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achievement unlocked: railroad denim Burnside Bibs

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Yes, I have already sewn another pair of these overalls, even though the pattern has only been out for like six weeks! & even though it is overalls, & the question exists: how many pairs of overalls does one 38-year-old woman really need? Apparently I will not rest until I have a pair of overalls for every possible occasion.

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This design gives me a real 1930s hobo vibe, so of course I had to sew a pair in classic railroad stripe denim (& damn, I’m glad I bought it when I did, because it’s out of stock now). Some years back, before Ramona was in the picture, Jared joined a hydrology research team for a summer. They did half their research in the Adirondacks & half in New York City. I spent the summer living in Philadelphia so it would be easy for us to visit each other. During one of my visits to New York City, we went to American Girl Place, because…why not? They had the most elaborate, museum-quality displays for each of their historical dolls, one of whom is Kit, a plucky aspiring journalist & baseball enthusiast growing up during the Great Depression. Her display included a huge TV that broadcast a loop of a young boy in tattered overalls held up with a rope approaching a house to ask for work. Jared & I found the juxtaposition of the real history of desperate, starving children (I have relatives who actually died of deprivation during the Great Depression) in this outrageously luxurious consumerist paradise absolutely hilarrible. So that is what was on my mind while I made these overalls.

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I made a few small changes to this pair, mostly to just tweak the fit a little. I added a 1/2″ of length to the bib & extended the front crotch curve 1/2″. I shortened the legs by 3 3/4″ (I’m 5’5″, & Sew House Seven drafts for a figure several inches taller than that). I raised the back pockets…um…a lot. Maybe too much? They’re right up by the belt loops now. I’d lower them a smidge if I make these again, but I do prefer them very high instead of halfway down my thigh. It makes me feel kind of glam, in a tacky “Three’s Company” sort of way. I think it works okay with the slim-fitting darted back waist. Depression-era hobo meets Studio 54? Have I just defined my personal style concept?

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I did press & topstitch the ties & straps this time. There was no way I was going to be able to pull tiny tubes of this heavyweight denim inside out. I even considered swapping the invisible zipper out for an exposed metal zipper because of the weight of the fabric. But I decided to try an invisible zip first, just to see how it went. Spoiler: it actually went surprisingly well! Hands down the best invisible zipper I have ever sewn, probably because I just kept ripping it out & doing it over until it was just right. I must have sewn it seven or eight times. Even with an invisible zipper foot, it was challenge to get right up under the coils through all the layers of denim. But it zips very smoothly, & the waist & hips are EXACTLY the right size for me, so the zip snugs things up without straining itself.

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This is also the most perfect facing I have ever sewn. I spent a few days just unzipping it & admiring it because I was so damn pleased with myself. I still have not achieved that elusive “perfect sew” (this one was a bit of wobbly stitching at the back waistband, though it’s camouflaged by the fabric), but this is as close as I have yet come. Which was a really nice change of pace, because the two garments I whipped up before these were just a hot fucking mess. Like, they’re wearable, but I know I can do a LOT better.

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It’s been unseasonably cool in Kansas this month, so I’ve actually gotten to wear these sooner than I expected. I wore them over the weekend to go see a friend who just had a new baby. She found out she was pregnant on the same day that I had my first cancer surgery–she actually picked me up from the hospital just a few hours after finding out, & kept it to herself so as to not further traumatize me while I was on my journey to uterus-lessness. But she’s really the only pregnant person I have not been wildly resentful of in the last year, & it was a real joy to meet her new baby. & because she is a good friend, she even took the time to compliment my overalls, even though she had literally just had a baby like 45 minutes earlier. I don’t think I even had it together enough to know my own name 45 minutes after I had Ramona.

In other news, the sewing room is coming together. I was just up there doing a bit of drafting. I treated myself to the high summer 2017 issue of the Japanese pattern magazine “Mrs. Stylebook” (I am obsessed with that title) & instantly fell in love with one of the skirt designs. Some of the looks in “Mrs. Stylebook” are featured as paper patterns, but the majority are drafted from scratch or from bunka slopers. On the one hand, I love this concept because it means that the size range doesn’t matter. You’re drafting from measurements, so it’s going to be a custom fit every time. On the other hand, the entire magazine is in Japanese. I know absolutely zero Japanese. Luckily there are some websites that include Japanese sewing glossaries, but it’s seriously a matter of being like, “Okay, that character kind of looks like a ladder with a roof over it…” & then poring over the glossary until I find a match. There’s barely even any context to help a non-Japanese speaker figure out if they are looking at sewing instructions or fabric types or what. You really need to have a solid technical knowledge of sewing patterns to puzzle it out. It’s fun, but also kind of exhausting. After spending a solid three hours yesterday translating Japanese terms & converting measurements, my brain just switched itself off & I spent the rest of the evening laying on the couch watching “The Octonauts” with Ramona. Maybe I should sign up for Duolingo?

& of course, I had to choose a somewhat complex skirt. It’s asymmetrical & has pleats & it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out exactly what edges are supposed to be sewn together. But as with all things sewing: you won’t learn if you don’t try!

pattern: Burnside Bibs from Sew House Seven
size: 18
fabric: 3.5 yards of fairly heavy Kaufman railroad stripe denim
notions: denim needle, navy thread, invisible zip foot, navy invisible zip, a bit of lightweight interfacing for the waist facing
total cost of all supplies: around $35
alterations: lengthened bib 1/2″, lengthened from crotch curve 1/2″, shortened legs 3 3/4″, & raised back pockets maybe 2″?
next time: lower back pockets maybe 3/8″?
remarks from the public: “What zipper? ;)” — Instagram comment in response to me bragging about my invisible zipper
photos: Ramona took the photos of me, I took the rest, as always

I have a new sewing space!

Things have been a bit quiet here because we moved house at the beginning of the week. We only moved a few blocks, but it was still an enormous production. There was a miscommunication with the former tenant, so we wound up having to move our stuff in two trips, which meant we did not have movers for as much of the process as I’d hoped, & we had to spend one extra night in the old house. We are still slowly unpacking & trying to keep our heads above the water of chaos a 4-year-old can sow (mixed metaphor alert?) when half her toys are in boxes & her parents are exhausted.

But mostly I am THRILLED with the new house! It’s definitely the biggest house I’ve ever lived in with so few people. Like, I lived in punk houses that were as big or bigger, but I had four or five roommates. Here, it’s just me, Jared & Ramona (& Biscuit, who went on an initial territory-claiming sojourn the other day & didn’t come back for almost 48 hours), & we have SO MUCH SPACE. We have room for all of our books & bookcases, real storage for things like extra quilts & Christmas decorations, all of Ramona’s toys (even the big ones, like her play castle)…& best of all, to me, I have my very own SEWING SPACE.

It’s upstairs, which is an open attic area. There’s a little room with sloped ceilings at one end, which Ramona has claimed as a playroom. & there’s an inset room with a wall of windows in the middle, & that is where I’ve set up my sewing stuff. I have SO MUCH ROOM! There’s space for my pressing station, my cutting table, my entire fabric stash, my sewing table, my dress form, my cabinet of lingerie supplies, all of my sewing books, my serger & spare sewing machine…& all of it is in the same space, which is going to make my sewing so much relaxing & efficient. There really wasn’t room for my sewing stuff at our old house. My pressing table was on the opposite side of the house from my machine, so I had to walk all the way across the house & back to press every individual seam. Half of my notions were basically in storage because I didn’t have room for them. Using the serger was this big production & pulling it out of storage, clearing everyone out of the kitchen (the only space big enough for me to use it), setting it up, & racing to get my serging done before everyone got annoyed with the noise & the space I was eating up.

The big windows mean I have lots of natural light, which is really crucial to my sewing success. My sewing machine was against a solid wall at the old place & it often made me feel anxious & sad to be sewing there. I had to have all kinds of lamps on, even in the middle of the day, to see what I was doing.

So yeah, I am THRILLED. I even re-organized things so that all my quilting fabrics are stashed & I’m using the storage piece I originally bought for them to store WIPs. Each project has its own individual bin, with fabric, notions, pattern, everything I need, right there next to the machine.

& best of all, there’s plenty of room to expand, if need be. I joked to Jared that I could start hosting sewing retreats. There’s plenty of room up there for another person to set up a sewing space & a bed, & they’d even have their own half-bathroom. I did a writing residency ten years ago at a space called the Anchor Archive, in Halifax. I slept in a little cabin & I had to staff the zine library for a few hours a week to earn my keep, but otherwise, it was just a workspace for me to write. I wound up writing twenty logic puzzles from scratch & releasing them as a zine at the end of two weeks. It was really fun, & now that I sew, I think it would be so much fun to do something similar with sewing. But this is only the most nascent of ideas. Feedback welcome!

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me on the front porch of the Anchor Archive in June 2007

I still have some more work to do up there to get everything set up. I have some lights to install & a few things to hang, & I need to sort out how everything is going to be plugged in. But I will definitely post photos when it’s finished. I really cannot WAIT to start sewing up there! Ramona convinced me to buy some vegetable print fabric at Ikea yesterday, & I’m planning to make her a pair of pants, & I got some striped fabric to make myself an experimental, structured dress situation. Plus all my WIPS, & a bag to replace my Noodlehead Supertote (which is starting to look pretty shabby after two years of daily use), & curtains for the new house, & something from the Fabric Hamper I won from Minerva Crafts for my Shenai dress…I have a lot of ideas. I just need preschool to start back up so I have the time to execute them!

Incidentally, I have three yet-to-blogged garments that I entered into the Indie Royalty competition over at the Monthly Stitch. I made a striped waffle weave henley shirt, I hacked the Paprika Patterns Jasper sweater into a really cute hoodie, & I made another pair of Sew House Seven’s Burnside Bibs, from heavy railroad striped denim. The editors decided to make all the entrants finalists, so maybe go check it out & kick me a vote? I’ll try to post about the garments in more depth here soon.

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