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.

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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

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.

 

 

 

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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 https://10sewingmachines.blogspot.com 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.

 

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I think I’d like to try one of these:

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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