My First Appleton Dress

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The Appleton Dress before hemming

I was in college when Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress found its way into almost every woman’s closet, but when I tried it on the store I didn’t think it was for me. So, when Jenny Rushmore introduced her line of sewing patterns for curvy women, Cashmerette Patterns, with a curvy-friendly version of the wrap dress called Appleton, I bought a copy of the pattern but wasn’t sure I’d ever make one for myself. Then I saw how fabulous it looks on my lovely friend Stephanie King of Siouxzeegirl Designs and she let me try hers on. It looked really nice, so I decided to give it a try.

It may seem odd, but the biggest mental barrier I had to overcome besides my skepticism about how the dress would look on me was my past difficulties with starting from someone else’s pattern. I knew this is a very well-drafted pattern, but my experience has been that when I start with someone else’s pattern I have to make a ton of adjustments to get it to fit me. And I did have to grade across sizes to get the hips to fit without falling off my shoulders. I actually made two mock-ups and almost ended up making a third, which seems absurd for a knit dress, but I couldn’t help myself.

My job was made easier by the fact that my dress form is now padded to resemble my figure pretty closely. This was another thing I had resisted doing because i didn’t think I wanted to live with a reminder of the shape my body is in now. But, I agreed to participate in a pilot class on draping that Sarah Veblen was developing and so I made a basic dress sloper out of heavy weight muslin from my bodice and skirt master patterns for a workshop several months ago. Sarah draped out pretty the wearing ease until it was quite form-fitting. I installed a heavy-duty separating zipper down the back and had my new dress form cover. I then proceeded to stuff the space between the muslin and my dress form with foam pads from Fabulous Fit and batting. I got really frustrated in the draping class and convinced myself that I’m no good at draping and this entire exercise was a giant waste of time that would have been better spent sewing. Then when I was working on this project, after trying on the first mock-up, I put it on the dress form and the next thing I knew I was draping adjustments.

For the mock-ups, I used cotton interlock knit from Joann’s (with a coupon, of course). The first mock-up gapped at the bust and clung in all the wrong places, so those pictures will not be posted anywhere.

In the first mock-up, I noticed that the side seam was more toward the back than my master pattern’s side seam, plus it swung to the back at the hips. Because I needed to increase the circumference there, I decided to bring the side seam in line with the side seam on my master pattern so I could be sure the final version was hanging plumb. Here is a side view of muslin number 2.

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That was all well and good, but I made a mistake that is typical for me, which is to add too much to the hips and taper below that and end up with what I refer to as the jodhpur effect. One of the suggestions Sarah Veblen made in a mentoring session was to have the skirt flare out a bit instead of dropping straight from the hip. That adjustment really helped.

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As you can see, there is no center front marking and no horizontal balance lines. The pattern does not have center front marked, which makes sense because it’s different on different types of figures. I had marked horizontal balance lines on my first mock-up but Sarah told me that wasn’t necessary in this dress, which she had fitted on other students. Still, when I was working to adjust the first muslin it helped to work with the front and back independently so I could get them to be as level as possible.

Another thing that I did early on was lower the waist so that the ties went around my waist. The pattern is drafted so that the wrap is higher than the natural waist, almost Empire height. The problem with lowering the waist was that it created gaposis at the bust. So, I put the waist back where it wanted to go.

Sarah suggested that I might want to add shaping darts to the back. Darts were my nemesis during the draping class, but I could see how the fabric really “wanted” to have them added.

 

As you can see, I pinned the darts to the outside, which is not what I was supposed to do. It got the job done here, but I’m trying to learn to make my fingers manipulate the fabric so that the dart intake is toward the dress form. I’ll get there. Eventually.

I wanted to make this dress in an ITY knit, but the ones in my collection were in quantities suitable for knit tops, not a dress. I had trouble finding ITYs (only because I was looking for them!) and then I found this lovely rayon-Lycra knit from Stone Mountain & Daughter. I was hesitant, thinking that Rayon is too drapey and possibly clingy for a dress on me, but this fabric has a lovely dry hand and worked beautifully.

Next came the challenge of hemming. Again, I’m really spoiled by working with master patterns developed with Sarah Veblen because when the horizontal balance lines are parallel to the floor, so is the cut edge of the fabric at the bottom. Hemming is a straightforward process of turning up the fabric an even amount all the way around and stitching. Not so on a pattern that is not customized to a particular body.

 I could have asked a sewing friend to pin the hem for me, or even paid my dry cleaner to do it, but I wanted to get this project finished and move on to what’s next. My first attempt was to use the contraption that stands on the floor and you squeeze a bulb so chalk dust spits out on your dress as you turn in place. That didn’t work at all. So, I resorted to the technique I’ve used for fitting myself or having Sarah analyze my fit issues long distance – setting up the tripod and camera and using a 10-second delay to take a series of pictures.

First I pinned where I thought the hem should be, then I looked at the pictures and saw where it was uneven. I made adjustments to the pinning and took more pictures. After two rounds of this, I got it to where I was satisfied.

For the actual pinning, I found it was much easier to mark a few reference points with pins on the dress form and then work on a flat surface. When I got it to where it looked straight to me, I trimmed where the hem allowance was deepest, pressed and stitched. I adjusted the pattern, but where the hem ends up on any individual dress will probably vary with the type of knit I’m using.

As you might be able to tell from this picture, I’m still shying away from having the ties go across my tummy. So, my solution is to tie them at the side so that they only go across the back. The other thing I debated was whether to add a hidden snap in the front to prevent unscheduled appearances of lingerie. I was worried that it might pull, but I tested it out with a small safety pin and discovered it’s not noticeable. So, I’m adding a small nylon snap for security.

The dress is incredibly comfortable to wear and, now that I’ve done the pattern work, will be pretty quick to sew again.

 

 

 

 

In the Sketchbook – January 2017

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

This month, I’ve been trying out drawing apps on the iPad Pro and learning how to use the different features that are offered. Like everything else, the results improve with practice. Although I was excited about sketching on lovely tracing vellum, electronic sketching seems to be much better for me. I remember feeling this way about writing when I bought my very first, very rudimentary personal word processor. For a diehard  perfectionist, there is something so liberating about being able to pour out thoughts before they have to be committed to paper. The undo button and the ability to erase without leaving the slightest trace of a mistake allows me to venture well beyond where I go with pencil and paper.

Even bold color can be erased and you can’t erase paint or felt markers. Then there is the fill function, which I’m still trying to master. And the ability to add a background, which I did in the sketch on the right without knowing how that happened or how to do it again. Like I said, practice is needed.

The apps I’m using allow you to work with layers, so my personal croquis can serve as my guide the way it does when using tracing paper or vellum. I can lower the opacity of the croquis or turn off its visibility entirely before finalizing my sketch. You can also sketch individual pieces of a separates ensemble on their own layers to try out different looks and you can do the same with design details.

So far, the apps I’ve tried are Paper 53, Sketches, Procreate and Adobe Sketch. My brain is resistant to Adobe software. It was all I could do to learn InDesign when I needed to and to this day I only know how to do a few things in Photoshop, so I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable with Adobe Sketch. I’m getting fairly comfortable with Sketches and I’m working my way through the very helpful e-book that’s available for Procreate to learn how to use its cool features. It’s a process.

I’m looking forward to learning how to duplicate an image onto a new layer and flip it so I don’t have to draw both sides of a symmetrical piece, or I can fix a mistake when I draw one asymetrical element in the wrong direction as I did here.

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Okay, enough tech talk. Let’s get to the designs.

I’ve been inspired by the fabulous samples Mary Ray showed and the techniques she taught the ASG Chicago Chapter earlier this month.   The mismatched asymetrical outfit just above and and the pink square-neck blouse that I paired with a trumpet skirt in the earlier picture are examples of what has been percolating in my brain since taking that class.

Here’s another sketch where I got the swoops all going in the same direction and I played around with pattern fill in the skirt.

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A technique that really captured my imagination in Mary’s class was sewing partial tucks on a grid to add a waffle effect to flat fabric. Mary told us her inspiration for this was the book, The Art of Fabric Manipulation by Colette Wolf. This is a book that was given to me as a gift by my dear friend Scottie and I’ve been inspired paging through it but haven’t tried any techniques in it yet. It’s time to change that.

Here is what I’ve been thinking about as a first trial of this technique.

This is my attempt to show using the tucks in the area that a yoke would otherwise go in a knit cardigan with a hemline that dips in back. The tucks will provide added fullness in the body of the garment and I think will work well in a lightweight rayon knit.

Before I got tucks on the brain, I sketched this jacket with a version of my favorite 60’s stand-up collar.

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I also tried my hand at sketching the split collar from McCall’s pattern 6796 that I talked about in my last post.

As you can see, I’m having fun with this. I hope you are, too. Be sure to check out what fabulous designs my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs is showing at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. We’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching, so  please leave a comment.

 

 

Adding Variety to My Favorite Knit Top

One of the great hands-on workshops I attended at last summer’s ASG Conference was Jennifer Stern-Hasemann’s half-day class called “Beyond the Boatneck.” Jen is a great teacher as well as an excellent designer and patternmaker. She sets a low-key, no-stress tone in her classes and is a joy to learn from.

The class description talked about pattern variations for her Tee pattern, but it actually was a pattern drafting class. I look at her approach as akin to a mom with young children sneaking veggies into a casserole. So many sewists – even experienced ones – are intimidated by the thought of patternmaking, but routinely make pattern adjustments. Whatever works, right?

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The class materials included a booklet that has color photos and step-by-step instructions for drafting six new necklines and converting the tee into a tank top. Jen sells the book on her website, which is almost as good as having her patient guidance in class.

Most of the neckline changes can be achieved by swapping out a single pattern piece. As I explained in an earlier post, the Tee achieves its flattering shape with seams that form upper and lower parts of the front and back and an upper side front panel that acts as a dart.

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The neckline variations are made by making a new upper front pattern piece. If the neckline is narrower than the original boatneck, the back piece needs to be widened at the shoulder to correspond to the combination of the upper front and side front pieces.

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I was excited to make patterns for the variations in the book. Here are my patterns for the scoop neck (yellow in the upper left), v-neck (lower left) and crossover (right).

At the same time, I was struck with an idea that wasn’t in the book – a draped neck. I attended the workshop with my dear friend and Partner in Crime, Steph King. As soon as I had the words “drape neck” out of my mouth, Steph started tracing her center front piece and cutting strips for slashing and spreading it into a draped neckline. I waited until I got home to do mine.

My first draped pattern piece looks like this. The shoulder is at the upper right of the picture and the horizontal seam that connects the upper front to the lower front is now curved.

Drape Version 1

I cut two of these on the fold so I could use one as a facing, which is what I do most of the time with this pattern. The result was a seam at the neckline, which is okay but not fabulous.

Faced Drape Neck

I love this drapey rayon knit from Marcy Tilton’s web site. It has all my colors in it and feels like a warm weather print, so I made this top with short sleeves. it looks great on the dress form, especially after I’ve futzed with it so the seam doesn’t show. When I’m wearing it, I’m not static like my dress form and movement will make the neck seam visible from time to time.

After seeing that eliminating the seam in the front neckline would have given me more of the effect I was going for, I decided to set aside my fears about dealing with what I think is a very strange-looking pattern piece when a drape neck forms its own facing by folding over. In thinking it through, I realized that drafting this type of pattern piece doesn’t require mastery of any mysterious geometrical gymnastics. It’s just a matter of tracing the pattern piece I’d drafted by slashing and spreading and flipping that over to make a mirror image, then overlapping them so that the two halves of the new piece meet in a straight line that the fabric can be folded over there and sewn in place. It ends up looking like this:

Put togetherIt’s not marked in this picture, but the straight line on the left is Center Front, which is cut on the fold of the fabric. That “V” at the shoulder was the bit I had found intimidating. From a patternmaking point of view. it’s really no big deal. It’s what forms naturally when melding the two pieces together. Construction – especially on a serger – can be a little tricky.

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I didn’t take any pictures of construction, but as you can see from the labeled picture above, the tricky bit is sewing that V-shaped front shoulder seam onto a straight back shoulder seam and making sure none of the fabric scooches away when under the presser foot and leaves a hole. This is especially tricky with slippery and drapey fabric like the rayon-Lycra knits I want to use for this type of garment. Add to that the fact that it’s a knit and I want to serge it together and I start to wonder whether this was such a great idea after all.

After clipping into the V as far as humanly possible, I tried serging the pieces together and got a hole the first time. Unstitching a serged seam is such an unpleasant experience, I decided to do whatever it takes to avoid doing that a second time. My solution was to baste the shoulder seams by hand. Before you groan and say “hand basting a knit, are you crazy?” remember that (1) these are very, very short seams. We’re talking just a few inches. And, (2) I did a lot of hand stitching on my Miss Fisher top, which is a knit. Besides, hand basting takes a lot less time and is way less frustrating that unstitching a serged seam over and over again.

The basting did the trick and I was able to complete construction with no problem.

This approach is definitely a keeper.

Next, I got it into my head that I wanted to try adding a collar. It’s been a few years since I’ve been wanting to try this particular collar. My lovely friend Marie wore a top made of McCall’s 6796 to a sewing group meeting once and I immediately bought the pattern.

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The neckline on the pattern is pretty high and for that reason I took the pattern out and put it away several times. But last month I decided to try this collar with the J. Stern Tee and the scoop neck variation. After walking the neck seam on the tee and the collar, I did a bunch of slashing and spreading that gave me the little extra I needed in the back and the lots of extra I needed in the front.

img_0189-1  After trying a mock-up with the scoop variation from the workshop, I decided the neckline had to be a little bit less scoopy. So I made a modified scoop neck pattern piece and adjusted the collar accordingly. I tried it out in this great rayon-Lycra knit from Sawyer Brook in a color they called Bluebonnet, but didn’t think it worked well. So, I made the top with the modified scoop neck but no collar.

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It’s okay, but I had this picture in my head and this wasn’t it.

The thing is, I had bought enough of this fabric to make a twinset and so I had plenty left over to try the top with the collar again. In a mentoring session with Sarah Veblen, she said she thought the neckline needed to be higher for the collar and I said i thought it needed to be a bit narrower. She agreed and, with her help, we came up with the modifications I needed to make a slightly higher, slightly narrower semi-scoop pattern piece. With the somewhat narrower neckline, I had to make a new back piece as well. Instead of making the collar smaller, I decided to see what it would look like with some overlap. I then draped the collar onto the assembled  front, side and back panels on the dress form and liked what I saw.

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With this sewn, I then added the facing assembly and finished construction. Unfortunately, I got confused about which was the fashion fabric and which was the facing in the top panels and the finished product has the collar opening on the left instead of the right with the front overlapping the back. Sigh. The next time I do this I won’t take off my painter’s tape labels until after the whole thing is assembled. Another live and learn moment. Still, I’m pretty happy with the result.

Bluebonnet with Collar

In the Sketchbook-December 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

I thought it might be a nice change to take a look at some garments that are actually in development. I’ve been working on pattern adjustments for the Appleton Dress by Cashmerette Patterns. This is a classic wrap dress designed for curvy figures. I think ITY (interlock twist yarn) knit is perfect for this dress, but I had trouble finding what I was looking for. I knew all the ITY knits in my fiber archive are cut in quantities that are only sufficient for a top so I searched to see whether I had anything in rayon that isn’t too clingy. One of the “discoveries” I made was a charcoal gray knit that has been tucked away for a very long time. I thought it would be just right, so I set it aside to prewash. Then I was looking for lace for the project we’re going to talk about in a minute and I cam across this lace mesh from MarcyTilton.com and had one of those aha moments.

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The lace looks a bit lighter in the picture than it does in person, but I think you get the idea. To me, knit and lace is an unexpected combination, especially a knit that’s not at all dressy like this one. I immediately thought it would look great on the neck bands and ties of the Appleton dress.

img_0005-1I’ll see if I can make it work on the sleeves, but I suspect I’ll need the stretch of the knit there. I thought about putting it on the edge of the overlap piece all the way to the hem, but I think it would be too much with the tie in that area. This is why sketching out ideas helps. You see issues you didn’t think of when the design is all in your head.

While I was noodling over the Appleton Dress, I wondered what it would look like with a collar.

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I like it. Maybe with contrasting fabric, maybe not.

Another project that occupied a chunk of my time this month involves lace combined with tweed. I have this fabulous salt-and-pepper tweed made of cotton(!) that I ordered from SawyerBrook.com a couple of years ago. It’s very soft and should be in an unstructured garment, so I thought about using the design for my Spoonflower dress and adding ¾ length sleeves.

In contemplating collars, I wondered whether it might look nice with a collar made of lace. That started a whole quest that made me feel like Goldilocks. One lace was too much of a stark white, black did nothing for the fabric, various laces in ivory were too dense, and on and on. I kept coming back to a lace neck piece I acquired at an ASG fabric exchange several years ago. It’s the wrong shape and it doesn’t lend itself to sitting under a collar made from the fashion fabric (the sketches look like a dog with a beard), but the color and density are perfect.

 img_0008 In a mentoring session, Sarah Veblen agreed that this is the lace I should use. She advised me to draft the neckline around it and forget about making a collar. I told her I was thinking about cutting out the flower at each of the points so the piece is not quite so wide and she agreed that’s a good idea. She suggested using the flowers somewhere else, maybe even at the top to balance out the width. I need to play around with them once I get them cut. I’m going to follow Pamela Legget’s advice for cutting out the motifs: sharp scissors, good lighting, no wine.

Here’s the sketch for the dress. I think it looks like it has measles and is wearing a bib. I definitely need to work on my sketching ability in the new year.

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Finally, I want to show you a sketch of a dress that I haven’t chosen fabric for yet. I sketched it using a cool new toy – um, tool – that I treated myself to. It’s the Apple Pencil, which I used with the iPad app, Paper 53. I want to use the silhouette of my Leaf Dress in a 3-season dress with sleeves. I think this will be a lot of fun to make and to wear.

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That’s it for now. Be sure to check out what fabulous designs my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs is showing at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger and wish her a happy birthday while you’re over there. And, we’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching, too.

The Peplum Blouse

A while back a friend wore a peplum blouse she had made from Simplicity pattern 1666 and it looked fabulous on her. I remembered really liking the way peplums looked on a much younger me when I had the body I wish I had appreciated more. For reasons I can’t explain, no warning buzzers went off in my head telling me that maybe this wasn’t going to be the best option for my current body.

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As the pattern envelope clearly shows, peplum = flounce. Putting a flounce on my curves is not a good idea, as I discovered when I made my first mock-up. That mock-up was dated January 2015 and there are no pictures of me in it. That said, this project wasn’t a total waste of time. I learned some interesting things I want to share with you now and I developed a neckline and collar that I’m looking forward to tweaking and using again.

I made the pattern for the first mock-up by starting out with my master bodice pattern for the shoulders, armscyes and princess seams and I tapered the pattern pieces at the bottom to conform with the corresponding area in the commercial pattern. Then I adjusted the peplum from the commercial pattern to fit to the top pieces. The peplum doesn’t go all the way around the body in this pattern. The center front panel extends to the hem and the peplum is attached at the front princess seams. I used the neckline from the Simplicity pattern and I think it’s a keeper, but I eliminated the cap sleeves.

When I showed the mock-up to Sarah Veblen, she suggested we try using inverted box pleats extending down from each of the vertical seams (princess seams, side seams and center back).  The second mock-up seemed like an improvement so I made a wearable mockup in a cotton print. I wasn’t happy with it. Sarah admitted it wasn’t a great look for me.

Peplum Wearable Mockup

One thing she suggested was eliminating the box pleats at the front princess seams. I was only too happy to do that, because getting those puppies attached with the pleats intact was nerve-racking. That was an improvement, and I’ve worn the wearable mockup with that change. I asked Sarah whether things might improve if I added a collar and she thought that might balance it out better. So, I mocked up a rolled collar, tweaked it in consultation with Sarah and set out to make a final version of the blouse.

The first thing I did was make a clean copy of the peplum pattern with the pleats clearly marked. I used color-coding and arrows to make sure I understood how they got folded.

The straight of grain is at the front princess seams and so center back is the area with the most bias. Pleats and bias don’t necessarily play well together, but I had chosen a stable cotton shirting, which helped.

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I’m pretty sure the side on the right is the “right” side of the fabric, but I like the side on the left better and so that’s what I used as the right side.

When making a pattern with pleats, it’s important to true the seamlines and then add the seam allowance. To do this, you pin or use temporary tape to hold the pleats closed, then cut away any ragged places on the line or curve at the hemline and the top seamline. If you don’t do this, you can end up with the hidden part of the pleat hanging below the rest of the hem or some other unevenness.

I thread-traced all the pleat markings so they would be exact and visible from both sides.

Another thing I learned is that pleats tend to behave better if you hem before pressing in the pleats, so I did that. I used the method Janet Pray of Islander Sewing Systems teaches in her shirtmaking class for the narrow machine hem. This consists of pressing the hem up at the hemline (this one was ⅝” from the edge) with the tip of the iron, then crimping by machine at ¼” and using the stitching line and the pressed fold line as the guides for double-folding the hem.

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Pressing Peplum at ⅝”

I then used Wonder Clips (Janet Pray does not use pins or anything else) to keep it all in place and sewed from the right side. I find it helpful to use the blind hem foot on my machine helped me to keep the stitching at the same distance from the edge.

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I finished all seam allowances with a three-thread serge finish and made an all-in-one facing for the neck and the armholes.

The part of construction that I thought would be tricky was attaching the peplum to the front at the princess seams. This is similar to an inset corner, so I pulled out all my sewing reference books and articles I’ve collected on inset corners and cut some scrap fabric to make samples. Almost all the techniques I’ve read about involve snipping into the inside corner and opening it up to almost a straight line, a method that’s given me mixed results. Louis Cutting’s method uses double-sided fusible web and topstitching, which works very well, but this garment wasn’t one I wanted to topstitch.  The technique I was most interested in using is one I’ve made samples of before that I learned from a class taught by Susan Khaljie.  It’s her technique for sewing a basque waist. After reviewing all my other resources, I decided this method is the hands-down winner. (Yes, I did use an Islander industrial shortcut and a couture technique in the same garment.)

You can find the technique on page 95 of Susan’s book, Bridal Couture. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever sew a wedding gown, if you have any interest in sewing with lace and making beautiful evening wear, this book should be in your library. (Hard copy is out of print, but the e-book version is excellent.) Essentially, what you do is sew two straight seams perpendicular to one another. Here are the front and back of the sample I made for this garment.

The couture method has you reinforce the inside corner with a patch of organza and for less elaborate garments you can use fusible interfacing. I had trouble getting such a small amount of fusible interfacing to stay put on this textured fabric so I ended up skipping this step. The next step in preparing the corners is to stay stitch along the stitching lines of both pieces, shortening the stitch length so that you have tiny stitches right at the corner. I used a 1.1 stitch length at the corners. That allows you to clip the inside corner, getting right up to the stitching. It also provides a guide for final stitching.

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Stay stitching the corner

The next step is to pin so that the corners match on both pieces.

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Then finish pinning one of the seams. When you stitch, part of the time you will only have one piece under the machine. That’s where my finger is in the picture below.

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After sewing both seams, this is what it looks like.

And this is what it looks like when completed. Whew!

img_2241So, here’s the finished blouse.

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In the Sketchbook – November 2016

Welcome to In the Sketchbook, a monthly look at fashion design sketches that we are working on for ourselves. Sketching garments on a personal croquis is a great way for the individual couture enthusiast to move beyond the use of commercial patterns and into a world of personalized design! It can be intimidating at first, but with a little bit of practice it becomes something you look forward to. Join us for a look of what we have going on In the Sketchbook! Brought to you by Wendy Grossman of Couture Counsellor and Steph King from Siouxzeegirl Designs.

I’m pretty sure everyone who undertakes creative projects hits a wall or goes through a dry patch from time to time. I’m painfully familiar with writer’s block, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that something similar has been happening with my sewing and personal design efforts.

While working my way out of this slump with a project that should be completed in a few days, I’ve been giving some thought about the French jacket that I started in a workshop more than three years ago. When something has been sitting untouched for that long and the only emotion it evokes is guilt, you have to wonder what’s going on. The fabric is very nice, the fit is great. So what’s the problem?

One thing may be that these jackets are all about the embellishments and I’m not much of an embellisher. Another possibility is that I’ve come to see that collars are an important element of garments for me and French jackets are usually collarless. Usually. Not always. When I mentioned this to Sarah Veblen, she immediately started playing around with the spare fabric I have and suggested a collar for my unfinished jacket. I’m not convinced about putting a collar on this one, partly because I’m not sure it will hold up well when the jacket itself has so little structure and it’s progressed beyond the point where I could build something supportive into it. But that did get me thinking about adding a collar to a future French jacket made from some fabric in my collection that I absolutely adore.

It also got me to thinking about the skirt I’d make to go with the unfinished jacket. The designs I sketched earlier have a lot of pleats and seem to be too heavy or too bulky, but a small pleat inset lower down might be just what I need. Here is that skirt with some possibilities for collared French jackets.

 

I haven’t decided whether I like them better with self-fabric or contrasting fabric.

6Then there’s the possibility of using lace as a collar.

None of these ideas have embellishments yet, but they might be a start.

Be sure to check out what my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs is up to at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. And, we’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching too.

The Woman-Tailored Shirt Project

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Here is a story – more of a saga – about a project that explains why the subtitle of this blog includes the word misadventures. At the beginning, it didn’t seem like it was going to be that big of a deal. My ASG Neighborhood Group, Sew Chicago, decided to make a tailored shirt the group project for the ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show that was held on October 22nd. The shirt had to have a collar, cuffs and at least one embellishment. It seemed like a fairly straightforward project and a chance to polish some essential skills. I was half-right in my assessment.

When I discussed the project in a mentoring session with Sarah Veblen, she described the features she likes to put into a woman’s shirt. We were on the same wavelength. Not only did her concept match my vision, but I had an earlier project to use as a starting point.

I made a white-on-white shadow striped shirt from New Look 6407 several years back. I drove my ASG group crazy with my obsession over trying to learn how to attach the collar/collar stand assembly, but otherwise did okay with it. I wanted to use my armscye princess master bodice pattern instead of the darted bodice from the earlier shirt, but I also wanted to add a yoke. Sarah convinced me that I should skip the yoke.

I slipped the shirt on for Sarah and the first thing she did was reach for my pins to reshape the collar. She then drew in a curved neckline, which is much better on me than a straight v-neck. These changes didn’t seem beyond my capability, but I wanted to make a test shirt to make sure that the pattern changes were right. Because those changes were in the details rather than the body of the pattern, I decided to make a wearable mock-up. Why go to all the trouble of making a collar with collar stand on a muslin, right? Besides, the practice would give me confidence and I’d end up with two new shirts in my wardrobe instead of one.

I have quite a selection of cotton and linen shirtings in my fabric collection, so no new purchases were required. I pulled out several and these two just happened to be next to each other.

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Turned-back cuffs on sleeve laying on shirt body

The cotton wood-cut print is from Emma One Sock. The lighter blue in the print doesn’t match the blue of the other fabric, but these two fabrics kept telling me they belonged together. The fabric in the background isn’t a solid. It’s a cross-weave of blue and white that gives it a bit of visual texture. It occurred to me that combining two fabrics, which I almost never do, would meet the embellishment requirement for the group project. That sealed the deal. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the light blue cotton actually had a tiny it of Lycra in it. That was not happy news and it caused some minor issues, but I was committed to the fabric combination.

The changes I had to make the pattern gave me more trouble than I had anticipated. Most tailored shirt patterns have a curved edge on the front of the collar stand, but this one had a straight edge that slanted inward. I went through a few different iterations trying to get the collar stand right, then ended up curving it. You may remember that in my Tulip Dress, I forgot what template I used for the curves in the hem, so I wrote myself a note on the pattern piece this time.

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It’s good to learn from our mistakes. Here’s another lesson I learned in this project. Drafting a pattern piece on folded paper so you can have a full piece doesn’t always mean that both sides will be identical. The paper can shift if you’re not careful. Grrrr!!! This happened with the collar stand, which is a skinny little piece and so it really does make sense that the paper might shift.  Thank goodness I have one of those inexpensive light boxes for those times in pattern work when it’s hard to see the lines I’m trying to trace (usually when I’m making a fresh pattern because the original has too many changes taped on top of one another).

Still, I was struggling with getting the collar stand right. One of the things Sarah suggested that I try was to “drape” the neckline/collar stand assembly on my dress form to see where the collar stand should end. That worked great.

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Then I walked the stand to the collar and got those two pieces just where I wanted them.

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With my pattern ready, I was feeling confident. I’ve made a lot of garments since I made that first shirt so I was expecting things to go much more smoothly than they did before. Also, I watched Janet Pray’s fabulous shirtmaking class on Craftsy and went over the collar assembly several times. What could go wrong, right?

The weave of the fabric for the practice shirt is a twill, but it is is still shirt-weight. The only twills I had worked with before were bottom weight for pants.

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I didn’t think the fabric would give me any problems, but it did. This is the collar on the collar pattern piece. The distance from center back to the right edge (left as worn) is just fine. Look how not fine it is on the opposite end. I made three of these suckers, each one with different degrees of imbalance.

Collar Crime Scene Photo
Collar Crime Scene Photo

After I took this photo to send to Sarah Veblen so she could pull me out of my tailspin in a mentoring session, it occurred to me that the numbered stickies make it look like crime scene photos I’ve seen on TV. As you can see, number 2 is the worst offender. It’s about ½ inch off on one end. By the time I cut number 3, I carried it to the ironing board as if it were a baby, futzed with it to get it to match the pattern piece perfectly on the ironing board, them after I fused the interfacing I left it to cool and dry overnight. I wasn’t taking any chances. Still, it wasn’t perfectly symmetrical, but I was done with this step!

You might be able to tell that my topstitching technique improved between collars one and two. After I topstitched the first collar, I remembered the tip about placing folded fabric or cardboard under the “heel” of the presser foot to even out the foot so it doesn’t have to climb any hills at places like corners. I used my stitch-in-the-ditch foot (edge joining foot to a quilter) with a stitch length of 3.0 and the needle a couple of clicks to the right to get a decent edge stitch.

The thread looks darker than the fashion fabric, but it’s actually an exact match for the darker of the two threads that comprise the fabric. When you lay a strand of it directly on top of one of those lines, it disappears.

Are you imagining how much quality time I spent with Mr. Seam Ripper on this project? And this was just the practice shirt. I had to make another one for the runway and my time was disappearing.

I’m happy to report that the Islander Sewing System “burrito method” for attaching a collar stand or waistband works beautifully. It’s hard to wrap your mind around (no pun intended), but once you try it a few times it’s not that difficult.It solves the problem of getting all those pesky edges tucked in and out of sight. I first learned the method watching Islander DVDs. Last summer at ASG National Conference I took a class with Janet Pray and felt it all clicked for me when she walked us through the method for waistbands. I reinforced that with the Craftsy shirt class and now I feel like I’ve got it.

What I didn’t understand was that the turned-back cuffs I was putting on my shirt could not be attached with the “Burrito Method” without a placket. It took me several attempts to realize that. By this point, I was so sick of tailored shirts I could scream.

I didn’t even put the cuffs on the practice shirt, but instead switched over to sewing the shirt for the runway. The solution for the cuffs was to attach them and then hide the raw edges under bias-cut strips that I attached pretty much like a Hong Kong finish. I topstitched them to the sleeves because the stitching is hidden when the cuffs are turned back.

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FYI, pinning the cuffs to the outside of the sleeve doesn’t work. There are gaps. The only way to avoid a zillion puckers is to turn the sleeve wrong side out and pin the cuff inside the sleeve. (And, test turning before sewing saves quality time with Mr. Seam Ripper.)

Here’s a close-up of the cute buttons I used on this shirt.

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Those buttons were sewn on the morning of the runway show, even though I started this project in September, thinking I was giving myself ample time. There were more mistakes along the way, but those were mistakes that came from going on auto-pilot instead of paying close attention to what I was doing. I learned that the act of writing out every step of construction helps avoid those kinds of mistakes. Another valuable lesson.