In The Sketchbook – September 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 have been busy sewing this month, but not anything that’s quite ready to show here. I did launch what I hoped would be a daily habit of sketching in the morning while sipping coffee and getting ready to start work. The routine was interrupted when I had to start work extra early (making a living can really crimp the creative endeavors), but it’s something I’m hoping to get back to. Here is what I came up with while trying to form a daily habit.

It started with having to sketch a tailored shirt I’m working on for the Sew Chicago group entry in next month’s ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show. I’m making a test version of the shirt first and so I didn’t have any pictures to send to the show coordinator. Once I did that, it occurred to me that I should sketch the blouses I’ve been wanting to make this fall and put them together with fabric swatches.

Shirt and Blouses

I need to learn how to sketch soft, drapey fabric better. These look too structured to me. The bold print on the upper left is a lightweight cotton, similar to a cotton lawn. The swatch in the middle is a lovely silk double georgette and the teal on the bottom is hammered silk that has a lovely floaty quality.

I also played some more with a jacket design that can coordinate with a soft or soft-and-sheer skirt.


Then there’s the idea that I want to make a blouse with tulip sleeves.


I made a sheer blouse with tulip sleeves a while back that wasn’t right. Now that my skills have improved and I have Sarah Veblen as a mentor, I want to give it another try. This sketch is an attempt to echo the tulip theme in the body of the blouse. The petal collar seems like it’s too much to me, so that’s something I’ll have to test out in a mock-up.

Finally, remember that unstructured jacket I sketched last month? To remind you, here it is again.


It was on my mind days later and so I decided to play around with what might make a nice personalized version, starting with set-in sleeves.


That looks better to me. Then I thought about adding a collar. Collars seem to make a big difference in my garments.


Oh yeah. That’s something I would enjoy wearing. (Please ignore the fact that the croquis and the back of the jacket are both visible.) Actually, I think I like it either way. The set-in sleeves make all the difference.

Of course, I’m probably not going to be able to find fabric that’s right for this jacket and I’ll end up having to learn how to do online digital fabric printing. Or worse, like piecing fabric together to make the stripes. Not my thing at all. Maybe the fabric gods will be kind to me and the perfect fabric will appear online.

That’s it for now. Be sure to visit my dear friend Steph King of Siouxzeegirl Designs at to see what amazing things are in her sketchbook this month. And if you’d like to join in on the fun, please leave a comment for one of us.


The Campish Shirt

Every summer for the past I’ve-lost-count-of-the-number of years, I’ve wanted to make a camp shirt out of this lovely lightweight linen. This year, as summer was drawing to a close, the stars aligned for me to tackle this project.

Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.
Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.

So why “campish” and not camp shirt? Because I decided that I didn’t want to use a convertible collar that is found in camp shirts. I also didn’t want a patch pocket over the breast. I mean, it’s not as if women are going to put anything in that pocket and I don’t think it really adds anything to the look.

The finished product is not everything I hoped it would be, but I learned some things in making it and now I can share those with you.

First, I learned that the name for the weave of this fabric with the extra texture scattered about is dobby. This particular fabric is pretty loosely woven, which presented some challenges in getting it on grain for cutting and then surprised me by stretching out of shape in one tiny segment of the neckline. More about the headache that created later.

For the pattern, I started out with my no-close topper. I drew a new neckline, added an extension for the button closure, shortened the pattern and added a curved shirt tail hem. When it was finished, I discovered I had shortened it a little too much. This version is wearable, but I’m going to lengthen the pattern before using it again.

I drafted new front and back facing pattern pieces and used the rolled collar and short sleeves with split hem and button detail from the linen version of my shirtdress.

The shirt went together without a hitch, which should have alerted me that there was a problem lurking somewhere. I didn’t mark where the collar was supposed to end in the front. The center back and shoulders were marked and that segment fit perfectly. When I held the collar-to-extension seam sections together they matched after both pinning and sewing, so I thought all was well. I was wrong.

When I put the finished shirt on I wasn’t happy with the way the front neckline looked. Something seemed off about the bit between the end of the collar and center front. I showed it to Sarah Veblen during our next mentoring session and she agreed something was wrong. She compared the pattern piece, which had the end of the collar marked, to the finished shirt and discovered that that little segment of the neckline had stretch more than half an inch. Surprisingly, the interfaced facing had stretched the same amount.

Aug - 2

Sarah’s advice was to unstitch, steam both the fashion fabric and facing into their proper shape and restitch. That included unstitching understitching, removing the top snap and sewing the very last bit at the extension by hand. Can I tell you how much I didn’t want to do that after thinking I was done with the project?

The unstitching wasn’t terribly painful once I got started. It was helped by the fact that I did it with my feline sewing assistant in my lap. The steaming was more of a project than I’d anticipated. It took several rounds of pinning to match the pattern, transferring the pins to hold the fabric to the ironing board cover without the pattern, steaming and leaving it to cool and dry. Little by little, the fullness came out. Then the entire process  had to be repeated for a total of four segments – both sides of the fashion fabric then both front facings.

Aug - 7

One thing I did for the first time with this project was make horizontal buttonholes. I know the “rule” is that you use vertical buttonholes on blouses and shirts and horizontal ones on jackets and coats, but Sarah Veblen encourages her students to ignore that rule. I think she’s right from both a practical and an esthetic point of view. These buttonholes won’t splay open when I move and the buttons won’t come out the way they sometimes do with vertical buttonholes on a fitted blouse. The bonus is that I really like the way they look. I’m sold on using them.

Using the horizontal orientation also meant that I could use keyhole buttonholes for my buttons, which have shanks.

Aug - 6

In looking at the finished product critically, Sarah and I decided on some changes to the pattern before using it again. Besides lengthening it, I’d like to move the tucks out toward the shoulders so they are away from the collar. Sarah also suggested bringing the front armscye seam in just a smudge, which I’ve done. I’m also going to change the shape of the front neckline slightly and widen the collar a bit at the ends so I can get more of the graceful curved shape in front.

Sarah also advised that I modify the way I interface the front facing when using a fabric that might need some extra control. She suggested piecing the interfacing at this line so that this area can be on grain.

Interfacing Diagram

These imperfections aren’t going to stop me from wearing this campish shirt. It’s light, cool, casual and the color is very me.

In the Sketchbook – August 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.

Yikes! I haven’t posted since July. So sorry. I’ll try to make up for it over the next week or so.

Last weekend, I was out and about with a couple of dear friends and we stopped at a favorite store that sells the work of independent designers and artists. A little unstructured jacket caught my eye and the saleswoman insisted that I try it on. Here is a very rough idea of what it looked like.


I didn’t say anything until we left the store, but trying on this jacket reminded me just how far I’ve come in creating a custom wardrobe for myself and how much I’ve raised the bar for myself. This jacket reminded me of a shirt jacket I bought several years ago from a chain store that caters to women of a certain age that I wore to death. I threw it over pretty much everything – pants and a knit top, my trusty standby the black knit travel dress, plus a few other things – and I was dressed. Or what passed for dressed as I told myself that I’d lose the extra pounds I’d put on and this would do for now. Those were the days when fit meant I could close the garment and it didn’t pull anywhere. Never mind where my shoulders are, the sleeves aren’t set in anyway. The more it obscured what was underneath, the better.

There are a lot of patterns available that offer the same features for the same reasons. Not having to rely on them feels fabulous.

Having said that, there are times when a little more relaxed silhouette is nice to have as an option. I’ve had a kimono jacket percolating in my brain for a very long time. I like the idea of a short version worn with pants and a camisole. I’ve figured out that I wouldn’t be happy with actual kimono sleeves or even raglan sleeves, so my current thinking is to use set-in sleeves. I’ve also come to realize that a neckline that just sits flat on my shoulders isn’t my best look. And   when it comes to separates, a hem that dips toward the back is better than cutting myself in half. So, this is the latest version of the kimono-esque jacket I’m considering.


I’m thinking it needs the same shaping I put into my no-close topper – pleats at the shoulders and armscye darts. It might need something hidden to keep it closed, or it might be okay hanging on its own. I’ll need to mock it up to see.

The next question is what to pair it with. I’ve been drawn to something from the ’30s called beach pajamas, which are pants that are fitted at the top and almost skirt-like toward the hem. They’s usually made of rayon and they look like they’d been a lot of fun to make and wear. But they definitely aren’t right for the kimono-esque jacket.

Aug - 1

That brought me to my go-to Eureka pants that Sarah and I modified to something between a trouser and a slack.


Better. But then I wondered how it would look with ankle pants. I’ve been wanting to make pants that get pretty narrow and end at the ankle with a vent. Something like this:


I think that has possibilities.

I’d love to hear what you think about these and about what you’re sketching. Be sure to check out what’s in Steph’s sketchbook at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. And also check out Fabrickated. She mentioned that she’d like to join in on the fun with showing what’s in her sketchbook.


In the Sketchbook – July 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.

On this third installment of In the Sketchbook, I’m exploring combining structured fabrics with soft, drapey fabrics and asymmetry.

Earlier this month, I was getting off the elevator after a morning workout as a neighbor was getting on to go to her office. She was wearing a lovely navy linen jacket and a flowy skirt in a floral print. I thought about how nice she looked and the image brought to mind two fabric pairings I have that are waiting to become something new to wear.

Both of the soft fabrics were acquisitions from A Fabric Place outside Baltimore in May. The gorgeous sage green wool crepe was a gift from my dear friend Stephanie King, who saw how perfectly it goes with the green, peach and pink silk charmeuse. The blue-gray wool was also a purchase from A Fabric Place. It was part of an assignment during Sarah Veblen’s Design I class for me to pair a sheer floral with a “serious” fabric.

Here are the sketches.

I’m thinking asymmetric coat dress for one of the two fabric combinations. I haven’t settled on the neckline/collar yet, but if I go with the green, I thought the charmeuse would be nice as a cuff and maybe a band on the dress as well as the mock skirt peeking out from underneath the wool. If I go with the blue-gray, I’m thinking soft folds everywhere the sheer is used (but not actual ruffles). These ideas need to percolate some more.

Here is another asymmetrical design idea that’s been percolating in my brain. It was an assignment in Design 1 to come up with a “swoop” design.


The pattern work on that one will be quite the project.

Right now, I’m in relaxed summer mode with my sewing. I found some fabric in a drapey light neutral that I was thinking about making into a summer skirt. The fabric doesn’t lend itself to pleats, but I wanted a relaxed silhouette. S0, here are the ideas I sketched out as possibilities.

IMG_1883 (1)

Lots to think about.

I’d love to hear what you think about these and about what you’re sketching. Be sure to check out what’s in Steph’s sketchbook at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger.

The Belated Spoonflower Challenge Dress


The latest addition to my self-designed wardrobe is a dress made from organic cotton sateen in the print called Entangled, which was designed by Heather Dutton of Hang Tight Studio and sold on I intended to wear it in the ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show last October as part of a group challenge with other members of my neighborhood group, Sew Chicago. We had voted on the print and we could choose to make any garment using any of the fabrications and colors that were offered in this particular print. I really like the print and  I wanted to be part of the group on the runway, but I was the co-coordinator of that show and the dress didn’t get finished in time.

I tried it on for Sarah Veblen later that fall and she pinned out some of the fullness in the side seams and contoured them toward the hem. Nice improvement, but when I realized that making that change meant resetting the invisible zipper on one of the seams, it remained unfinished for months. I rationalized that this is a summer dress and there was no point in finishing it in the fall or winter. Then came the crunch for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show and the next thing I knew there was just barely enough time to get it done so I could wear it at the ASG National Conference in Indianapolis.

As you can see, the dress has a curved Empire seam. It dips quite a bit in the back.


When I used this design again for my Little Black Dress, which is more fitted in the skirt, I modified the curve so that it didn’t dip as much.

I was really excited about the way this print worked on the collar. I had seen a striped cotton dress on a mannequin in a store last summer that had a collar like this one. The stripes were vertical in the body of the dress and horizontal across the front of the collar. I knew this print would give a similar effect and that it would be a piece of cake to draft the pattern.


It’s basically a Peter Pan Collar without a break in the back with the front edges extended to overlap a bit and shifted over to the side to go over one shoulder.


I used small release pleats and tiny darts to control the fullness from the relaxed silhouette I was going for.


I lined the dress in light blue Imperial cotton batiste. The overall effect is a dress that’s amazingly comfortable to wear.


In the Sketchbook – June 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.

This month, I’ve been playing with pleats. I like the idea of pleats in only part of a garment as an accent. In sketching on my croquis I’ve discovered that ideas that seem good in my head would look terrible on my body. Here’s an example:


It’s so nice to be able to see what a mistake a design would be without investing more than a couple of minutes to sketch it out.

Here’s the back of a jacket that I think has some potential. The pleats would be stitched down with topstitching above the belt detail.


I tried out several different skirt designs to go with the jacket and erased them all. Then I tried out these  for the back of the skirt only.


I need to let this percolate through my brain some more before deciding about the skirt.

I added other skirts that have nothing to do with the jacket design.


I think I’d like to try one of these:


I’d love to hear what you think about these and about what you’re sketching. Be sure to check out what’s in Steph’s sketchbook at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger.

A Big, Bold Departure from My Norm


This is a dress that really surprised me. After the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I still had another huge project ahead of me. I had taken on the task of designing and editing a cookbook for a bride-to-be and co-hosting her bridal shower, which was six days after the show in New York. I was feeling good about the fact that my dress for the wedding was pretty much done and really looking forward to sewing without a deadline for a while when I learned I was going to be invited to the rehearsal dinner. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but the only thing I could think of was that I had no idea what to sew and was fresh out of inspiration.

Not that it matters, but I didn’t want to wear the same silhouette to both events. Then there was the question of fabric. I didn’t really want to do black again, although I have a very nice black eyelet that would have been perfectly fine for a summer evening dinner party on the patio of a hip Brooklyn bistro. With all those negatives floating around in my head, is it any wonder I was uninspired?

The one thought that did develop was that I wanted a print in silk or linen, but I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me.  Clearly, I needed a mentoring session with Sarah Veblen to get me on track. Over FaceTime, I went through a pile of fabrics I have in my collection that could work, and we discussed each one. Most of the fabrics I have that could be made into cocktail or evening wear would work in any season other than summer. Other fabrics failed to spark any enthusiasm.

In discussing other possibilities I mentioned how much I liked this blue and green leaf print from Sawyer Brook and then quickly explained that I’d dismissed it because it was a large scale print with bold colors which brought it outside my comfort zone and the fabrication was wrong  —cotton sateen with stretch. Cotton can be a perfectly lovely fabric for a summer dress that’s a little bit dressy, but I’m not a fan of Lycra in woven fabrics. It interferes with the drape and makes the fabric overly heavy. It also makes the fabric uncomfortably warm, destroying its ability to breathe.

Once Sarah saw the print, she insisted that I order the fabric. Her answer to the fabrication objections was that I should underline the dress in cotton batiste and not line it.

With the fabric selected, it was time to develop a pattern. I wanted a full skirt, which was achieved by slashing and spreading copies of my basic armscye princess dress pattern pieces. Instead of a waist seam that would cut me in half and add bulk where I’m plenty bulky enough, I wanted to achieve the transition from a fitted bodice to the full skirt with fairly generous release pleats. I also wanted a wide, gently curved neckline and a rolled collar that had overlapping ends on one shoulder.

I was scheduled to share a day with my friend Steph King from Siouxigirl Designs working privately with Sarah Veblen before attending her class Exploring Fashion Design—Design I in mid-May. Steph brought several muslins and I had planned to do the same when we originally scheduled the session. But, with the leaf print dress project that needed to be completed before June 10, that became the only thing I was going to have time to work on that day. Grouse, grouse grouse!

Before flying to Baltimore, I drafted the pattern and mocked it up in muslin. I left the release pleats for Sarah to place and drape on me. We decided the dress needed a third pleat on each side at the front princess seam. That required angling the princess seam outward from above the waist to the hem. It also required some working out of the construction process, which ended up to be sewing the princess seam first and then pressing and clean finishing the seam allowances. The next step was to sew the release pleat, which started at the seam and branched out below.

We took a critical look at the collar and ultimately decided to eliminate the overlap at the shoulder. Instead, I connected it at center back. Sarah suggested a silk dupioni undercollar, which I interfaced with soft stretch fusible. The upper collar is underlined like the rest of the dress.

Sarah had told me to bring the fabric with me so she could help me lay out the pattern. Because of the scale and complexity of the print, I ordered lots of extra fabric. Ordinarily, I order three yards of fabric for a dress and I have plenty left over. I ordered five yards and don’t have much of anything usable left over. I knew that strategic placement of the pattern would require full pattern pieces for the front and back as well as the collar, because each piece had to be laid out on a single layer of fabric.

Sarah walked me through her thought process in placing pattern pieces. One of the primary goals was to break up the white areas. Next, it was important to avoid having the print march across the dress. This is not a print where we wanted to match motifs at seamlines, but we wanted transitions that weren’t jarring. If I had been left to my own devices on this step, I would have spent a lot of time wondering and questioning my decisions. Instead, Sarah guided me in placing each piece. She left me to pin and cut and then come up with an idea of where the adjacent piece should be placed while she worked with Steph or did something else.  I’m pretty sure all the placements I suggested were changed, but each time the reason for the adjustment made sense.


The last decision to make was where to place the collar. We rejected having black at center front and knew we wanted to avoid white there. We opted for that pretty blue and found an orientation that worked. It took hours to get this thing placed and cut!

After hand basting the batiste to the fashion fabric, construction was fairly straightforward. I mentioned the process we worked out for the princess seam release pleat earlier. The other four release pleats (two on each side front panel) start and stop in the middle of the fabric with the starting points staggered. For these, I started with a locking stitch, then sewed for about an inch with very short stitches (1.1 on my machine). I then switched to a regular stitch length, returning to the short stitches an inch before the end. At the end, I used a locking stitch, stopped with needle down, raised the presser foot and pivoted then stitched over the last inch with the same short stitches.

The cotton batiste underlining really makes this dress work. It controls the stretch in the fashion fabric, which was the primary reason for adding it, but it also makes the skirt in the area below the release pleats fall in nice soft folds.

This is the first garment I’ve made in a long time that isn’t lined. Because it’s a summer dress and it already has that extra layer of underlining, Sarah advised me to not line it. The seam allowances are serge-finished. The side seams are pressed open and were serged before stitching. The princess seams were serged together after stitching, pressing and clipping the curves where necessary. Those seam allowances are pressed toward the center.

When working on the design, Sarah advised me to make a facing with the cotton batiste I used for underlining. I drafted an all-in-one facing for the neck and armholes and interfaced the batiste with soft stretch fusible. In drafting the facing, I was overly timid about its depth. For next time, I’ll draft a facing pattern that is more generous. In this one, I made sure I anchored the bottom edges by hand sewing them to the underlining. I also anchored the pleat intake the same way.


I was able to attach the facing to the neck seam and armscyes completely by machine. I first attached the facing at the neck on the outside of the dress, with the collar sandwiched in between. With the underlined fashion fabric, interfaced undercollar and interfaced facing, there was a pretty hefty stack of layers to deal with and even more when sewing over the shoulder seams.

After stitching, pressing and clipping the curves where needed, I understitched all around. The key to understitching is to make sure the seam allowance and facing (or lining) are flat on the bed of the sewing machine and any clips to allow for curves are spread out so they can do their job. And it’s really important to make sure that the only things under the presser foot are the seam allowances and facing. In another project, I kept catching bits of the collar and decided I needed to take a break.


To attach the collar, attach the facing and understitch, I used directional stitching. That is, I started at the shoulder seam and sewed to the center front, then sewed from the opposite shoulder to center front and repeated the process in the back.

The facings are drafted with ¼ inch subtracted at the armscye from the shoulder, tapering back to the original seamline at the princess seams. This encourages the facing to stay hidden. To attach the facing at the armscyes, the facing is already turned to the inside of the dress, but by doing this step before the side seams were sewn, I was able to attach the lower part of the facing to the lower parts of the arsmscyes without any fancy gymnastics.



Things get pretty weird looking when you get toward the shoulder seams. You have to reach in between the fashion fabric and facing and pull the work down through the opening at the bottom of the facing to pin and sew the rest of the seam. The way to avoid having to redo this step is to make sure that anything that isn’t supposed to be sewn stays tucked into the tube and the only layers under the presser foot are the underlined fashion fabric and the interfaced facing. Frequent stops with the needle down to feel for that ridge of excess fabric and readjust as needed prevents having to spend quality time with the seam ripper.

The way to make this process go smoothly is to pin and sew one side (front or back) to the shoulder seam, then pin and sew the opposite side. When pinning the second side, the work can slide out easily and because it’s sewn in place it stays where it belongs and creates a path that shows where the new stitching is supposed to end up.

When done, it looks like a fabric sausage.

After turning it out, it had to be pressed with favoring so the facing remains hidden. I understitched as far as possible and pressed again.

Every sewing project gives me grief at one point or another and this time it was the zipper. It’s an invisible zipper at the side seam, which I’ve done before and shouldn’t have been a big deal.

As much as I love the print and enjoy wearing the finished product, I’m still not a fan of stretch wovens. When the fabric arrived, it had some stubborn creases that resisted steaming and pressing and could only be removed with a vinegar and water solution and additional thorough pressing. The finished dress also developed quite a few creases in my suitcase and required thorough pressing before I could wear it. It’s pretty difficult to avoid woven fabrics with stretch these days, so I may just have to learn to live with these annoyances.

In the end, I think that overcoming the lack of inspiration, lack of enthusiasm for the fabrication and hesitation about wearing a big, bold print turned out to be worthwhile. I love the swishiness of the skirt and will keep this silhouette in my repertoire.