Archive | July, 2012

Making a Mess…

23 Jul

…out of matching stripes.

It’s my orange seersucker fabric, again. I only had a smallish piece, so I decided to make a top. But it’s stripes, so I wanted it to be interesting, which means bias, of course. Which is how I worked myself into a situation of squeezing a whole blouse worth of pattern onto less than a yard of fabric at angles positioned just right to match up all the stripes.

You can tell it doesn’t end well, already, right?  Oh, if only I could read my own ambitions as clearly, when starting projects, as I do when typing them up, afterwards!

I mean, it’s definitely okay: I did wear it out of the house.


I chose the same “See and Sew” dress pattern I’d sewn up just recently, only cutting it off at the hip to make a top. (I find I don’t buy a lot of pattern tops…I quite often simply chop a dress pattern off and use the top, rather than find a whole other pattern for just a shirt.)

I wanted to use the pattern (and the center line seam) to make my stripes chevron around my body, making a “V” at both front and back. I was very careful: I even traced my fabric stripes onto the tissue paper, so that each time I turned the tissue to cut a second piece, I could match up my drawn lines to keep the stripes oriented just right.I was extra careful at the sleeves, remembering that the first time following that pattern, the pattern pieces run at an angled orientation that was contrary to what I thought, looking at the shape of the pieces. I had to pay special attention to the notches and markings to be clear where things were to go.

Which is where, in the sewing process, I had my first tip-off that things were not as planned: the stripes on the front shoulders lined up not parallel to those on the body, but perpendicular!  How did this happen?


It turns out, the pieces cut “wrong” are the two back pieces: the largest ones of all! Where, in the front, the stripes make a “V”, I have that shape inverted, on the back side–and the side seams simply continue as matched diagonal stripes, instead of additional chevrons. And the backs are the biggest pieces, so although I had saved enough fabric to cut the sleeves again, if needed, it certainly wasn’t enough to start over again, with the backs!


So I soldiered on, and worked with what I had, and used my messed-up-unpressed-bias tape from the other day to finish the edges (instead of lining it, as the dress pattern indicates.)  That part worked out well enough, I just pinned it fiercely.  And, as with the dress version, I removed 1″ from the top shoulder seams to lift the whole thing and make it hang better. And I omitted the vertical darts, thinking that for a top, a little more loose flow would be better than the more fitted shape of a dress.

Nonetheless, the fatal flaw of this top is not the failure to chevron: it’s the fit. 1″ removed from the top shoulder seam was not sufficient–I also took out another inch (retrofitting, picking off the bias tape and then painstakingly sewing it back on again) in the center back seam, when I discovered how it gaped, there. But even with all these inches here and there, the neckline is much too wide, and probably low, and just…baggy and wrong, all the way around.


(I complain so much about the fit of off-the-rack clothing, and then look what I make, for myself! It’s like a hospital smock in orange plaid!)

It makes me think that this might be a problem with pattern and fit–I often size dress patterns by my bust and hip measurements, so this top is cut from the same size as my dress. But since I’m pear shaped* perhaps I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I should be selecting my pattern sizes for the fit through the shoulders, and then grading them out to another size to fit my waist and hips. Perhaps that would solve the “mess” of the overly blousey blouse.

At any rate, it was a perfect mess, to wear. I could pull it into place long enough to take a photo, but in the full motion of everyday life, I had shoulders falling off, bra straps exposed, parts riding up, other parts sagging this way and that. Unfortunately, this one’s going back on my pile of projects which still need some significant work, to make wearable.

* I know some people object to comparing people to fruit, but I personally think pears are pretty, and that it’s a fine descriptor of a phenomenon which requires no small attention, when dressmaking.

Printed fabric

21 Jul

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of Spoonflower.  I really want to make some fabric of my own, but it’s a bit of a conundrum:

If I’m to make my own fabric, it should be some design that isn’t available in some other form, already (i.e. houndstooth)  -> which means it’s really got to be some obnoxious print -> but when I sew things out of an obnoxious print, I am much less likely to wear them -> yet if I design my own fabric, I really want to make it into something to wear, a lot, with pride.
And around again I go. So I’ve been thinking about the question of “distinctive prints” on fabric, I was walking down the street mulling this over in my mind, in fact, when I passed the University of the Arts, with this display in the window:

It’s a “Banner” fashion assignment, where the students made clothing out of cloth repurposed from advertising banners. If that’s not a question of “distinctive prints”, I’m not sure what is.

What I think the universe is suggesting is “be bold”… I’m not sure I’m ready to sport entire faces on my chest, but I appreciate the students of UArts for suggesting the way.

I’m so crafty…

16 Jul

…even my digital devices are hand-stitched.

So, okay, I haven’t cross-stitched since I was probably…twelve years old. Maybe thirteen. But this was still a totally fun little project.


1 plastic cross-stitch iPhone cover (I got mine from “Connect Design”, here.)

1 free download cross-stitch pattern (this one is from here).**

1 small assortment DMC embroidery flosses (mine from the delightful Rittenhouse Needlepoint).

1 needle (included with plastic iPhone cover, above)

1 scissors

Time required: several nice long episodes of some television series of your choice. (I watched The Grand because I’m a big sucker for British period dramas.)

If you weren’t the kind of nerdy kid who did cross-stitch for fun, you can find a good intro tutorial online right here at the Purl Soho blog, who is the original poster of cross-stitch phone covers.

**some other really cool free cross stitch patterns that are both vintage and awesome can be found on the University of Arizona’s “digital archive of documents related to cross stitch“–god, how I love the internet!

Bloomsbury Inspiration

16 Jul

One of my longtime favorite art/home deco inspiration sources has been the art and craft of the Bloomsbury group, Charleston Farmhouse, and the Omega Workshops.

I love the aesthetic–the rich yet muted palette of colors–and also the idea of living surrounded by art on all sides, where each component of one’s familiar space is also a work of art. It’s something I’ve long aspired to in my own home (handmade pottery, painted surfaces, etc.) and now, clearly, touching my wardrobe as well.

(fabric by the Omega Workshops, source:

Lately I’ve been returning to this inspiration again, thinking of fabric design. The Omega workshops translated many of their paintings into textiles for both home use and fashion, many of the participants wore clothing of their own design, with their own fabric patterns as well.

Various companies have done contemporary interpretations of old Omega/Bloomsbury designs, including my favorite fashion retailer Anthropologie:

I recognize this print from my own library as a very close copy of one designed by Vanessa Bell–and they’ve paired it, so cleverly, with Nina Hamnett plaid stockings.

Here’s Nina, in her own Omega-fabric dress, painted by Roger Fry in 1918:


“I had a wonderful collection of stockings at that time and wore flat-heeled shoes with straps on them like children do. They made my feet look very large. They cost five francs and were worn by concierges. I had red stockings and yellow stockings and some that looked like a chess board. Modigliani would run after me up the Boulevard Raspail after the Rotonde had closed. He could always see me because of my loud stockings.

-Nina in her delightful kiss-and-tell autobiography, Laughing Torso.


At any rate, I’m brewing Bloomsbury-style fashion inspirations. Whether these will be ideas that come to fruition in some future project, or whether they stay in the brew pot of unreachable crafting aspirations, only time will tell.

Make your own biased mess

15 Jul

I got a gadget: the Clover bias maker. It’s nifty. The whole internet offers handy tutorials on the wonder of this gadget, and how it can simplify my sewing by allowing me to easily make my own bias tape at home using the same fashion fabric as the rest of my project.

I’ve had it a while, but it wasn’t until last night that I felt I had the right project for custom, fabric-matched bias tape. So I cut up my strips, stitched them end to end, and started pressing and pulling…and whee! wasn’t it fun!

All that neat, crisply pressed bias tape just spooling out of my gadget, and under the welcoming steam of my hot iron (at right).

But, you say, what’s that on the left? That, my friends, is the same freshly handmade bias tape, on one end of the strip, and how it has uncurled there by the time my Clover magic-maker and iron combination have reached the other end of my strip.

In fact, let me show you my whole piece of so-called “bias binding” so that you can get the whole effect:



Yes, there’s a reason I chose to call my sewing blog “Handmade Mess” and I’m afraid, today, that I have run into that reason once again.

It’s okay, I will persevere, as I generally do, and I think it will be perfectly useable for the project at hand. I’m just putting this up there so that you can witness: sometimes the bias maker turns out smooth, crisp lines of tape, and sometimes, with some fabrics (maybe it’s the nature of seersucker to shake out a pressed fold) or in the hands of certain inept seamstresses, it’s not as pretty a process as one might like it to be.

Cherry blossoms

5 Jul

I swore to quickly finish the unresolved details in that last dress. lest it become one more item on the huge mound of “Things I would wear, if only I had taken the time to fix those last unresolved details” pile of sewing. So I sat down with my seam ripper, carefully dissected the pockets, removing them from the side seams, and straightened any strips that seemed to swerve.

The dress looks exactly the same to anyone else, but to me, it is now unquestionably finished, and it avoided that Pile of Doom, which is an accomplishment in my book.

Then, as a treat, to reward myself for persevering through those sloggy details, I made a quick-and-easy skirt project out of fun fabric.

It’s basically a modification of the Easiest Skirt in the World, only I sectioned it in six tapered panels for a little more flare, and I added side seam pockets. (Pockets! If I remove them from one garment, I will insert them back into another.) And since my fabric was a relatively small piece of a very large pattern, I used tracing paper pattern pieces to lay out the shapes on the fabric, in order to get cherry branches that sort of related to one another across the various skirt panels. It’s not really “pattern matching” but just…pattern distribution.

It worked out pretty well, and I had only a scrap about 8″ square left over, but the branches “branch” pretty well, for  a skirt in six panels, on such a large print.


The dress that would not be kept black!

2 Jul

It started as Butterick 4386, a versatile sheath dress.

Actually, it remains very much a B4386, as the only alterations I did were to shorten it and add pockets. Well, yeah, that and texturize the heck out of it with long strips of fabric. But that’s it.

I basically just copied a dress I saw a woman wearing in a restaurant. Hers had the sleeves stripped, as well, which I had a whole idea for doing in a way that would make the fronts wrap around the shoulder and match up with the back. But once I got the sleeves set in, I liked the way they looked, solid–like that finished detail emphasized the texture of the body, even farther.

I like this dress. There’s one strip on the front that I can see, from the photos, curves out of line (how does that happen?! And in such a visible place!) that I have to go back and fix. I added side seam pockets because hey–who can’t use pockets? But they do add bulk to the hips that shows in almost all the photos, and they gap open a lot, in spite of a fair bit of understitching, so I believe I’ll just be picking those out, now. Pockets, schmockets…that’s what handbags were invented for!

I think it would also be just fine in black…if ever I have enough black fabric, and am inspired to do it all over again.

Failing the challenge of the little black dress

2 Jul

My “little black dress” project is coming along quite nicely, apart from one detail.
The thing is, it’s…

*ahem*…er, well, it turns out it’s brown.

Yes, brown.  You see, a while ago I bought some fabric on the internet–the first and last time I ever did so. I was looking for some “ponte knit” and it turns out that one can’t readily tell, from pictures and descriptions, what one is going to get. I mean, it was probably a pretty risky thing to start with, a poly double knit, after all! But when the fabric arrived, it was pretty uninspiring, to say the least–but it had been cheap, and I thought I could use it to practice with, for “wearable muslins” of the stretch fabric variety.
And it’s served me well–I used the blue piece to make my “Marginal Folded Skirt“. (Oh, yes: I forgot to mention I got the fabric in four colors. Four.)

One length was black, and one was a deep chocolate brown.

So I saw this dress the other day, and it was in a stretch fabric (heavier than jersey) and used strips of the fabric, raw-edged, as an all-over striping. Not hemmed, not ruffled, just stripes sewn on, with just a bit of soft irregularity…a look that could be easily duplicated, by cutting long strips of fabric by hand. And it looked really, really good. Textured, but simple. Deconstructed, but not sloppily so.

I wanted to make it, and I figured I could use the length of black double-knit to do so. When I got the fabric out, however, I discovered that I had much more of the brown than of the black. And with the stripes all over, the dress calls for essentially double the amount of fabric than is in the dress itself. I simply wasn’t going to have enough of the black, to make the dress.  But I wanted to try, anyway, so I switched to brown, instead, and here I go, sewing seam after seam of flat, ruffle-less “ruffles” on each pattern piece, in preparation for dress construction:


So, ah, yes: my dress, it is coming along great, except for the fact that it’s veered sharply off course from where I started, and become something else altogether, in the process.