I am a prize-winning bramaker!

Well, my lovely knit shirtdress didn’t place as a finalist in the Monthly Stitch’s “hack it” contest. I’m telling myself it’s just because they didn’t want one person to run the tables all month long, haha. Hopefully my “Horses”-inspired RTW copycat outfit does better, & I’m also planning to enter the bonus bundle challenge. I have one garment all cut out & ready to go. I did a muslin a few days ago & was absolutely stunned to discover that I didn’t hate it. It’s the Anderson blouse from Sew Over It. If tasked with finding an indie blouse pattern that would be least likely to work on my figure, it would have been a strong contender, but I made a sleeveless version & I actually kind of loved it!

Any disappointment I may have felt about the “hack it” challenge, however, was completely erased when Beverly Johnson announced the winners of the bramaking contest she ran this year. I entered my Vintage Valentine bra in the “creative use of trimmings” category. I really wanted to enter a bra into each category, & even sketched some ideas, but ultimately I just didn’t make the time for it.

Beverly broke the contest entries into two posts: one for the entrants & one for the winners. I read the entrants post first & didn’t see my bra. I got really nervous that maybe my entry hadn’t gone through! Then I looked at the winner post & there it was! I won third place. Especially when you consider that it’s only the sixth bra I have ever made (& the first two aren’t really wearable), & I’ve only been sewing, full stop, for a little more than three years, I am absolutely thrilled! I won a $50 gift certificate to Bramaker’s Supply, along with a huge boost of confidence. I’m going to spend some of it on the new bralette pattern that Beverly just released (finally! A bralette that I won’t have to grade up, designed by someone who is aware that some women have larger-than-B-cup breasts!), & maybe I’ll save the rest for pretty fabrics once I make more of a dent in my lingerie supply stash.

The July challenge for the Monthly Stitch was also finally announced today (not a moment too soon!). Of course it was polka dots &/or stripes. It was put to a community vote & no other idea really stood a chance. It seems like I am the only person who sews who doesn’t not really care for polka dots or stripes. Not that I’ve never made anything striped or polka dotted (the Vintage Valentine bra featured polka dots rather prominently). It’s just not my favorite.

Jared talked me out of my original idea for the challenge by pointing out that the fabric I wanted to use was really not striped or polka dotted in any way. I was like, “Yeah, but if you’re standing really far away & maybe your vision isn’t the best, it kind of looks like polka dots?” & he was like, “No.” So, back to the drawing board. Luckily, it didn’t take me long to come up with an alternate idea: shorty overalls in pindot denim. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pindot denim on hand, so that had to be ordered. I also don’t have an overalls pattern. I considered the Turia Dungarees by Pauline Alice, but the pattern isn’t quite what I want, & I’d probably have to grade it up a little. & I just don’t want to splash out on another expensive pattern right now.

I have a shorts pattern adapted from a pajama pant pattern from a sewing book I got at the library that has the fit I like. I’ve added pockets & made them a few times as sleep shorts. I think I’m going to change up the pocket shape, add a mock fly, & draft the bib myself. I asked Jared if I should make the bib pocket shaped like a kitty cat face. He was like, “Sure, why not?” & I was like, “Um, maybe because I turn 37 in like two weeks?” & he was like, “You’re still going to be a person who likes cat face-shaped pockets when you’re 37.”

I went to Hancock to see if they had any polka dot denim for this project. My local Hancock is apparently the regional distribution point for the warehouse, so they’re taking a while to sell through all their stock. But they are very picked over at this point. Only specialty zippers remained. Needles are all sold out. Almost all the thread was gone. I managed to get overalls buckles & buttons & a few other small notions, & then I bought literally almost 20 yards of fabric. It was like $2 a yard! It would have been a crime NOT to buy it!

I got some weird flannel-backed faux leather that will hopefully be turned into a cozy jacket once fall rolls around. I bought some lightweight black denim for a pair of jean shorts (probably going to adapt from the Ginger jeans pattern). I got some plain black pique to make a simple black skirt because…I don’t have one! HOW do I not have a plain black skirt that I’ve made myself? I have an army of handmade skirts, & somehow, all of them are in a crazy print or color. That works okay for the army of handmade black tees that I also have, but I do find myself wanting a plain black skirt sometimes. It seems like a giant hole in my handmade wardrobe.

I also bought some really stretchy, oddly-textured black corduroy to make a skirt & jacket for the bundle challenge (I suspect the jacket will undergo certain major alterations, & I don’t count the black skirt I’m making for the challenge as an everyday basic because it’s a pencil skirt & I don’t know how much I’ll wear it, having literally never worn a pencil skirt before in my entire life).

One of my prizes for one the Monthly Stitch contests I won was a free pattern from Hot Patterns. I picked the Chameleon dress because the shape reminded me of a former roommate who had this skirt I was obsessed with. I didn’t sew back then, so all I knew was that I liked it. It was pretty full & long-ish, make out of some kind of really cozy gray material. Maybe flannel? It had blue trim & pockets. I think it had a bit of a high-low hem, which is usually not my jam. I loved this skirt so much, my roommate hid it because she was afraid I was going to steal it. (I wouldn’t have! But I did ask to borrow it constantly.) Supposedly, the Chameleon dress can be sewn up in practically any fabric: lightweight, heavier, knits, wovens, whatever. I got some pink & black buffalo plaid flannel  to put these claims to the test. I’m hoping to find some kind of voile I like to try it in a more weather-appropriate weight. I’m obsessed with Katy Jones’s Sunday Clippings voile right now, & I kind of want to make it in that, but I’m also planning a blouse, a tee, & some pajama shorts in that same material, so maybe I don’t need an entire wardrobe of it? Or maybe I do?

Art Gallery Recollection Voile Sunday Clippings

achievement unlocked: Archer tuxedo shirt

I am pretty thrilled about this shirt, guys!

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This is the Archer button-down from Grainline Studio. As much as I love me some easy basics that I can make over & over again to build a handmade wardrobe, this was my first Grainline pattern. It seems like the general styles & silhouettes of Grainline patterns are geared toward women with less “pneumatic” figures. The Archer is a loose-fitting button-down, very menswear-inspired. It has all the classic button-down shirt elements: an enclosed yoke, a two-piece collar, separate pieces for the button placket, the curved shirttail hem. There’s also an option for some kind of ruffled butt cover, I guess to give people a more feminine option? I love ruffles, but, um, nope. Notably, there are NO darts in this pattern. & that makes it really not a great go-to option for the bustier among us.

I got this pattern as part of the Monthly Stitch’s indie pattern swap. My swap partner said that she picked it because I said I liked useful basics, & I’ve been sewing a lot of shirtdresses. I was actually really pleased to receive the pattern, because I was on the hunt for a button-down & didn’t really want to spend the money on this one myself, thanks to the dartlessness & the fact that I am a D-cup. But in the end, it wound up working really well!

I did do an FBA on this one. I used the “slide & pivot method,” where you trace off the armscye & then pivot the pattern to add more room to the bust. I was skeptical, but it worked perfectly. It’s a good way to do an FBA on a pattern that doesn’t have darts, like this one. I also added a bit of extra width to the hips, because my muslin felt just a little bit tight there.

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But of course, the biggest change was all those pintucks!

I’ve been wanting to add pintucks to something for a long time, & actually prepped pattern pieces for McCall’s 6696 to make a pintucked shirtdress. I then got sidetracked by other projects. I made this Archer for the “RTW copycat” challenge at the Monthly Stitch, inspired by Patti Smith on the cover of “Horses”.

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I decided to cut the front of the shirt in panels so I could incorporate flat piping made from black satin, to mimic the effect of the black ribbon that Patti has hanging around her neck. & then I realized, if I’m already breaking the shirt front into panels, this is a perfect opportunity to experiment with pintucks!

It’s easiest to add pintucks to a garment that doesn’t have darts so you’re not messing with the structural shape too much. Since the Archer doesn’t have darts, & I wasn’t planning to add any, because I wanted to maintain the boxy androgyny of the inspiration look, it was perfect canvas for experimentation. I will try to explain how I did this, but be forewarned: I may not do a great job.

First I had to figure out how many pintucks I wanted to make, so I could figure out how wide to cut my panel. I decided on six on either side, with the flat piping making a seventh decorative element. Odd numbers are just generally more aesthetically pleasing, for whatever reason. I decided to make each pintuck 1/4″ wide. Too narrow would look weird on me because I’m not a small person, but too wide wouldn’t be much of a challenge. I did a few panel muslins, trying to decide how far apart the pintucks should be. I decided I wanted a bit of space between them, but not much. 7/8″ was way too much, but 1/4″ wasn’t enough. I settled on 3/8″–the width of one pintuck with 1/8″ breathing room.

I traced off a copy of my shirt front & drew a line where I wanted the fold of each pintuck to be. I added a seam allowance for the panel & that was my basic pattern piece. I then cut along each line & added 1/2″, the width of each unfolded pintuck.

Pintuck pattern alterations. #sewcialists

A photo posted by Ciara Xyerra (@ciaraxyerra) on

 

I used this taped-together monstrosity of a pattern piece to cut my panels. I don’t know if you can see the lines drawn in with purple colored pencil, but I traced those lines off on to my fabric. That’s where I folded, & I stitched 1/4″ from each fold to make each pintuck. I pressed them away from the button placket.

To make the flat piping, I just cut strips of black satin 1″ wide. I pressed it in half (as well as I could–it didn’t take a press very well) & sewed it to the seam allowance of the body of my shirt fronts, with the folded part facing toward the side seams. When I sewed the panel to the shirt body, a 1/4″ fold of satin was left visible. Easy peasy!

& since I was doing all this, I also went ahead & did all my topstitching in black thread & used black buttons on both placket & cuffs.

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The result is a lot like a tuxedo shirt! It’s certainly not a carbon copy of the inspiration image, but it’s there in spirit. & I think I will wear it a lot more than I would a plain white shirt with white topstitching & white buttons.

To finish things off, I flat-felled the sleeve & side seams, & hemmed the whole thing with 1/4″ double-fold white bias tape, which was a bit of a struggle, seeing as my shirting material is thick, bouncy, & very prone to fraying, but it turned out surprisingly well.

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Man, it took me so long to write this post. I started it this morning over breakfast, & then took a break to sew while Jared went out with Ramona, & picked it back up just in time for them to come home. I had to stop & take Ramona to a birthday party at the wading pool, & I started it again after we got home & she was eating lunch. Then I had to stop again to put her down for a nap & take a shower. I feel like it took me longer to write the post than it did to sew the damn shirt!

achievement unlocked: Lady Skater/Jenna shirtdress

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I finished this dress almost a month ago! Like I said, I have been sewing a lot more than I have been blogging lately, but I’m starting to feel anxious about my backlog of unblogged projects, so I’m going to try to catch up.

I specifically made this dress for the “hack it” challenge over at the Monthly Stitch, & spoiler alert: I love love love it. I married the Jenna cardigan from Muse Patterns to the skirt from the Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress & created a knit shirtdress! I think this is the seventh shirtdress I have made so far this year. So in the first half of 2016, I went from having zero shirtdresses because it’s a style that just doesn’t work for me in traditional RTW sizes (narrow shoulders, large bust) to having a different shirtdress for every day of the week!

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I’ve made the Lady Skater four times, & obviously a full knit skirt doesn’t pose a lot of fit challenges. But I had never made the Jenna, even though I bought the pattern over the winter, fully intending to make myself a snuggly cardigan when the weather was still cold. I just never got around to it, mainly because I was intimidated by the thought of making buttonholes on knit fabric. My shirtdress obsession has forced me to overcome any fear I may have had of buttonholes in general, but when you consider the challenges inherent to sewing knits on a regular sewing machine (small stitches sometimes result in chewed up fabric), I was really nervous about doing buttonholes.

I decided that I needed to muslin the Jenna before I dove into making my dress. If you make a button-up cardigan & there’s a bit of gaping between the buttons, it’s a shame, but not the end of the world because it’s a layering piece anyway. But if I wanted to use the pattern as a dress bodice, it needed to fit properly. No sense making an easy breezy knit shirtdress & then having to wear a layer underneath it for modesty!

Muse generally drafts for a B-cup, which is NOT me. I did a 2″ FBA. Doing an FBA on a dartless knit is pretty much the same principle as doing it on a woven with darts, except you’re guesstimating the bust apex & your slash lines instead of using the darts as a guide. Really, it’s pretty easy. Especially for me, because I usually keep the FBA width I add through the waist.

I did have to decide whether or not to also keep the length an FBA adds. I decided not to because Muse drafts for tall women, & I am on the short-ish side (5’5″). This wound up being a mistake. I needed a little extra length to get over the bust. I made a wearable muslin out of sweater fabric (to be blogged soon) & the hem isn’t even front to back. It’s wearable, but I definitely wanted something more balanced for my shirtdress.

In the end, I cut a 42 in the shoulders, grading to a 44 at the waist, & back to a 42 at the hips. I did a 2″ FBA, a 1/2″ narrow shoulder adjustment, & added 1″ of length to the front bodice grading to nothing at the side seams. I shortened the long sleeves by 3″ (!!!) & the three-quarter sleeves I used on the shirtdress by 2″.

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I cut the waist-length cardigan for the bodice of my shirtdress, & made sure to include the length of the hemband, which is cut as a separate piece for the cardigan. I had to add some width to the Lady Skater skirt to make the side seams match, & I had to add some extra to my front skirt pieces to create a seam allowance for attaching the button placket. I measured from the waistline of the skirt (minus seam allowance where it attaches to the bodice) to the finished hem & lengthened the Jenna button placket by that amount. I also added side-slant pockets to the skirt, because duh. Why even make your own clothes if you’re not going to add pockets?

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This is the first project I sewed up on my new Pfaff. I had a whole nightmare situation where the thread on the underside wasn’t catching the bobbin thread properly & was making these little loops. I didn’t several hundred dollars on a new (to me) sewing machine so I could have a worse stitching quality than I was getting with my cheapie Brother! It took me HOURS to figure out the problem. Apparently the last owner broke a needle on the needleplate, & it caused a tiny little metal burr to form on the underside of the plate. Once I figured out the problem, I just took the needleplate off, filed off the burr with a tiny metal file, & reattached the needleplate. But I was really concerned here for a while. & I spent an entire morning while Jared was out with Ramona & I could have been sewing threading & re-threading the machine, trying different bobbins, trying different needles, doing everything I could think of to fix the problem.

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I think the jersey I chose, which is a different colorway but the same print I chose for a Lady Skater I made last summer, showcases the shoulder gathering on the Jenna pattern really nicely. I used gray thread for my topstitching to connect the colors of the flowers.

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I also used gray buttons (& one tiny sew-on snap right at the waistline, where the dress takes a bit of extra strain when I sit down). Even with all the buttons done, I can pull the dress on over my head, but I read somewhere when I first started sewing that you should never include a button without a functioning buttonhole. Obviously it was written by someone who is a bit prissy & pedantic, & I haven’t always adhered to that rule. But since this entire dress was an experiment to see if a fully-functional knit shirtdress was possible (I worried that the weight of the button placket & skirt would weigh down the skirt & make it uneven, or that the whole thing would gape & be uesless), I chose to make fully-functional buttonholes. My machine protested a bit, but now that I’ve made a few more projects that include buttonholes on it, I have learned that my Pfaff just has a contentious relationship with buttonholes. It doesn’t stall out & make massive bird’s nest like my Brother sometimes did, but it does sometimes make half a buttonhole & then clock out. I fixed those buttonholes with tiny, tiny zigzag stitches or bartacks, & it worked just fine.

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I would definitely do this hack again! The dress doesn’t have a ton of hanger appeal, but it’s so comfortable & reasonably flattering on my body. I think the finalists for the “hack it” contest are due to be announced tomorrow, & if I am among them, I will let you know!

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Come to me, finalist position! Actually, I was just trying to coax Biscuit out from under the porch.

achievement unlocked: Bluebird bra & undies

I am a bit behind on writing about my sewing projects here. I’ve definitely been doing more sewing than photographing & blogging recently.

First things first, I entered two bras I made (the Vintage Valentine bra I wrote about last week, & the set I’m writing up today) into the “one pattern, two ways” challenge over at the Monthly Stitch. They were both made with the Shelley pattern from Pin-Up Girls, but are very distinct from one another. Finalists were announced this morning, & I am among them! Again! My rose print Swiss dot Marigold dress was also a finalist for the first challenge (“new to me”), & was announced as a winner yesterday! So let’s keep the streak going. Head on over & vote for me!

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On to the bra. The fabrics used in this one are all from Bramaker’s Supply. I bought them last year as part of a fabric trio kit. They were sold out of the lace that was originally included in the kit, so they called me up & let me make a substitution. I actually can’t remember what the original lace was. Maybe something white with blue accents? I chose this pale yellow lace with pink accents & even the woman on the phone was impressed by how well the fabrics went together.

For some reason, my camera chose to saturate the blue color in every photo. It looks really bright, but is a quieter Wedgewood blue color in reality. I was thrilled when I received the kit because the lace looked especially beautiful layered over the blue. & yet, the direction I took with this bra hardly takes advantage of that fact at all. If I’d had more lace, I would have covered the entire frame with it, but since I’ve already made a couple of lace frame bras, I decided to do something different with this once & concentrate the lace on the back band.

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I cut a 40D with my usual fit alterations:

  • added 1/2″ of width to the back band
  • added 1/2″ of width to the frame
  • raised the neckline 1/2″
  • raised the underarm 1/2″

I also cut the frame into a Gothic arch, which is a really simple change to make to any full-frame bra pattern. I just drew a little line angling from the undercup to the center of the bridge. Construction is more challenging than drafting in the change, because the elastic is sewn in two pieces & my elastic was not thrilled about turning under at the center point. This was my first experiment with a Gothic arch. I think construction will be easier next time. & there will definitely be a next time. Like a lot of women, the center of my bras sometimes presses down on my chest wall at the center bottom, but raising that area up into an arch or a point takes the pressure off & is a lot more comfortable.

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I use 3/4″ elastic in my bra bands, so I did have to trim that down a bit to get it to fit where the arch starts under the cups. But it wasn’t really a big deal.

I also added a bit of lace to the lower cup, just so I would have the lace overlapping the Duoplex somewhere on the bra, but it’s kind of obscured in the wearing. I also took care to match my thread to the fabrics I was sewing, even if it meant switching out thread halfway through a seam. You can see in the photo below where the thread disappears into the lace on the left & the blue Duoplex on the right.

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Design-wise, I cut the upper cup with a little extension over the bridge, & the cut the bridge shorter, so I could join the upper cups together & make it look like a continuous piece of lace. This isn’t really “proper,” because it eliminates the uppermost wire seamline, & therefore, the very top of the bridge isn’t flush against the chest wall, but whatevs. It’s a design feature.

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I also experimented with the straps. I hand-basted lace to sheer, stable cup lining & finished the edges with strips of Duoplex that I cut on the straight grain & ran through my bias tape maker. The finished effect is fairly subtle, but you better believe it was a TON of work. I mean, just imagine hand-basting these narrow little strips of fabric that are so lightweight, you can barely even hold on to them. They kept snagging on my cuticles, not because I have horrifying shark hands, but just because they are so delicate. & the lace is stretch, so I had to be really careful not to pull it out of shape as I basted. But the finished result is really pretty & surprisingly comfortable.

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I barely had any lace left over with which to decorate my matching undies, so I had to be economical. I used my usual Butterick 6031 pattern & altered it to make side panels out of pale pink sheer nylon. The main pieces were cut from jersey that is a fairly close match for the blue Duoplex used in the bra. I sewed a strip of the lace used in the bra across the front & covered the edge with pink satin ribbon. I used a slightly wider ribbon in the same color to cover the seamlines where the nylon panels meet the jersey. I was really thrilled to find stretch lace for the waistband & legbands that exactly matched the yellow lace. It was billed as “cream,” but it’s definitely pale yellow.

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So that’s that! Technically, it wasn’t quite the feat of sewing mastery that some of my other bras have been, but it’s definitely one of my favorite sets, just from a comfort level. I’ve nailed the fit at this point–I honestly forget I am wearing it, which is not something I’ve ever been able to say about a RTW bra, & not something most people would expect from a lacy underwire bra.

 

I’m a finalist!

The finalists for the “new to me” challenge over at the Monthly Stitch were announced this morning, & one of them is me! I’m really kind of thrilled. My entry was my Swiss dot rose print Marigold dress by Blank Slate Patterns–this guy:

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So head on over & vote for me, if you are so inclined!

I have been working on my garments for the last challenge of the month, the “RTW knock-off”. My plan is to make three garments: a pair of jeans, a button-down shirt, & a jacket. It is turning into so much more work than I anticipated.

For starters, I’m making jeans. I’ve done it before, but it’s still a fairly time-consuming garment, with all the topstitching & everything. I’m using the Ginger jeans pattern again, from Closet Case Files, but I found that the larger sizes on that pattern do run large. I wound up sewing those first jeans with an enormous seam allowance to get them to fit. I cut my pattern down from a size 18 to a 14, but I need to do another baste-fit to make sure I didn’t cut it down too much. I have my denim all cut out & ready to roll, but I started seeing the actual jeans for the challenge in a gray denim instead of the dark indigo I had on hand. I couldn’t stop thinking about gray jeans, so I finally just sucked it up & ordered some. I ordered from Denver Fabrics, which has a great selection & stellar prices, but shipping is s-l-o-o-o-w. So I’m still waiting on my gray denim.

I’m using new patterns for the button-down & the jacket. Moreover, I actually don’t really wear button-downs or jackets, because finding ones that fit in RTW was always an exercise in futility. My waist is comparably large in relation to my shoulders, & although a 40D chest is really not THAT big, it’s apparently too big for RTW. If I found something that fit my shoulders, it would be too small in the waist, & something that fit my waist would be way too big in the shoulders, & pretty much everything would gape & pull across my chest.

So at some point, I just decided that I don’t wear buttons-downs or jackets (by which I mean, like, blazers). But the magic of sewing for yourself, & learning to fit your unique body, is that you can experiment with styles you may have gotten used to avoiding in RTW & make them fit!

I have finished a wearable muslin of the button-down. It needed some more alterations after (mainly in the form of a GINORMOUS swayback adjustment, & some fiddling with the sleeve cap/armscye), but the main thing: I’m adding pintucks. I’m actually creating a pintucked panel & then sewing it to the shirt with some flat piping sandwiched in between to look like a contrasting pintuck magically finishing the panel. & all of that had to be drafted in.

Pintuck pattern alterations. #sewcialists

A photo posted by Ciara Xyerra (@ciaraxyerra) on

It’s just time-consuming, all that slashing & spreading. But I think my button-down pattern is finally ready to hit the cutting table.

I cut out a “wearable muslin” of the jacket & did a baste-fit. The jacket part was a perfect fit…unhemmed, & without facings. Meaning, really, too short & not quite big enough through the waist. I think I can futz some seam & hem allowances & make it work, but the real issue was that the sleeves were crazy, insanely tight. I basted them again with as tiny a seam allowance as I could get away with (which also had to be carried into the side & shoulder seams, to make room in the armscye) & again, I think it will be wearable. But I really want to finesse a much better fit before I cut into $90 worth of velvet. Because of course I couldn’t just be content with $3-a-yard twill from the Hancock liquidation sales. Once I saw this jacket in my mind in beautiful black velvet with a black satin lining, I couldn’t let it go. I actually special-ordered satin from Spoonflower (which is NOT cheap) for the lining. So yeah, I want to get the fit as perfect as I can get it. Not only are the fabrics expensive, but there’s also a lot of very fiddly sewing.

This is how the side front pattern piece looked after my second round of alterations, because of course I did an FBA before I did anything else.

So my goal for the weekend is to muslin the jacket again, hopefully get my “real” fabrics for both the jacket & the button-down all cut out, baste-fit my jeans, & just generally get to the point where I can think about actually sewing these garments. I’m trying not to dwell on the fact that I don’t have a pintucking foot, so each pintuck is going to be sewn the old-fashioned way, with a regular foot & lots of careful pressing. Or that the jacket calls for two welt pockets. Or that the first language of the person who designed the jacket is Japanese, & as such, some of her English language directions are a bit less clear than they could be, especially when it comes to all the fitting pleats in the lining. Or that Denver Fabrics has yet to actually ship my gray denim.

Also? It’s supposed to be like 97 degrees all weekend. We have air conditioners, but really, the last thing you want to do when it’s that hot is stand at your ironing board pressing interfacing for a jacket. Oh well!

achievement unlocked: Vintage Valentine bra & undies

I’m so glad I finally get to show off this set! I made it weeks ago, right after the “one pattern, two ways” challenge was announced over at the Monthly Stitch. Using the Shelley bra pattern for this challenge was a no-brainer, & Jared’s parents were in town for his PhD hooding ceremony, so they looked after Ramona & gave me a lot of time to sew.

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Before I really get into this, allow me to state for the record: I have historically had a viscerally negative reaction to red lingerie. I remember, like twelve years ago, one of my friends got her hands on the password to her boyfriend’s account at some “radical porn” website. Like Suicide Girls, but more actually feminist for real (I guess) & less just naked girls with tattoos. One of the photo sets was just some girl in lingerie dumping melted chocolate all over herself, which a) what a waste of chocolate!, b) seems like that would hurt, as chocolate has to get HOT to melt, & c) she was wearing red lingerie & it was awful. I know this is kind of minority opinion, but red lingerie has always just struck me as incredibly tacky.

I also do not care for polka dots. They seem to be the cornerstone of a twee kind of vintage rockabilly aesthetic that has just never been my jam. See also: leopard print, creepers, pencil skirts, eyeliner, I could go on.

But part of the magic of sewing is that you can take these things that you thought you didn’t like & transform them into something you DO like. For instance, I am working on a very fitted, structured blazer right now. I never thought I liked blazers, but actually I just don’t like that RTW blazers that fit my shoulders are too small in the waist, & blazers that fit my waist are too big in the shoulders. Sewing means I can customize for my body, & a whole world of opportunity opens up!

Anyway! So I had red Duoplex on hand. & I had this very sheer, lightweight red polka dot netting with a scalloped, lacy edge. What to do with it? To just make a basic, by-the-books Shelley, I’d use the netting in the upper cup & make the rest from red Duoplex & end up with a ho hum red bra with polka dots. *yawn*

“What if…” I thought to myself, “I used the netting on the frame?” I had some scraps of ivory Duoplex left over from an ill-fitting bra I made last year. That would work as a base. But the netting was SO light that I really needed to layer it to make the color pop. I realize what I’m saying: I needed to layer the netting to make the RED, which I don’t like, pop. Trust me, without the layering, it was an even grosser murky dried blood color. Layering was truly an improvement.

But again, it was so sheer, the polka dots on the under layer were clearly visible through the top layer, & the whole thing was just a big awful mess of polka dots. The only way to avoid it was to carefully place one layer atop the other so each & every polka dot was perfectly aligned. This also gave me an opportunity to offset the lace scallops along the bottom edge & lengthen the frame into a bit of a longline silhouette.

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I cut out my layers very carefully & hand-basted them together.

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Now, what to do about the cup? I considered just plain red Duoplex, but…eh. Certainly swapping the lace from the upper cup to the frame created some extra interest, but I needed more. Then my eye fell upon the leftover scraps of Swiss dot still littering my cutting table from my Marigold dress. Beverly Johnson cautions against using wovens in bras because they fray & that makes the tiny 1/4″ seam allowances a challenge, but I got into sewing via quilting. I’m not afraid of a 1/4″ seam allowance. & I figured that I could finish the top edge & enclose the bottom edge by sewing the Swiss dot to sheer cup lining, right sides facing, & then flipping them out. The wire edge would be enclosed under the channeling & the other edge would be topstitched after being joined to the power bar. No reason it couldn’t work, right?

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Honestly, it’s a bit more hard-wearing than some laces I have in my stash. This bra has been in heavy rotation since I finished it about three weeks ago & it’s holding up beautifully so far.

I decided to make the rest of the cup from red Duoplex, but it still needed something…maybe some lace…? If only I had plain white, I lamented. But all I have is rigid white lace trim. …But I just wanted a bit for the top of the upper cup, just to soften up all the red a little bit. Why wouldn’t the trim work? I got spools & spools of it for a song at the antiques mall a year or two ago. It’s always nice to find a use for it.

I draped a bit of lace across the upper cup & I liked it. But something was still missing…Ribbon? Would ribbon fit through the little holes on the lace? I tried it with the narrowest ribbon I had on hand (3/8″) & it was okay, but narrower would be better.

I hit the Hancock liquidation sales the next day, really just hoping to stock up on needles at discount prices, but of course I bought a trillion yards of fabric & I also stumbled across some 1/8″ red ribbon with tiny white polka dots. Totally the kind of thing I would ordinarily ignore, as I do not like red & I do not like polka dots. But I instantly knew it would be PERFECT for this bra.

I took it home & wove it through the little holes in the lace & it was PERFECT. I held it taut & sewed it in place inside the seam line to ensure that it wouldn’t snag or twist with wear (& it hasn’t, for the record!).

All that was left was the decoration on the bridge. A little bridge bling isn’t really necessary with the Shelley because the channeling at center front is finished before it’s topstitched in place, so there is no bar tack to hide. But I have a fairly wide bridge, so it’s nice to put a little something there. I found some imitation pearl ball buttons in my stash (I think they were part of a birthday present from my friend Rebecca a few years ago). I stitched them in place & voila! I somehow magically took materials to make a tacky rockabilly bra & turned into a Victorian confection! I LOVE the way it came out! & not for nothing, it really give the ladies a boost.

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& there was never a question in my mind about the matching undies: of course they would have a ruffle bottom!

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SO cute!

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achievement unlocked: Swiss dot Marigold dress

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I had heard of Blank Slate Patterns & seen some of their designs on various sewing blogs I follow. The Marigold dress caught my attention a few months ago when Michelle from Happily Caffeinated started raving about it. But I already had several Big 4 shirtdresses in my pattern stash, so I forgot about it.

Then Blank Slate came out with their free Blanc tee. I’m always on the hunt for a new t-shirt pattern, & I was really impressed with the size range available for this tee, so I gave their website another look & was reminded of my attraction to the Marigold dress. I’ve McCall’s 6696 several times, & love it, but the Marigold had some built-in features I’d had to hack into the M6696. It’s a half-shirtdress (placket on the bodice only), with curved side-front pockets. The elastic waist & casual band collar made me think it would be an easy dress to wear on the hottest summer days, but it still has some classic shirtdress construction, with a separate button placket, two-piece collar, & a shoulder yoke. Shoulder gathers rather than darts create the bust fullness, which is a vintage-y detail I’d hacked into my trusty M6696 but not yet sewn in anything more than a muslin. I instantly thought of some yardage I’d stashed for another M6696, a Swiss dot knock-off of Liberty of London’s Carline print. I even had buttons on hand that perfectly matched the not-quite-red not-quite-pink of the roses on the fabric.

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I was disappointed that the Marigold dress has a narrower size range than the Blanc tee, but the size 18 was a near-perfect match for my measurements. Blank Slate claims to draft for a C/D cup, but this D cup says it’s closer to a C. I didn’t do an FBA on this dress, but I think I could have benefited from one in the long run. I do love that the Blank Slate size chart includes both high & full bust measurements. I have narrow-ish shoulders for my frame, & knowing the high bust measurement helped me pick the right size.

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I cut the version with the below-the-knee skirt length & sewed a deeper hem, because I prefer a deep hem but didn’t want the finished skirt to be too short. I’m 5’5” & the result is a skirt that is just about knee-length—perfect!

The only alteration I made for my muslin was to add a total of 2” (1” each both front & back) width to the waist. I just slashed & spread, easy peasy. I made a wearable muslin out of some metallic chambray I’d had in my stash for a couple of years. I’m glad I wound up wasting that fabric on a muslin, because it is insanely itchy. It’s technically wearable, but I had to make some fit adjustments, & the fabric is so uncomfortable against the skin that I don’t see myself reaching for it very often.

I wasn’t super-thrilled with the fit of my muslin (about which I will do a separate post eventually). The bodice was clearly too short & there was a bit of pulling across the front & there was some weird blousiness above the bust. For my real version, I added 1” to the bodice length, grading to 1/2” in the center back, I added another 1/2” of width across the front, & I pinched out 1/2” at the top of the shoulder.

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I didn’t really pay much attention to the directions. This wasn’t my first shirtdress, so I already knew how to construct it.

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The biggest change I made was to line the whole thing. The dress doesn’t call for a lining, but the Swiss dot I chose was a bit on the sheer side. I used white voile to make the white background in the Swiss dot pop a little more. I underlined the bodice & made a free hanging lining for the skirt. I didn’t want to include the gathers in the lining because I wanted to avoid unnecessary poofiness & volume in that area, so I converted the gathers to a dart. I subtracted the width of the back shoulder from the width of the front shoulder & divided that number in half. I marked the mid-point of the front shoulder & drew the points to start my dart legs on either side using that half-measurement. I marked a spot on the bodice about 1” above the bust apex & made a mark to indicate my dart point. Then I just connected the point to the leg markings I made. The result was a nice flat bodice lining that perfectly matched the contours of the gathered shoulder on the bodice, maintaining all the bust fullness.

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I also used French seams throughout to enclose all the raw edges. The construction of the shoulder yoke & collar means those seams are already enclosed, so why not just go all the way? French seams are my favorite way to sew sleeves. They just make the shoulder cap look so perfect & professional. I basted the skirt lining to the skirt so the smooth side of the lining would be against my skin, & the seams hidden between the layers.

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Scope that dart!

The result is a cool, comfortable dress that will see a lot of wear this summer. The fabric is easy to wear even in hot weather (& summer in Kansas is usually over 100 degrees, with bonkers humidity), the skirt has just enough volume to echo the gathers in the bodice but without risking wardrobe malfunctions in gusty weather, & pockets are a must in any dress I make.

& just a little PS—I did make the Blanc tee as well, & am obsessed with it. I’ll do a post on that soon too.

Sorry for the grumpy-looking photos. I live across the street from the police station, & this cop in an SUV was staring at me suspiciously while I was taking photos. It was making me pretty self-conscious.