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The Little Black Mess

15 Jan

I did it: I finished a little black dress. Whoo-hoo, cheering, applause, etc.

Except that…well. I’m pretty much not happy with the results at all.  As a finished garment, it is in no way competitive with anything I would buy off the rack as a “little black dress”.  It looks, instead, rather like a high school home economics project.


It turns out that while during the process of sewing, the black fabric hides every single stitch and issue, making it difficult for me to see what I’m working on, the inverse of that is true with the finished garment:  in black, every single stitching/fit problem is highlighted and visible for all to see. See that slight puckering at the center of the neckline? That’s from an imperfect join of lining to dress fabric, where even tightly clipped, I couldn’t get the lining to lay right and had to hand-tack it in place with a few stitches.   Front and center, clearly visible to the eye. Then there’s the drag lines on all the seams, and on the darts. Drag lines on darts? I have no idea what is going on, there. The seams sag, the fabric pooches under my belly when I lean forward, the whole thing twists and bunches and hangs weirdly.


It’s crazy, because the other dress I’ve made with this same pattern is one of my favorites to wear, but  this one doesn’t work, at all. So you win some and you lose some–this one is getting hacked to pieces, quickly. I don’t want to even look at it, but I might chop it off and add a wide elastic waist and convert it to a quick pencil skirt.

In the meantime, I also, disappointingly, put holes into the fabulous textured tights I was wearing with it. Goodbye, lovely tights–you were fun while you lasted.


Still sewing after all this time

6 Jan

…and knitting, and crocheting. It’s merely the “taking photos and blogging about it” part that’s fallen by the wayside. Turns out that’s a hobby and an interest all its own.

So: no grand declarations, no promises, just start one tiny step at a time. I’m still making and wearing handmade, still buried neck-deep in unfinished projects.


This is a cardigan I’ve been plodding through–frogged it halfway to fix some fit issues. I’m pretty happy to be at the “choosing buttons” stage, because that means I’m back on track. And oh yes: I chose the red.

Crafting with kids

27 Aug

Even vacations are not entirely craft-free.  One of the projects I did this summer was a fun fashion design project with a young friend. It’s fun to see the “do it yourself” bug catch early, and creativity naturally expressed.
My crafty friend had cut off a pair of jeans into shorts, but the removed pant legs had embroidered gold stars, which she felt (and I agreed) were too fun to simply throw away. Her quest: to make a handbag or tote bag, out of the leftovers from her previous project.

The fabric, typical of re-purposed scraps, showed some wear, and required us to design around the frayed cuffs. So I trimmed off the most  worn pieces to see what size and shape this bag might want to be.  The following photo shows the embroidered star detail  that my young fashion designer friend wanted to preserve, in her design:

Then, we set about making all the choices inherent in up-cycled sewing designs: what  shape should the bag be? What kind of strap should it have? One strap or two? How long should it be, where do you want the bag to hang, on your body, as you carry it? What kind of closure: velcro, snap, or zipper? What fabric to use for the lining?

Of course, as with most projects, we were limited in the amount and styles of supplies we had on hand. But we went through the process step by step, and ended up with a bag.

Click to see how it turned out!

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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.

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.

Rising to the Challenge of the Little Black Dress

30 Jun

I’ve been thinking, since my retail exception for the black dresses, of what it might take, in a sewing project, to make it appealing to undertake a black dress project. Would it be fabric–something with drape, or an appealing texture? A particularly unique design? Some fun technique that I wanted to try so much, it wouldn’t even matter if the fabric was black?

I couldn’t come up with an answer to that question…until a couple of nights ago, out for cocktails, a woman at the venue wore a dress I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. Hers was green, but it had a decorative detail that was so fun and simple and intriguing to me, I thought “I’d like to try to make that, myself…and that’s a dress that I could even make, in black.”

What’s more, the dress requires a knit, with a bit of stretch, and I happen to have a bolt of a smooth black knit in my stash that I think I could use just for this purpose. I’m going to try it: without buying any new fabrics or patterns, I’d like to imitate the effect of the woman’s green dress, for myself: in black.

(Not even close to the black dress I’m attempting…but a pretty neat one just the same. Those women on the far right, they wish they had a black dress!)