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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!)

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Personal fashion from other people’s fabric

26 Jun

I got another really cool gift of fabric. This was actually a while ago, and although I quickly knew what I wanted to do with it, it’s taken me some time.

It was this great length of an African printed textile:


I was describing this fabric to someone, saying “It’s a wide stripe, with another pattern layered over that, and then gold peacock feathers printed over that…” and the other person went “Whoah….that sounds like some fabric!” and I realized that what I was describing sounded really horrible, actually.

But there it is: you can see it for yourself. It’s got wide stripes, and a pattern of lines intersecting that, and then gold peacock feathers scattered over that.

At any rate, it was originally an sarong-style wrap skirt. It was hemmed on the edges, including a kind of wide, stiff hem along one side. I almost suspect the friend who offered it to me meant it to be used as a tablecloth, or in some other home decor application, but I wanted to see it as a more shaped, fitted garment. I was limited by the yardage, though: there simply wasn’t much there, and I was going to have to (gasp!) match stripes.

I used “See and Sew” pattern B5664, which is supposed to be really easy. (It says so right on the package: “YES! It’s easy!”) but it took me a while. I averaged a single step every few days…and it’s fully lined, so once you finish one thing, you get to do it all over again.

I’m quite happy with the way it came out, I have to say. I made one alteration: the neck was too low and the neckline gapped in the back, so I took a full 1″ out of the top seam, along the top of the shoulders, lifting the whole bodice up to fit closer.

What I like best about it is that it has center seams, both front and back. I think this gives it extra curvature–instead of a straight grainline like most dresses cut symmetrically on the fold, this one has a slightly shaped center seam, in addition to the side darts. And with the 1″ lift, the waistline hits me right at the natural waist, so I think, for me, this is a pattern I can/will use again.

When I make this pattern the next time, I’m going to add a kick-pleat in the center back, to give a little extra space for climbing steeps steps, like on public transportation. But I’m keeping the rest the same.

Shift-ing into Summer

9 Jun

Turning my back on black, it’s time to bring out the color. I went back to the embroidered Indian fabric I originally bought for a skirt, in March, when the weather was still cold. I wanted more than a skirt. Plus, I haven’t been sewing in a few weeks (other projects took over my attention) so I needed something light and easy to get back into it.

I chose what is becoming my standby, my “Wear the Shift” pattern:

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I laid the pattern out right along the lace edging of the fabric, to use the fabric’s border as a hem. And since it was scalloped on both sides, I cut the strip of scallops off the opposite side to use that, as well, as a double-layered scallop. Since the lace needed to be fully lined, anyway, I attached the second strip of lace to the hem of the lining underneath.

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It’s bright, it’s summery, it’s decidedly not black, and all of that is good. However, reading sewing blogs has made me paranoid about wrinkles, and this dress definitely wrinkles. If wrinkles point out areas of poor fit, then something is surely off, here, which is troubling, because this is my custom built-for-me dress pattern that I’ve made a half dozen times. It could be the way the lace lays over the lining, or it could be the way the grain shifted slightly as I lined the pattern up by the hem rather than the true grainline…or it could be a few added pounds. It’s difficult to say for sure, except the one sure thing I am learning in this project is that “fit is hard”.

And even the old “tried and true” can throw you for a loop, when you’re getting all creative with it.

Don’t you step on my blue suede…

16 May

…skirt!

That’s what I made out of that length of ultrasuede fabric I was given.

I went over a number of different ideas for it, but in the end thought I’d get the most wear out of a skirt, and I wanted to keep the shape simple to let the color be the focus. (I even, get this, made a practice version first…but don’t worry, I won’t get in that habit.) 🙂

The pattern is Simplicity2152, and I originally made the version with the welts, but decided I liked unadorned, straight seams better.

 

 

I’m still toying with the idea of adding some additional embellishment, but I thought I’d wear it out and about, first, to test it, and enjoy it at least once this way before I take it any further. I left the hem raw, just because with ultrasuede, you can, like all the 1970’s Halston dresses left with cuffs unhemmed.

Handbag Mess

29 Apr

After a week of carrying about my handmade handbag, I need to make another one. That’s the problem with the whole “design your own” deal: you really do have to do the project a bunch of times, to make it work out right.

Problems that I will resolve in the next bag:

-the body fabric is too lightweight. If I use linen or dressmaking fabric, I need not only to line the bag, but also layer the top fabric over a stronger fabric. It’s too floppy, and the vinyl pulls down heavily on the soft and flexible linen. Even interfacing isn’t durable enough for daily purse wear.

-the snaps keep coming off. Snaps are not an appropriate way to close the top of a handbag, where one must open and close it dozens of times a day, reaching in repeatedly for keys, subway card, phone, change, etc. For the revision, I’ll use magnets, and set them right into the plastic canvas that gives structure to the top flap.

-the top flaps also have too much flop and wobble, especially when I carry the bag in the “tote” manner where the straps pulls each side at a slight angle. Particularly when the snaps aren’t holding tightly (which is always), the whole bag skews slightly from the weight pulling unevenly from the straps.

Back to the drawing board!

I made another handbag.

25 Apr

This time, I made up the pattern myself.

I wanted to try something with a little more structure than the typical (and my last) floppy fabric bag.

I’ll tell you, though, this “designing” racket is nuts. I mean, if I say “It’s my own design”, what I really mean is “I sewed one part, and then I ripped it out, and then I resewed it, and then I changed my whole mind, cut it out all over again and differently, and then sewed it one more time just for good measure. And then STILL when I got to a step later on down the line, I had to undo part of what I did, and jerry-rig it some other way just to make it work.”

So my idea was that it can be carried on a long strap, folded over, like this, OR, if I have extra things to port about, I can clip the strap to the top, and carry it like more of a tote bag:

…and either way, I can remove the strap, and carry it as a clutch (folded over) or else by the handle. It’s versatile.

It was also kind of a nightmare to make, because it was my first time sewing with vinyl, my first time trying to make a fabric bag have stiffness and structure to it, and my first time working with real hardware.


But I think the black makes it nice and subtle, and the linen panels lighten it up (more than my corduroy bag that I made in winter), and the houndstooth…well, I just really like houndstooth check. (And yes, you may recognize that exact fabric from a shift dress. It’ll be fun, to wear the two items together, one day.)

And look! It has feet!

Right back where I started.

8 Apr

I need a new handbag.

The weather is warm, and the corduroy one I sewed at the beginning of this project now feels too wintery, like a thick sweater on a sunny spring day.

So I’m working out ideas. I’m thinking of a kind of fold-over bag that can convert from handbag to tote bag–and in my imagination, it is complete with matching hardware, including those little purse feet.


So I did some supply shopping, and sketched out various details, and I’ll see where I go from here. It’s funny, though, how of all the things I make, I never really need any of them. But a bag in which to carry my wallet, phone, keys, and subway card, that’s an ongoing requirement, no matter what else I’m wearing.