bodies. Maybe especially because I got into the pool through water aerobics, that province of the elderly woman, I embrace the idea that EVERY body is a pool/beach body. You don’t have to earn the right to enjoy the water, or wear shorts, or go sleeveless, or wear a crop top, or whatever whatever, by making your body conform to a particular shape or size. There’s a lot of talk about figure flattery, dressing for your shape, etc, but I think the most “flattering” look a person can wear is WHATEVER THEY DAMN WELL PLEASE.

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So, swim shorts. I was imagining a boxer-brief kind of thing, but shorter. I didn’t anyone to think “bike shorts” when they saw me. So I traced off the Ginger jeans pattern, extending the rise to my natural waist (& eliminating all the bits for the pockets & fly) & giving myself a 2″ inseam. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers write about trying to make shorts out of the Ginger jeans & it never works out well for anyone. & that is because the Gingers rely on negative ease & stretch denim to fit, while jean shorts tend to have at least 1″ of positive ease (think a fitted waistband on a skirt–form-fitting/skimming, not squeezing).

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Negative ease is perfect for swim shorts, though! These were easy peasy to make. I drafted a waistband (ie, drew a rectangle) & fed through some elastic, & I used the Ginger fly piece to whip up a mock fly, which I just topstitched into place. I sewed on a few decorative buttons for that boxer-brief styling & voila!

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This suit has already been pool-tested & -approved. I might shorten the straps maybe an inch or so, & might also try out a different wire in the bra portion. My bust situation has undergone some weird changes since my hysterectomy. They actually got bigger, which I really was not anticipating, but apparently it’s a pretty common side effect of hysterectomy/menopause. My high & underbust measurements are also smaller because I no longer have the hormonal fluctuations I once had. Instead of being a 40D, I’m closer to a 36E. It’s a small change, almost a sister size, but with bras, a tiny change makes a big difference.

pattern: Harriet bra from Cloth Habit & Ginger jeans from Closet Case Patterns
size: 36E for the top & 16 for the bottoms
fabric: 1.5 yards of pink gingham swim fabric, 1 yard of white swim lining, a quarter-yard of swim foam, a quarter-yard of firm powernet
notions: stretch needle, hot pink thread, 1 yard of strap elastic, 1/2 yard of band elastic, 1 yard of underwire channeling, two size 44 regular underwires, nine 1/2″ transluscent buttons, 1 yard of swim elastic
total cost of all supplies: around $25
alterations: added 1″ of height to the bra cups & frame
next time: use deeper & longer wires, make a wider waistband for the shorts, sew mock fly piece on before construction, shorten straps 1.5″ or so
remarks from the public: “I really like your swimsuit, Mama. [faux-contemplative pause]…I have an idea! We should go to the pool! I’m already wearing my swim trunks!” — Ramona (She is going through a big swim trunks phase. She has three pairs & zero “girl” swimsuits. The trunks combined with her short haircut is really inspiring a lot of gender panic among moms at the pool.)
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest, as always

achievement unlocked: teal gingham Henrietta Maria top

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All right, let’s talk about this top, which is the Henrietta Maria blouse from Scroop Patterns. (Note: I’m recycling some of the photos from my last post. Sorry not sorry!) This was the very first Scroop release, & I’m not gonna lie: I had zero plans to sew it up. The line drawings made it look like an Edwardian nightshirt, which is not exactly my style jam. But I wanted a loose-fitting woven blouse of some sort to pair with my suspender skirt. I was imagining a modern riff on a dirndl, kind of, so I was looking for some kind of updated or unique twist on a peasant blouse. & I was especially looking for an indie pattern from a company I haven’t sewn before, to fit into the Indie Pattern Month “new to me” challenge.

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I briefly considered the Scroop Patterns Ngaio blouse, which is a new release that I’ve been seeing on blogs a lot recently. But I just haven’t been sold on any version I’ve seen. Something about the boob situation always looks a little bit weird.

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I mean, right? I think I personally just prefer a wider/lower neckline.

I really don’t know what compelled me to pull the trigger on the Henrietta Maria, given that it looks an awful lot like a maternity shirt my mom wore back when she was pregnant with me in the 70s. But I’m glad I did because the final results turned out much better than I expected while I was sewing!

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I was initially going to use a yellow tiny gingham seersucker (yardage leftover from a maxidress I still need to sew). But it just wasn’t speaking to me, so I went stash-diving to see if I had anything better. I found this teal gingham seersucker that I originally bought to make a shirtdress. Perfect! The larger checks were just what I needed, & inadvertently made sewing this blouse up so fast & easy, because they served as a built-in measuring device for all those cartridge pleats.

Also, not for nothing, teal is the official awareness color of gynecological cancers, & let us not forget that I was treated for cervical cancer this past year. Layers upon layers, amirite?

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This was a surprisingly quick pattern. I expected it to take me a couple of days, but the sewing went really fast. The only shaping comes from the pleats, so it was just a matter of a few seams, pressing in the facings, & then pleating. There are more than seventy pleats on this garment, & if I would have had to measure, mark, & press each one individually, it definitely would have taken a while. But since I could use the checks to estimate the measurements, that saved me a lot of time.

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I did a few advance alterations. This pattern is drafted for a B-cup, so I did a 2″ slide & pivot FBA. Next time I’d add maybe another 1/2″, because it pulls ever-so-slightly across the fullest part of the bust. The directions suggested cutting the size you’d need for your full bust & adjusting the number/width of pleats to fit the shoulders if you are smaller or larger than a B-cup, but I’m really glad I went with an FBA instead. My full bust measurement is 43″, & I cut a size 38 (Scroop Patterns has a sizing chart based on bust size, so a size 38 corresponds to a 38″ bust), & it’s still pretty wide in the shoulders. I mean, it’s a wide-necked design, but still.

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I also did a 2″ swayback adjustment, but I still have a lot of pooling in the lower back. Maybe that’s just inevitable to some degree for a dartless woven top? Especially one intentionally designed to be fairly loose-fitting in the waist & hips?

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I also shortened the sleeves a few inches to make them elbow-length. Sewing has taught me that I loathe three-quarter sleeves. If they are touching my forearms, they need to be solidly long sleeves or else I just get mad. Plus I felt like there was already a lot happening with the color & the gingham & the pleats & the volume…I needed to rein it in somewhere.

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Per the suggestions in the instructions, I finished the cut-on facings with some lovely narrow white lace. This only really works because the facings are two inches wide & integrated into the shirt via the pleating, but it’s a really pretty detail for this particular garment. It makes the blouse feel extra-feminine to me, which is kind of nice sometimes. I also added bra strap carriers, which serve the dual purpose of keeping my bra straps tucked away (not that I really care about showing my bra straps, especially considering that I sew all my own bras, so they are all pretty) & keep the neckline up on my shoulders. This top would for sure be slipping off my shoulders with every movement without the carriers. But with them, I look like a magical clothes-wearing wizard. I feel like people see me & they’re like, “HOW is she wearing such a wide-necked top with no bra straps showing & it’s not slipping off her shoulder every five seconds? Is she a WITCH?” It feels very elegant, which isn’t something I can say for pretty much anything I have ever made before.

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I will say, the length of the this top leaves something to be desired. It wouldn’t really be wearable as-is without the extra length I added via the FBA. & bear in mind, I am fairly short-torsoed. I read that it was a bit short on length on Tanya’s blog, but of course I had to be a maverick & see for myself. It can be kind of hard to gauge exactly how long it’s going to be before it’s completely finished, because it is SO wide before all the pleats are sewn. Almost an entire yard of fabric (!!!) is in the neckline pleats alone! But if you decide to try this top, maybe just add an extra inch or two to the hem to be on the safe side. You can trim it off if the finished shirt is too long. I took the teeniest, narrowest hem possible, & it is just long enough that I feel I can wear it untucked, which is fortunate, because I am not much of a shirt-tucker.

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My goal for the weekend is to finish my project for the “hack it” challenge. I would have finished it today while Jared & Ramona were on the Lawrence Community Bike Ride (a photo of them from a few years ago was used for the newspaper article advertising it!), but I had serger issues & then I had elastic issues…It’s so close to being done, & I think (hope) it’s going to be SO cute.

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& that reminds me: I learned this morning that my Shenai dress was one of the winners of the “dresses” challenge! Amazing! I won a £100 Fabric Hamper from Minerva Crafts! Wow! I know I thought my dress was pretty terrific (I’ve been wearing it almost non-stop ever since I made it), but it’s nice that other people thought so too!

pattern: Henrietta Maria top from Scroop Patterns
size: 38
fabric: around 2 yards of teal gingham seersucker
notions: universal needle, white thread, 3.5 yards of narrow white lace, 10″ of white 3/8″ ribbon, two sew-on snaps
total cost of all supplies: around $25 (including the pattern)
alterations: 2″ slide & pivot FBA, 2″ swayback adjustment
next time: add maybe another 1″ to the length of the top, do another aggressive swayback adjustment, take another 1/2″ off the sleeve length
remarks from the public: “You look beautiful.” — Jared (In fact, he said the Henrietta Maria/Madeleine suspender skirt combo is his favorite thing I’ve ever made, but I don’t know if that’s just recency bias talking.)
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest

achievement unlocked: black denim Madeleine skirt

Happy birthday to me! I’m 38 as of today. I think this is the chillest I have ever been about my birthday. Maybe now that I am officially in my late 30s, I am over thinking that everyone should drop everything they’re doing for the month of July & give me all the attention. (Though the finalists for the Monthly Stitch‘s “dresses” challenge were announced today, & I am among them, so if you want to nip on over & throw me a vote, that would be a nice birthday gift!) I re-potted some plants, worked on my project for the Monthly Stitch’s “hack it” challenge, updated the preschool tuition. Jared & Ramona gave me a miniature rosebush with lovely yellow roses, & they’re in the kitchen right now, making cupcakes. I chose vanilla with chocolate frosting. I thought about going bold & requesting chocolate with maple bacon frosting, but maple bacon just isn’t the taste sensation I crave when it’s nearly 100 degrees out. Today is Lawrence’s hottest day of the year so far in 2017.

I also plunged a seam ripper deep into my fingertip today. Like fully stabbed it in there with all the strength in my body. Pro-tip: when using a seam ripper to poke holes in something (which you probably shouldn’t be doing anyway), maybe don’t brace the object with your fingertip, duh. The seam ripper was dangling from my finger, with fully half an inch of the blade embedded down to my finger bone. Adding insult to injury, Jared is taking me out for Ethiopian food tonight, which I love. If you’ve never had it, 1) what the hell are you waiting for, & 2) you eat it with your hands. Luckily the injured finger is on my left hand, which I don’t use much.

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Should we talk sewing? I made this skirt. I made the top too, but I’ll blog it separately sometime soon. Gotta give all of my precious garments their own time to shine, right?

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The skirt is the Madeleine suspender skirt by Victory Patterns. I feel like a perusal of my blog in the last year or so would make me look like an indie pattern non-stop fangirl. The truth is that I like to sew a mix of indies, Big 4, & self-drafted, but I’ve been leaning on indies a lot in the last year since Hancock (my source for 99-cent Big 4 pattern sales) closed, & I’ve been too sick & out of it to a bunch of pattern math. Plus it’s Indie Pattern Month again, & that’s what prompted me to finally make this skirt that I have been swooning over for three years.

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I wonder why suspender skirts are so hard to find in RTW? Maybe just because making the suspenders involves extra fabric & labor, which isn’t worth it for a style that isn’t trending hard? It’s even harder to find a RTW suspender skirt for a larger size. In fact, for a long time, I thought suspenders were not an option for me at all because I couldn’t see them playing well with a large bust. But Jared (slobbering only slightly) convinced me. I think his exact words were, “I think suspenders would…*clears throat*…look REALLY good on you.”

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I remember the exact moment I first saw this pattern. It was for sale at Grey’s Fabric & Notions in Boston. I was in town on vacation, visiting Jared while he was on a research trip. Ramona’s grandparents had whisked her away to Vermont to show her off to all their Quaker friends. I had a day alone in the city while Jared was in the archives, so I took myself on a tour of all the fabric shops & sewing destinations in town. Can I just say that the world of sewing is, like, gentrifying? Ten years ago, going to a fabric shop was like going to a fish market. It was pure chaos & you had to know what you were after. Now it’s cute, teeny boutiques with a curated selection of textiles. That is a gross over-generalization, of course, & I have only been sewing in earnest for four years, so what the fuck do I know. All I can say is that Boston’s most-recommended fabric stores were not really what I expected.

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Anyway, I saw this pattern & the heavens opened. It was the skirt I’d wanted to wear all my (adult) life. Maybe to fill the hole left by a denim suspender skirt I had as a child. I vividly remember wearing it to a square dance in an actual barn & being like, “I will remember this magical moment for the rest of my life.” I was maybe nine years old?

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I don’t know why it took me three more years to actually make the pattern. I was just having trouble settling on fabric, I think. In fact, it wasn’t until I had my rotary cutter in hand, about the cut into some floral print denim that wasn’t exactly rocking my world, when I was like, “Wait! Black denim!” I have so much in my stash, & somehow have never sewn a straightforward black skirt. (I did make the Alberta Street skirt from Sew House Seven in black twill last summer, but I never wore it because I just couldn’t with a pencil skirt.)

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I’m pretty thrilled with the finished skirt. The denim I used has so much body, it makes the shape of the skirt really full & dramatic. I remember finding a skirt a lot like at H&M in like 2004, but it was all sold out in my size. I do suspect, however, that my fabric may have had a bit more body than the designer anticipated though, because parts of the construction were unreasonably difficult. It took me literally 45 minutes to turn each strap right side out…Yeah, 45 minutes EACH. I eventually got out a really thick wooden knitting needle to force the fabric through, & I made sure to use the blunt end so as to not poke the tip through the fabric. But my strap was so resistant, the DULL end of a GIANT knitting needle actually ripped through the denim! & not even at the seam! No harm, no foul though. It was on the back side of the strap.

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I shortened it a ton, like maybe seven inches? But I didn’t adjust the depth of the pockets, & they go almost all the way to the hem. They are so deep that I can’t even reach the bottoms without contorting myself sideways. Fare thee well, any random business card or crumpled up tissue that gets dropped in there. You’ll never be seen again.

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The pattern calls for a lot of topstitching, which I was kind of meh about, but I did it. I just did it black on black because I didn’t want it to be a big feature & compromise the neutrality of the skirt. Trust me, it was difficult to squelch my impulse to topstitch with variegated thread & embroider the pockets & use rhinestones button, etc etc. I am nothing if not a magpie. I hated doing the topstitching because it took forever (I used a triple stitch with regular thread) & in the end, I don’t know that it added much, since I didn’t use a contrasting color. On the plus side, the construction seams seemed SUPER-fast after all that triple stitching. & I say that as a person who is endlessly frustrated with how slow my machine is (only 800 stitches a minute).

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This was also my first go at a lapped zipper, believe it or not. I haven’t been avoiding them. They’ve just never come up in any pattern I’ve made so far. It worked out fine, but it was curious that the seam allowance for the two back skirt pieces are exactly the same, but to make a lapped zipper, one side was pressed in 5/8″ & the other was pressed in 3/4″. I don’t know, maybe I did something wrong somewhere along the way? I just fiddled around until it looked right, & I mean…It fits, & the zipper is properly covered when the skirt is zipped up, so it all worked out okay in the end, I guess.

The waistband was also a conundrum. I tried to follow the instructions, & I don’t know if I fundamentally misapprehended something, or the instructions just weren’t meant for the weight of fabric I used, or what, but after trying & failing for an hour to turn my waistband right side out, I noped out. I ripped out all the stitching & sewed it on like a jeans waistband instead. & guess what? It wound up being my best-looking waistband ever. Three cheers for just pressing up the seam allowance on the facing & topstitching. Why suffer?

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This post is way too long, but I do just want to mention: the suspender straps are not interfaced, & my buttonholes sank into them like BUTTAH. So gorgeous. But if I try sewing a buttonhole into anything interfaced, my machine is all, “Not today, Satan.” I think I might start experimenting with different types of interfacing to use with buttonholes & see if I can coax a better performance out of my machine. Just goes to show you: prince doesn’t always equal quality. My $100 starter Brother machine never shied away from a buttonhole.

pattern: Madeleine skirt from Victory Patterns
size: 16
fabric: 2.5 yards of black stretch denim (stretch fabric is not necessary for this pattern)
notions: denim needle, black thread, five buttons, zipper foot, buttonhole foot, interfacing for waistband, quilting cotton for pocket lining, seam ripper (for opening buttonholes), hand-sewing needle
total cost of all supplies: around $35 (including the pattern)
alterations: added 2″ to waistline, shortened skirt by around 7″
next time: maybe make the pockets a little smaller?
remarks from the public: “You look like a ballerina, Mama.” — Ramona
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest

achievement unlocked: gray linen Shenai dress

I was introduced to Oki Style Patterns last year when Oki was one of the sponsors of Indie Pattern Month at the Monthly Stitch. I sewed her Salt jacket for one of the challenges & have been admiring her other patterns from afar ever since. Her patterns are so interesting, & reasonably wearable, but I hadn’t purchased another because each one is kind of a stand-out–probably not something you’ll need to make more than once.

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However, I knew I wanted a gray linen dress for my summer capsule wardrobe. I’ve been poring over Japanese pattern books lately & trying to figure out how to bring some of those elements (asymmetry, unusual shaping, utilitarian fabrics, unexpected embellishments, longer hemlines, etc) into my wardrobe. Especially as a curvier sewer, this can be a trick. Shapeless sacks looked great on me eighty pounds & twenty years ago. I am not a person who cares much about what “flatters” my figure (hello, I just made overalls…& will make more, mark my words!), I don’t subscribe to a lot of those style rules that ask you to identify the fruit your body most resembles & then provides all kinds of advice how to “distract the eye” from “problem areas”. However, I do want to feel physically & mentally comfortable in my clothes, so anything that deviates from my standard pajamas/jeans & a t-shirt Mom uniform requires some contemplation.

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This dress is a home run for me. (Hey, it’s baseball season.) It ticks a lot of the new style boxes I’ve been wanting to explore, I can move in it comfortably, I feel confident about the way I look in it, & it has just the right amount of “look at me” flair without feeling like a costume. It’s the Oki Style Shenai dress, a “long summer dress” with an “symmetrical hemline, single-sided slit at hem, & integrated scarf.” I sewed it in the linen left over from my Burnside Bibs. I magically had just enough fabric to eke out this dress, with nothing but tiny scraps left over. (Capsule wardrobe sewing trick: buy enough yardage to get two or three garments out of the same textile as an easy way to create mix & match options.)

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Oki Stle Patterns are available in separate petite & tall sizes, & the size range is fairly generous. I made an regular XL (the second largest size) & don’t tell anyone, but I forgot to add seam allowances. I thought I’d sunk my own battleship, but luckily, because it’s not a terribly form-fitting style, I managed to get by with sewing with narrower-than-usual seams.

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Although Oki Style patterns are not especially difficult once you start constructing them, you do need to have a fair bit of sewing experience. The instructions are primarily in German, & the English translation leaves something to be desired. I’d say that these are definitely not patterns for beginners who require a lot of hand-holding. The construction techniques are not necessarily challenging, but they can be off the beaten track. For instance, this dress has a mitered hem (love!). If a person has never sewn a mitered hem before, Oki’s instructions are probably not the place to start.

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Thankfully, there are notches to mark the bust, waist, & hip (all of which matched up perfectly, by the way). I took advantage of these notches to do a 1.5″ FBA & a 2″ swayback adjustment. Both were a shot in the dark, as the drape of the dress is completely asymmetrical from the shoulders down, & the attachment of the second shoulder strap to the scarf makes a big difference to the location of the bust points (as well as the sizes of the neckline & second armscye). If I were to make this dress again, I think I’d make the FBA a little bigger (& remember the seam allowances!), but I think it works.

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Remember how I said I am getting more into embellishments? Yeah. Instead of buying crazy patterned fabrics, I am getting more into buying plain (& cheaper) fabric & adding my own treatments. This dress doesn’t include pockets, so I added one. A few months ago, I came up with the idea of adding a patch pocket with a flap that secures with a turn lock to a garment. I have been known to buy purses with turn-locks solely because I’m obsessed with turn-locks. Putting one on a garment seemed like a stroke of genius! I’ll definitely be doing this with future garments. I bought the turn locks in bulk.

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& last but not least: that floral applique. I briefly considered hand-embroidering a huge floral motif on the dress, but…I came to my senses. So this patch is purchased, but it is sewn on by hand. No hot fix here. I’m pretty fast at hand-sewing, but this patch is so big & has so much negative space, it probably took me about twenty hours to hand-sew it in place.

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I love this dress! & it goes great with my pink shoes! They are orthotic-friendly. Because I turn 38 next week.

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(PS–My Google-fu tells me that this is the first Shenai dress to hit the internet, aside from Oki’s sample. What are y’all waiting for?)

pattern: Shenai dress from Oki Style Patterns
size: XL in the shoulders, graded out to an XXL
fabric: 2.5 yards of Robert Kaufman Essex Linen Blend Yarn Dyed in Steel
notions: universal needle, gray thread, one turn lock, tiny bit of interfacing to support the turn lock, hand-sewing needle, giant embroidered floral patch
total cost of all supplies: around $40 (including the pattern)
alterations: 1.5″ FBA, 2″ swayback adjustment
next time: not sure there will be a next time, since this dress is so unique, but if I did it again, I’d add another .5″ to the FBA & remember the seam allowances, duh
remarks from the public: “I can’t see you, Mama! You are blending into that bush!” — Ramona, pointing at a bush with pink flowers on it that I was standing by
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest

achievement unlocked: gray linen Burnside Bibs

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I just finished these overalls two days ago, but I can already tell you that I LOOOOOOOOVE them. The Burnside Bibs are the newest pattern release from Sew House Seven, & it’s entirely possible that I might be the first person blogging about them that wasn’t a pattern tester. I saw them linked in a sewing group I’m in on FB, & there was even a sale on, to celebrate the new release. I didn’t jump because I had earmarked this gray linen for a different project. But I couldn’t get the overalls out of my head & I knew the linen would be perfect, so two days later I went back & bought them, even though the sale was over.

Just an aside on what I originally intended this fabric to be: I was going to make the Chameleon dress by Hot Patterns, which I won during Indie Pattern Month at the Monthly Stitch last year. But I could not figure out how the damn PDF was supposed to come together! I pored over the website & the directions to see if I was missing something, but I couldn’t find PDF assembly instructions anywhere. & it’s not like I am new at taping together PDFs. I’ve done it dozens of times. But this one bested me.

I finally emailed the folks at Hot Patterns, & they directed me to some random YouTube video that cleared up my confusion (maybe clearly link that video in the downloadable instructions, yeah? Or just say, “Assemble the PDF by butting up the pages, do not trim or overlap”?), but by that point, I’d moved on & had hacked my trusty M6966 into a V-necked hi-low sleeveless shirtdress. Then I saw the Burnside Bibs & was like, “Hold everything. I’m making that.”

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I decided to make the more fitted version, with back darts & a zipper, plus back pockets, full length, & a straight bib. I waffled on whether or not to futz with grading between sizes or doing any advance pattern alterations. I considered adding some length to the bib &/or adding a bit more front crotch depth, but ultimately I just sewed a straight size 18.

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The drafting was great. Everything came together perfectly, & it was generally a really enjoyable sew. My only quibble with the instructions is that they don’t say anything about grading the seams on the belt loops & straps before turning them right side out. You gotta grade that shit, man.

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This pattern hit my sweet spot of having enough technique to keep me interested, without being needlessly fussy. There’s understitching, edgestitching, topstitching, darts, & a zipper. The bib & back waistline are faced, & I liked the way that all came together. The fitted version that I made has a narrower back waist than front, so I got alarmed when I sewed the back facing to the bib facing. I thought I’d somehow cut out the wrong size. But nope, everything came together perfectly. The only bit that was a WTF for me was the rear pocket placement. I followed the pattern marks, but guys? Those marks make for some low fucking pockets. Maybe my general asslessness exacerbates the problem, who knows. I think the real issue that the pants are supposed to be a bit more gathered in the back, which would raise the pockets a little, but my larger waist reduces some of the gathering.

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I am still striving for that elusive “perfect sew,” & these don’t make the grade, but they’re damn close. I don’t have an invisible zipper foot for my Pfaff, so my zipper isn’t quite invisible, even though I sewed as close to the coils as I possibly could! & as always, my waistband facings could look more neat on the inside. Even when I baste them, I never get the stitch line perfectly even. Someday! & really, these are nitpicks, because the topstitching all looks perfect from the right side.

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These overalls were giving me a serious 1930s-hobo-with-a-rope-belt vibe, which is always a good thing in my book! That’s basically my personal aesthetic. To up the hobo factor, I sewed on a patch that my friend Jessika Rae made like ten years ago (maybe more?). She & I met through zines in the early 00s. The first time we ever met in person was when she hosted the Midwest Zine Fest 2003 at the Trumbullplex in Detroit. The Trumbullplex is a long-standing collective punk house. The weekend of the Fest coincided with the Great Black-Out of 2003. The conference space was lit with generators, & all the stoplights were out. It was the first time I had ever tabled my zine distro, Learning to Leave a Paper Trail. J Rae & I barely knew each other at that point, but we became good friends afterward. We traveled in a hobo-y fashions (hitchhiking & Greyhounds) to see each other all the time & went to assorted punk fests, skillshares, & anarchist conferences together. I’m sad that I haven’t seen her since Ramona was a wee baby (our first family vacation was to Detroit), but I haven’t been up for much traveling in the last few years, & surprise! Not a lot of people want to come visit you when you live in Kansas. I definitely had a lot more houseguests when I lived in Boston!

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J Rae & Baby Ramona, April 2013!

Anyway, I have been on the alert for the perfect setting for this patch for years now. I knew I’d found it when I saw these overalls. I left the edges of both the patch & the background fabric raw & cut somewhat unevenly, & just zigzagged them on. If I really wanted to get punk about it, I would have sewn them on with dental floss, but I don’t do that anymore, now that I know how to sew for real.

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pattern: Burnside Bibs from Sew House Seven
size: 18
fabric: 3.5 yards of Robert Kaufman Essex Linen Blend Yarn Dyed in Steel
notions: universal needle, gray thread, 9″ invisible zipper, a bit of lightweight interfacing for back facing, J Rae’s patch, & patch background fabric
total cost of all supplies: around $40 (including the pattern)
alterations: shortened legs 1.75″
next time: add .5″ to bib height, add .5″ to front crotch depth, raise the back pockets by…ummm… a lot
remarks from the public: “You look like a Valentine’s Day card, Mama.” — Ramona
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest

achievement unlocked: “the future is female” raglan tee

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I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this shirt yet! I made it back in February, before my hysterectomy, & I wear it all the time. & let me tell you, this shirt comes with quite a story.

I was inspired to make this shirt by a challenge over at the Monthly Stitch. The theme was “through the decades,” ie, sew a garment inspired by the decade you were born. I knew I needed to pick something fairly simple because that was right in the middle of my being sick for months on end & I didn’t have a lot of strength for sewing. I was born in 1979, which added to the challenge: I haven’t completely gotten on-board with the 70s style revival that’s been happening for the last couple of years.

I mulled for a while, & even perused vintage patterns online. I don’t sew a lot of vintage patterns because grading them to my size is a pain in the ass, & my personal style is generally more modern. But color-blocked raglan tees, like your classic baseball tee, were hot in the 70s. A tee would be a quick & easy sew, & it would fit into my pre-existing wardrobe nicely. & I decided to go even further by making my own “the future is female” tee, which was the slogan of the very first feminist bookstore in New York City, in the early 70s. Say what you will about second-wave feminism, but a lot of those ideas not only hold up, but they also form the underpinnings of gender-related policy today. It used to be legal for a man to rape his wife. Women couldn’t get credit cards in their own names. Birth control was against the law–even for married couples. I’m sure some people reading this lived through that era. Feminism is still very necessary now in the year 2017, but a lot of progress has been made in the last fifty years.

I decided to make the Patterns for Pirates Slim Fit Raglan tee. It was my first time using a P4P pattern. They weren’t on my radar until I had already been sewing for a few years. They are all about basics, & generally knocking off Lularoe designs (if you can really call a selection of basic tees, leggings, & sack dresses “designs”). As such, I’d never bothered with them before, since I can get all the basics I want from the Big 4 during the 99-cent sales. But I was too sick to go to Joann, so I had to go with a PDF. One thing I like about P4P is that the patterns seem to come with a lot of options. This one had different sleeve lengths, hem lengths, hem styles, etc, all in one pattern. I chose the classic baseball tee silhouette: curved hem, three-quarter sleeves.

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This speckled jersey can really wrinkle.

I also ordered the fabric online–I fell in love with a speckled gray jersey knit by Robert Kaufman, though it is not terribly soft in person, & paired it with the squishiest, most comfy royal blue jersey for the sleeves & neckband. I did manage to haul my carcass out to Michael’s to pick up some iron-on letters, going with the most 70s-licious font I could find.

If you’ve ever sewn a raglan tee, you know that few things are easier. It’s literally like a one-hour project. But I ran into an issue even while I was cutting out my fabric.

Even though I ordered a bit more yardage than I needed, according to the size chart, I didn’t have enough of the speckled jersey to cut both the front & the back of the shirt. It wasn’t available at my local fabric shop. I could have ordered more, but it wouldn’t have arrived before my hysterectomy, & I knew I wasn’t going to be in any fit state to sew for weeks while I recovered.

So I pieced together the scraps to make up the yardage I needed for the back. I was maybe 4″ by 20″ short. But like an idiot, I cut the back BEFORE I pieced the extra fabric, so I was jigsawing scraps into the already-cut shirt instead of doing what any clear-thinking person would do & piecing together the yardage BEFORE cutting, duh. I blame it on being sick.

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Results of the jigsawing.

So that whole operation was a major challenge & took forever. The basic construction came together really quickly & easily. The whole time I was thinking, “Huh, this looks really big,” but I always think things look big during construction. I’ve really had to train myself to “trust the process” & accept that things will come together properly & not to start shaving down seams just because they “look big”. I did that a lot when I first started sewing & wound up with garments that were too small.

Thankfully, I tried the shirt on before I hemmed anything. IT WAS ENORMOUS. It hung down halfway to my knees, the three-quarter sleeves were flapping around my wrists, I was absolutely swimming in it. It really took me a while to figure out what was wrong, but eventually I realized that my measurements put me in a size L, maybe XL, but I had cut & sewn a 2XL. No wonder I didn’t have enough fabric! & maybe the stupidest mistake of all: I had intended to buy & thought I had bought the Slim Fit Raglan. But after taking in the side seams several inches & still having a way too enormous shirt, I realized I’d bought the Relaxed Fit Raglan! As was clearly printed all over the pattern I’d print & taped together, cut out, saw very clearly as I was cutting out my fabric…The words just didn’t register. So I bought a pattern with a lot more ease than I wanted, & then a cut it three sizes too big.

At this point, I think most people would have just given up. But for whatever reason, I was determined to fix it. I didn’t want to be bested by a damn raglan tee, even though I was clearly operating at like 15% physical & mental power.

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Really shitty dart.

I opened up the side seams & took a big tuck out of the back–like a giant swayback adjustment. I also trimmed a lot off the hem. I still wasn’t liking the fit, so I added some really shitty bust darts to the front. They are different heights & different lengths. Then I realized I had to take more length from the back, because duh–darts reduce the length of the side seam. Hello, Sewing 101.

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Giant tuck taken from back.

IMG_1531At least the hem looks nice.

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By the time it was all said & done, almost all of the extra fabric jigsawing I’d done, which took hours, was trimmed away, & I had a garment that was pretty goddamn jacked up, but wearable. I ironed on the letters, put the shirt on, & went to bed. I think I slept for like 14 hours, seriously. From start to finish, this easy peasy one-hour project took TWELVE HOURS.

pattern: Relaxed Raglan from Patterns 4 Pirates
size: 2XL
fabric: one yard each of speckled jersey knit & blue jersey knit, both by Robert Kaufman, from fabric.com
notions: jersey needle, gray & blue thread, two packs of fuzzy iron-on letters
total cost of all supplies: around $30
alterations: added 1.5″ bust darts, removed a total of about 12″ from side seams & 4″ from sleeve seams, shortened by about 2″ altogether, took a 3″ tuck from the back
next time: the only way there will be a next time is if I alter this pattern to be slim fit; I have no need for a relaxed fit tee
remarks from the public: “The future is female? *scoff* Okay, then. *rolls eyes*” — female nurse at the hospital while I was in having some heart tests
photos: Jared took the photo of me, I took the rest

achievement unlocked: pink unicorn maxi Lady Skater

Writing a new blog post has been on my to-do list for weeks, so I might as well just do it! To be honest, part of my silence here has been due to the fact that I’ve been sewing a lot recently! I don’t know if I mentioned: I traded lamps with Ramona. I was using a little clip-on lamp from Ikea as a bonus light for my sewing area, & Ramona had been using a larger tabletop gooseneck lamp in her room. We swapped & now my sewing space is actually bright enough to use! My sewing spaces in previous houses had always been in front of windows, & my sewing space when we move next month will also be in front of a window. My sewing space here faces away from the windows. It’s amazing how much the lack of light depleted my enjoyment of sewing. So that’s my tip: if you’re feeling kind of down on sewing, maybe switch up the lighting situation in your sewing space!

& Ramona is thrilled with her clip-on light. She clipped it to her bed & uses it to look at books before she goes to bed. It has an easy flip switch so she can turn it on & off herself. Sometimes she likes us to drape a quilt over her bed & turn it into a “fort,” & with the light inside, it’s pretty delightful in there. (I may have possibly laid down in her bed a few times to take naps while she was at school.)

Anyway! Here’s a thing I sewed!

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This is another Lady Skater dress from Kitschy Coo, but this time I lengthened it into a maxi & did away with the sleeves. I am obsessed with this dress. I wear it all the time. If you can believe it, this is not only the first maxidress I have ever made…It’s the first maxidress I have ever worn! EVER! I guess I used to feel like maxidresses were just not my style. I feel like my legs are one of my best features, so I’ve not been terribly interested in covering them up, & I also associate maxiskirts with hippies, ie, the complete opposite of my personal self-conception. But I’m a total convert now! They are so cool & swishy for hot summer weather, & I don’t have to worry about them flying up over my head in the constant Kansas wind. I have another maxidress (in a woven) all cut out on my sewing table already.

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This was a pretty simple hack. I’ve already added pockets to my Lady Skater, so I kept them for this version & just extended the seamlines of the skirt to make it ankle-length. Then I took out some of the width because it was unnecessary with all that length. I cut the armscyes a little bit deeper & guesstimated the length of the binding. My only quibble with this dress is that the arm binding could be a little bit shorter. They gape just a tiny bit. But I love pretty much everything else, so that’s kind of a nitpick.

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The fabric is 95% cotton/5% spandex (my preference for almost all knits) from the Magic collection by Sarah Jane. This particular print is called Unicorn Forest & the colorway is “blossom”. In other words, pink & unicorns. As if I wasn’t going to buy this.

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I like to use Me-Made May every year to dive deep into my self-sewn wardrobe & wear things that don’t get worn much. Sometimes I discover a forgotten gem that works its way into regular rotation. Sometimes I find something that I just do not want to wear anymore. That was the case with my pink unicorn print Cambie dress, which was maybe the third dress I ever made? As such, it just wasn’t very well-sewn or -fitted. I’m not being down on my abilities. It’s just a fact that learning to sew involves time & mistakes, & I’ve learned a lot since I made that dress four years ago. Getting it out for Me-Made May motivated me to get rid of it, but Ramona told me she loves when I wear my “pink unicorn dress,” so I decided to make a replacement right away. In a fabric that will actually be worn during hot weather. I’m not a fabric snob, I think quilting cotton can work very well in a self-sewn wardrobe, but it has to be the right application. A heavily-gathered sleeveless dress was not the right application for me. Too exposed for transitional/cold weather, but too heavy & oppressive for hot weather. Maybe I’ll try it again sometime in seersucker or something.

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Nothing much to say about the construction. I did my usual understitching on the pocket bags so they turn under really nicely. I hemmed & topstitched the neck & armbands with a wide straight stitch. I am really getting good at topstitched bands on knits. The only hassle I had was with sewing on the clear elastic to stabilize the waist seam. My sewing machine is very particular about sewing elastic. I’ve learned that it really prefers a universal needle for that activity, regardless of the fabric involved. Otherwise, it skips stitches or birdnests. I’m not saying that my Pfaff Ambition Essential is a bad machine, but it’s certainly more tempermental than my el cheapo basic Brother. The Pfaff also hates buttonholes. When we move, I think I might set up both machines so I can use the Brother for the tasks the Pfaff rejects, & also so I don’t have to keep switching thread when topstitching or whatever.

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I had just enough fabric leftover after making this dress that I was also able to make a retro-style bunny ear headband. It’s a lot of look when I wear them together, but I’m a lot of look kind of person.

pattern: Lady Skater dress from Kitschy Coo
size: right between size 7 & 8
fabric: three yards of Magic Unicorn Forest knit from fabric.com
notions: jersey needle, pink thread, coral quilting cotton for pocket bags, clear elastic
total cost of all supplies: around $45 (the fabric was kind of pricy)
alterations: added side front pockets, lengthened skirt 16″ to make it ankle length, removed about 2″ of width from the skirt, left off sleeves & bound the armholes instead
next time: make armbands just a little bit shorter so they snug up better
remarks from the public: “It’s very…glamorous, I guess? Because long dresses are always glamorous?” — Jared
photos: I took the photos of Miss Mackrelmint 1942 modeling the look, & Ramona took the photos of me