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.

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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.

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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.

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Black on black

13 Jan

I’m working on a little black dress. You might remember from last year that this is where my “make all the things” intention ran into its kryptonite: I just could not get inspired to sew a solid black dress, and so I bought one instead.

I thought I could remedy that rather simply. I thought I could just take one of my tried and true patterns, one from this sewing challenge that resulted in one of my most oft-worn garments, and whip it up into a simple black dress. Then, I would photograph it, and post it for my readers: “ah-ha! My sewing challenge has been conquered!” I would say. “What I made a mess of in 2012, I will right in the New Year.”

Alas, here I am, a couple of weeks (and three sewing days) into the new year, with no black dress to show for it. The trouble has been a variety of things: at first, I intended to make it with French seams, so I laid all the foundation seams “wrong sides together” before realizing my chosen fabric was too thick for that. So then I ripped all the seams. Black stitches hiding tight in black fabric, inch by dark inch.

Next, I turned the (rather square-shaped) sleeve pieces the wrong way, not noticing how the dark fabric also hides the grainline, if the seamstress is not paying very close attention. Out came the seam ripper once again.

Now, I have attempted to understitch a black lining beneath a black fabric, and something is just “off”. My seam ripper is brought into service one more time, to remedy this difficulty.

So in summary: it’s not just an aesthetic difficulty, getting inspired to undertake a black sewing project. I believe it is objectively more difficult to sew, as black fabric presents inherent challenges to the process.

One day, I will post “ah-ha!” pictures. Until then, all I have to offer is my trusty seam ripper, picking out stitch by stitch.

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Knitting nemesis

7 Jan

Look at them, all lined up so cutely, so temptingly, in my local yarn shop yesterday: skeins of Kidsilk Haze. The most yummy balls of yarn, all soft and squishable like baby kittens, in glorious colors. (I’m particularly taken with the orange and blue nestled together so nicely on the top row).

But this is how they get me, every time. They look sooo sweet, and I think “surely, I can have just one!” So over the years I have purchased…let me think–I’m going to be totally honest with you, here: I have purchased at leastseven skeins of this stuff.

Guess how many projects I have finished from this yarn? Not one, ever. I have made one cuff from a set of two, one half of a scarf, and one third of another scarf. Not once have I been able to reach completion with what I envision, while standing here being tempted by this particular rack of frothy fiber. It’s just too cobwebby to work with, too fragile and temperamental…or else it’s just too far a division between fantasy and reality: what I see in mind’s eye contemplating the spun wool, versus what comes off my needles once I’ve had my way with it.

Sigh. It is not to be, my lovely little skeins of fuzz. No more with you. I will go home and squeeze one of the seven colors to which I have already fallen prey.

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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.

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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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Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing

25 Aug

Hello, sewing and fashion friends.  I took a little time off–off from sewing, and off from blogging, off from reading blogs about sewing (or anything, really).  I look  forward to catching up, and to giving my sewing room the  cleaning-out it needs so I can get started again.

In  the meantime, I received the most wonderful shipment in the mail: my copy of the long-ago  pre-ordered book,  Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing It’s a delightful, beautiful book.


I particularly love these illustrations, done by Sun Young Park. They’re part vintage pattern cover art, and part modern fashion illustration, and wholly contemporary and perfect for the subject of the book.

I’m going to assume you know about Gertie’s blog, and all the background, and that her book is about using couture techniques from vintage sewing in modern versions of retro styled pieces, and just  tell you instead why I, personally like this book.

First, though, I should confess that I have no patience for vintage couture sewing techniques. As you’ve seen, I am an “instant gratification” type of seamstress all the way. I have a short attention span, flit from project to project, and am the target market for all the “two hours or less” projects and patterns ever published.  I once signed up for an online sewing class on improving techniques through  learning couture methods (yes, that one) and I watch all of half of one lesson. Half.  Once I saw the recommendation for hand-stitching the muslin, I was out. I love my sewing machine, it makes things go fast. Hand-picked zippers? I have no interest. I get bored with a project far too often just between muslin and fashion fabric…if, in fact, I bother with a muslin at all. Patience, it is not my forte. When I see someone hand-stitching their seam-finishing, I want to scream “That’s  on the INSIDE! No-one will ever SEE it! It’s not holding anything together!” I have never, and might not ever join one of the millions of online conversations about the beauty of a well-finished buttonhole. The magic of sewing, for me, lies elsewhere.

Which means, in short, that I might not even have the patience to read all the chapters of this book, let alone try one of the projects. (Patterns are included with  this book, in sizes from 32″ to 46″ bust.)  For me, this a sewing cookbook. I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and I generally use no more than three of them for actual propping up in the kitchen and following along to make a meal–the three where all the recipes have ten ingredients or less, and whose meals are based around ingredients which I already stock in my kitchen.  If I have to go to a specialty market and ask for food items I can’t pronounce, it’s unlikely that I will ever accomplish any of those  recipes in my own home, unattended.

Sewing is the  same way, although I do like to try new techniques (one by one) and experiment with new gadgets (like my recent excursion in home-made bias tape). But  I also like to peer into how other people do things, in both their kitchens and their sewing rooms.  Gertie has given, in this book, as she does in her blog, a really good window for how-to voyeurs like me.  She gives good, clear pictures and simple illustrations so that if one day I really do want to do a faced horsehair hem, or bound buttonholes, I will have them in one place, on my bookshelf.

The very best part of this book, for me (beyond the beautiful projects and the retro styles, which  of course I love) is that she displays her projects inside-out. “Here, come look at what I’ve done,” this says. If I never use a Hong Kong seam, at least I have a reference on hand for what it might look like, if  I did. And seeing a horsehair braid used as a stabilizer in a skirt waist, from the inside, I  can understand why that might  be a useful step, and maybe one day might be tempted to try that one, myself.  So there’s a strong bit of fantasy to it, as with my gourmet  cookbooks: some day, I might  be the kind of seamstress who stabilizes waists with horsehair braid, or the kind of chef who has time for dumplings. But my turning everything inside-out, Gertie makes it seem not so difficult, after all, and maybe worth trying, one step at a time.

But until then, I will enjoy the lovely photos of multiple variations on each pattern provided, the encyclopedic illustrations of techniques  I might have elsewhere in my sewing library (like the old swayback  adjustment) but still appreciate seeing again.

In my fantasy future where I don’t get so impatient with things, I would make both the Wiggle dress and the Coat Dress. Yes, part of my problem is that it’s the more intricate designs that call to me…I should probably start with something simple, like one of the blouses, and go from there. But alas, it’s the more advanced ones that I favor! So I will trot off to my quick and easy projects, with visions of pad stitching dancing in my head…

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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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(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.