A Jacket to Give a Dress a Second Look

IMG_0006

In a mentoring session with Sarah Veblen last month, we talked about a planned business trip to Brazil. I know the weather will be quite warm, but I need to look polished every day that I’m there. I simply don’t have enough warm weather clothes that fit the bill. One of the suggestions Sarah made was to make a white cotton jacket to wear over the dress I had made for the Spoonflower fabric challenge last summer.  It just so happened that I had two different white piqués in my collection as well as some gray buttons with a white stripe that blend well with the print of the dress.

img_0557-1

All I  needed was some white Ambiance lining and I’d could get started, or so I thought.

The plan was to use the bodice pattern pieces for the Spoonflower dress to make the body of the jacket, with an adjustment at the shoulder to make room for a pair of very thin shoulder pads called “Angel Wings.” The sleeves could be made from either my master jacket pattern or my master blouse pattern, whichever worked. Both are two-piece sleeves. However, I discovered that I no longer had all the pattern pieces for the Spoonflower dress. I started the dress to enter in the October 2015 ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show, but when I couldn’t finish it in time it remained unfinished until last summer. In the interim, I used the pattern as the starting point for my Little Black Dress that I wore in last spring’s Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show and to a wedding last June. I didn’t expect to like the Spoonflower dress as much as I do and so I didn’t think I’d want to make another dress from the pattern. So, instead of copying all the pattern pieces to make the modifications for the LBD, I made the changes on the existing pattern pieces. I’ve since decided that I do want to make new versions of the original dress again and I really regretted not taking the few extra minutes to copy all the pattern pieces when we were developing the LBD. That’s a mistake I won’t make again.

So, my first task was to reconstruct the original Spoonflower dress pattern, then copy the bodice pattern pieces adding an extra inch beyond the modified Empire seam of the dress. Because that seam is so curved, I needed to make a faced hem, which required new pattern pieces and interfacing.

I kept everything else very simple. The neckline is the same as the neckline of the dress so that it sits under the dress collar and the top button is hidden. I lined it to the edge and just made interfacing pattern pieces to interface the lining where facings might otherwise have gone, including at center front to support the buttons and buttonholes.

Of the two cuts of piqué that I had in my collection, the traditional birdseye weaves is a bright white and the less traditional one is a softer white. That’s the one that goes better with the dress. In looking at the weave, which looks like a honeycomb, I decided I wanted the elongated pattern to go in a vertical direction in the garment, even though that is the cross-grain.

IMG_0672
In this picture of a sample buttonhole you can see the fabric’s directional honeycomb weave

I also decided that the fabric needed to be cut in a single layer to achieve some degree of consistency at the hemline of the adjacent pieces. That meant making a full pattern for the back piece and remembering to cut mirror images of the front, side and sleeve pieces. I ended up labeling each piece “left front”, “right front”, etc. I didn’t want to leave any room for error.

After doing the pattern work and cutting, I wanted to get sewing, so I put off cutting the lining . This turned out to be helpful, because when the jacket was constructed and I needed to attach the shoulder pads, I went ahead and did all the hand sewing that had to be done on the fashion fabric. That cut down on the amount of hand sewing I had to do at the end and made it less daunting.

After trying on the jacket and determining button placement, it was time to test the  buttonholes. The buttonholes themselves were fine, but I was having trouble getting them placed exactly where they needed to be. With white fabric I didn’t want to take a chance on using a Frixion pen or even a chalk pencil and pin marking was hard to see. So I decided to try cutting painter’s tape to a width that matched the space from the finished edge of the jacket to exactly where I need to sink the needle at the start of the buttonhole.

I marked the horizontal lines in pen and attached the tape to the sample I was working with. I found I could sink the needle in so that it just brushed the edge of the tape and lined up exactly with the pen marking. I’m definitely going to use this technique again.

The other breakthrough in this project was that the lining jump hems didn’t trip me up. I serge finished and pressed under the cut edges, attached them to the serge finished edges of the fashion fabric hems (for the sleeves) and hem facings (for the body), hand stitched them in place and lightly steamed the lining. Done!

IMG_0009

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.

img_2259

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.

img_2126

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.

img_2220-1
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.

img_2223

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.

img_2234
Stay stitching the corner

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

img_2236

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.

img_2237

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.

img_0003

The Woman-Tailored Shirt Project

1-1

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.

3
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.

aug-3

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.

aug-4

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

aug-5

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.

aug-1-1

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.

2-1

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.

6

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.

 

 

 

My Little Black Dress

IMG_0230I needed a dress for an evening wedding in New York this month and, for once, I started early.  I brought a muslin, the fabric I wanted to use and the embellishment I was thinking of using to the You Choose Your Focus workshop Sarah Veblen taught here in Chicago in February.  The details of that workshop and the design of the dress are here.

With the pattern work done, the next step was to cut and then hand baste the silk organza underlining to the black silk and wool matelassé fashion fabric. This step seemed to take forever. The fashion fabric was pretty wiggly and underlining was still a new process for me. I found myself pulling out stitches and repinning organza to fashion fabric until I thought I’d lose my mind. It didn’t help that the clock was ticking on the fashion show I was co-chairing and work got really crazy. What I now know can be a relaxing, almost meditative part of sewing was none of the above for this project.

In addition to the underlining, the bias collar is supported by soft stretch fusible interfacing, which I fused to the silk organza before basting it to the fashion fabric. The dress is lined to the edge in silk charmeuse, so I also fused interfacing to the  the area around the neck and armscyes in the shape of what would have been a facing.

Once the fabric was underlined, I loved the hand of the combination and the way it behaved. The princess seams in the bodice went together beautifully. Once those were done, I was sure the skirt seams would be a breeze. I was wrong. More about that in a bit.

The collar/neckline seam always requires directional stitching and on this dress I was concerned about getting the point at center back right. This was a bit more challenging than usual because there is no center back seam in the dress. I followed Sarah’s instructions that included careful marking of the point and machine basting then checking the placement. Once I was satisfied that things were where they needed to be, I went back over the machine basting with a normal 2.5 stitch length. After checking it again to be sure it was right, the final step was to sew at 1.1 stitch length from about an inch away from the point, stop with the needle down and pivot and then continue for about an inch on the other side.

IMG_0228

With the part I was worried about behind me, I proceeded to sew the skirt pieces together. That’s when the trouble began. The first seam was off by more than 1/4″ by the time I got to the end, so I unstitched, steamed the pieces and made sure they matched when I repinned them. I stitched again after adjusting the tension on my machine and the same thing happened. I knew that if I couldn’t get the vertical seams to match there was no way I was going to be able to get the four-way intersections of vertical seams and Empire seams to come together. I was in a panic. All I could think to do was hand baste the seams before sewing them on the machine. I did this with one seam, saw that it worked and called it a night.

A couple of people suggested using a walking foot and Sarah confirmed that that should solve the problem. I’ve used a walking foot before and I don’t know why I resisted at first. Turns out that was the perfect solution. The walking foot is my new best friend. Here is how those four-way intersecting seams turned out.

IMG_1262

This made me think about those new machines that have built-in even feed and I had to push those thoughts out of my head! This is not the year for a new machine

The next dilemma was the zipper. You can’t install an invisible zipper with a walking foot. That’s where hand basting was necessary. I sewed the first side of the zipper into the side seam as usual with the invisible zipper foot. I then hand basted the second side and made sure the Empire seam was aligned before sewing that side on the machine.  Here is the result.

IMG_1260

Whew!

The next step was to attach the lovely trim from Soutache. Sarah had demonstrated how to clip the net backing until it fit the shape of the neckline seam. I clipped the rest of the netting and pinned the embellishment on the dress form so the placement would conform to the dress with a body inside instead of a flat surface.

IMG_1261

There are a LOT of beads and buttons in this trim!  I tried to sew each one before the fashion show, but I ran out of time. That’s why I needed my friends to rescue me with hemming and temporary stitching of the lining at the neck seam. After the show, I finished stitching every bead and every button to the dress and trimmed away the last of the stray netting at the edges. I then reattached the lining at the neck edge and understitched.

The dress is now ready to wear to the wedding. I’m also going to get another chance to model it in the ASG National Conference fashion show. This will be my first time in a fashion show at Conference. It should be fun.

PTPE.Haute Couture Fashion Show.2016-290

Princess Seams – A Curvy Body’s Best Friend

There’s no getting around the fact that princess seams are the key to garments that flatter a curvy figure. Darts and tucks and gathers are fine, but they have their limitations. Even in combination, the silhouette they produce is boxy in comparison to the silhouette that princess seams can achieve. 

Okay, so there are shaping darts in addition to princess seams in the bodice on the right, but you get the idea.

The reason for these differences is easy to see in the patterns. Here is a standard darted bodice. The one on the right has the dart intakes cut out and the one on the left has the dart legs meeting the way they would in fabric. 

IMG_0856

As you can see, there is only one place the darts can create three-dimensional shaping. Darts point to the fullness they allow the fabric to make room for, and that one place in most bodices is the bust. That’s fine if your body only curves in that one place and everything else is pretty straight, but how many women are built like that? I never was. 

Here is what the front and side front pieces of the jacket I’m working on look like when they’re flat.

IMG_0831

The negative space between the two pieces runs from the armscye almost all the way to the hem and the side front piece makes quite a number of turns as it is joined to the front. That allows for a fair amount of contouring in very specific areas. 

Here is an edge view of what the pieces look like when pinned together.  It’s impossible for them to lay flat on the table for almost the entire length of the seam. 

IMG_0857

Now that you’re convinced that princess seams are the best option for a flattering fit (I hope), let’s talk about construction. I know a lot of sewists shy away from princess seams because they seem intimidating. But now that I’ve had a lot of practice sewing them, I don’t think they’re difficult to deal with.

There are a lot of methods out there for sewing princess seams and there really is no wrong way to do it. If it works and it feels comfortable, then it’s the “right” way to go about it.

First, a word about patterns. My patterns were developed under the guidance of Sarah Veblen, who doesn’t build ease into her princess seams. Commercial patterns almost always have ease and so if you are using one that does, you need to allow for that. The part of the seam that has ease is usually marked with dots and so it’s easy to figure out where the seamline is supposed to match up.

I don’t usually use many pins in my sewing, but I’ve discovered that having a fair number of pins in a princess seam is very helpful. How does it help? It helps me avoid spending quality time with my seam ripper. Whatever adjustments need to be made can be made by moving pins, not unstitching. I think of it as sort of a dress rehearsal. By the time I get to the machine, it’s smooth sailing.

I start the pinning at both ends. At the cut edge of the hem, the cut edges go together just like a front and back go together at a side seam. No big deal.

IMG_0836

At the top of an armscye princess seam, things are more interesting.

IMG_0835

The picture above shows how the front and side front fit together at the top when the side front has been trued. You know exactly where to place the pieces at this end. Below are two side front pattern pieces, one for the fashion fabric (on the right) and one for the lining. Notice that I had forgotten to true the lining piece. 

IMG_0844Commercial patterns leave that point on the pattern piece, so when you pin your fabric together a little tail of the side panel sticks out and you never know how much of a tail is supposed to be left hanging. There are two ways to deal with this issue.

My preferred fix is to correct the pattern. Sarah taught me that to do this, you simply pin the pieces together as sewn and cut off the tail.

The first step is to mark the seamlines if that hasn’t been done already.

IMG_0845

  Here are the pieces laid out on top of one another. Notice that the pin goes into the intersection of the princess seam and the armscye seam. This is the end result we’re going for. 

IMG_0846

Here are the pieces pinned as they will be sewn. Notice the tail where the point of the side front is folded at the seamline. 

IMG_0847

When the tail is cut off, the pieces go together as they should. No guesswork needed.

 

If you’d rather not change your pattern, there is another solution. It’s one that has to be used every time you use the pattern, but it works fine.

Mark the intersection of the princess seam and armscye seam on both adjoining pieces. I’ve used a Chalkoner to do that here. 

Insert a pin at that intersecting point on both pieces. Now the pieces are positioned correctly at the top. 

IMG_0854

Once I’ve established the proper placement of the top and bottom of the seam and have pinned the pieces together there, I work my way into the middle.

If I’m left with places that are going to pucker, I take out one or two pins and pat the fabric into place to see where it needs to go. The curvy areas are on the bias and so the fabric has a tendency to shift. A little extra handling is usually all that’s needed to find how the two pieces fit together. I know they will fit together because I walked the seams in the pattern and I cut as accurately as possible. 

If the fabric still doesn’t settle into the right spots, I check the edges to make sure they are aligned exactly. Small corrections in alignment will often help the fabric find its place. If nothing is working and it looks like I have a ton of extra fabric in one piece, I double check to make sure I’m not trying to attach a side front to a back piece or a side back to a front. That would explain the problem. 

Once the pins are in and I’m satisfied that the pieces are where they need to be, it’s off to the sewing machine. I like sewing with a 3/8″ seam allowance most of the time and I find it especially helpful when I’m sewing curvy princess seams. I can tell you that sewing princess seams in stiff muslin with 1″ seam allowances is no fun at all, but after a little practice, sewing natural fiber fashion fabric that has some drape in it with 3/8″ seam allowances is a piece of cake. I just sew slowly and keep my eye on the guideline directly across from the needle, not ahead of it. I sew with the machine set to stop with the needle down so if I need to stop to readjust, the needle is anchoring the fabric. 

I also like to sew from the hem up. That means on one side the curvy side panel will be against the feed dogs and on the other side they will be on top. That doesn’t matter as long as I have the pins in place and I’m using my hands to guide the fabric. 

After pressing the princess seams as sewn (but only with the tip of the iron not going much beyond the stitching line), my favorite way of setting in the shaping is to use a June Tailor Board along with an iron that gives plenty of steam.

The seam allowances on this wool fashion fabric, which I’ve underlined with silk organza, pressed open and stayed that way without requiring any clipping. When the seam is on the curved part of the tailor board, if I see ruffles in the seam allowance after pressing, I use that as a guide for clipping.

After the seam allowances are pressed open, I press on the right side over a ham and use a silk organza press cloth.

IMG_0862

With the princess seams done, my project is transformed from flat fabric to a three-dimensional object that holds the promise of becoming a garment I will love wearing.

 

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I could give you a list of reasons why it’s been three months (!) since my last blog post, but that would accomplish nothing. The real reason I’ve been hiding – yes, hiding – is that I made a series of avoidable mistakes in a jacket that made me lose confidence in my abilities. Simply put, I was too embarrassed to post anything.

This episode has taught me that it is absolutely essential to check all assumptions and reinforce the basics no matter how far I think my skills have progressed. With a lot of encouragement from Sarah Veblen, I overcame the urge to allow the jacket to become yet another UFO and then worked with Sarah to correct the pattern mistakes I had made for a new version of the jacket. We also revised the collar pattern because the design needed some fine-tuning. The final step in this learning process will be to make the 2.0 version of the jacket. Before going on to that step, I want to share the experience to reinforce the lessons learned so that I don’t make the same mistakes again and, I hope, you will be able to avoid making them in the first place.

Back to Basics

First and foremost, test all assumptions. I made two muslins, so all the adjacent seamlines on the pattern pieces had been walked, right? Then how did I end up with a back piece that had a much longer shoulder seam than the one on the front piece? Obviously, I made an adjustment somewhere and didn’t recheck to make sure the adjacent seams matched before cutting out the fashion fabric. The thing that really got me is that the mistake wasn’t buried in a princess seam or something that took some time to check. The difference in the shoulder seams is something that hits you in the face when you lap the pieces over one another at the shoulder.

Lesson learned: keep track of all steps. The simple solution is to use a checklist before cutting the fashion fabric. I’m not doing this just when I’ve made changes to the pattern, but also when I pull different pieces from different garments. I might have made tweaks in a garment that I’ve forgotten about, so I can’t assume that the side front piece from one blouse will fit together with the front piece from another project. In this project, I started out intending to make three-piece sleeves, using the pattern from my still unfinished French jacket, but changed my mind and used the two-piece sleeves I’ve used for other jackets. It was only after I found myself struggling to ease in the sleeves that I realized the armscye for my French jacket is smaller than the armscye for my jacket sloper.

My new routine is to make a checklist with all the garment pieces and all the adjacent seams that need to walk. It looks something like this:

  • Front to Side Front
  • Side Front to Side Back
  • Side Back to Back
  • Front to back at shoulder
  • Sleeve to armscye

When everything is checked off, I’m ready to cut.

Resist the Temptation to Combine Steps

When teaching patternmaking in her fit and design workshops, Sarah carefully lays out each step that her students should follow, which includes cutting the pattern on the cut line before walking adjacent pattern pieces. I thought this was a step I could skip and simply cut away excess paper when I used the pattern to cut fabric. I was wrong.

After I had kvetched to Sarah Veblen about all the mistakes I made with this jacket, I worked on fixing each of the problems in a workshop that she calls “You Choose Your Focus,” where each participant works on whatever she needs to accomplish with Sarah’s supervision. As Sarah watched me walk two pattern pieces, she noticed that I had veered off from the seamline on one piece and was walking one seamline onto a cut line. She assured me that this is not an uncommon mistake, especially when changes have been made to the pattern and there are extra lines and markings that have been crossed out. She then said in her gentle, patient and non-accusatory manner that the best way to avoid this mistake or at least minimize the number of times you make it is to trim away the excess pattern paper before walking the pattern pieces.

Lesson learned: If a step seems unnecessary, ask the instructor why she advises taking that step before skipping it.

Don’t Forget to Think Seamline

This is another place where the number of lines on a pattern piece can cause confusion. Some lined garments are lined to the edge, whereas others have linings that hang from a facing at the neckline and other really ambitious garments have both a neck facing and a faced hem with a lining in between. Here is what that looks like on this particular jacket:

IMG_0564 (1)

The facings are made of a beautiful black silk taffeta that has a tone-on-tone embossed rose pattern. Sigh. The silk lining is from A Fabric Place outside of Baltimore and I managed to buy more when I was there in November. Yea.

So, on my first attempt to make the lining pattern I marked the depth of the facings on the garment pattern pieces, plus cut lines above and below each of those seamlines, which meant I had three sets of lines at the top (seamline, then cut line for lining and another cut line for the facing), plus two at the bottom, since the lining and hem facing don’t get attached as a seam but have a jump hem instead. I also got mired in math trying to figure out the depth of the jump hem, which is why you see that seam at the bottom of the lining in the picture above. That’s where I attached a bias strip to add length.

Sarah’s advise is to only draw the seamlines, or if you must draw multiple lines, color code them. She draws her seamlines in blue pencil.

Here is a visual for the neck facing/lining segment of that convoluted explanation:

IMG_0572

The reduced scale pattern piece for the garment back is on white paper. I’ve marked only the seamline where the lining (purple tissue paper) attached to the facing (yellow tissue paper). As you can see, the lining’s seam allowance extends up like it’s supposed to and the facing seam allowance extends down. The process was to mark only the seamline, then draw the facing piece, add the seam allowance and cut, then draw the lining piece, add the seam allowance and cut.

Lesson learned: Pattern pieces that get too cluttered are confusing and it’s a mistake to think I will always be able to remember which piece goes up and which goes down.

The whole jump hem thing is a little more involved, so it gets its own section.

Map Out Jump Hems Visually

You don’t have to be math-challenged for math to trip you up, at least I don’t. And there’s something about jump hems that have had me confused for a long time. Sarah walked me through the process visually with strips of paper and I think I finally get it.

When a jacket is lined to the edge (no neck facing) and the hem is turned up (no hem facing), the lining pattern pieces are the same length as the fashion fabric pattern pieces. To get a nice jump hem that covers the hem stitches and ensures that the fashion fabric isn’t pulled up by a too-short lining, we build in a jump hem, which simply means that the fabric hangs down part way over the hem allowance, has a soft fold, comes back up to the hem stitching line and is hand stitched in place. Sarah advises to turn the raw edge of the lining under by ¼” and pin that fold to the hem stitching line and then stitch. Everything works out just fine.

Here is an attempt at a visual representation of how that works:

IMG_0015

The blue paper simulates a back lining for a jacket that is lined to the neck edge. It is the same length as the back jacket piece. The only difference is that it has a little extra width to allow for a pleat at center back and it is marked in approximately the places where the stitching ends to allow for arm movement. The white paper represents the fashion fabric pattern piece, which is turned up at the hem with cross-hatching to represent the right side of the fabric in the hem allowance.

IMG_0017

The picture above shows the fashion fabric piece with the hem turned up overlaying the lining piece, which has ¼” turned up at the hem edge.

The rest of the pictures show mock-ups of a jump hem with a lining, neck facing and faced hem. The principles are the same. The only difference with the faced hem is that you want a bit more of the facing to not be covered up by the lining.

IMG_0568 (1)

Here we have the lavender tissue paper as the lining (it worked much better than the stiff blue paper I used earlier), plus the yellow tracing paper showing the facings at the neck and hem. I’ve turned the lining under ¼” and pinned it to the top edge of the hem facing. Notice the fullness above the area that’s pinned.

IMG_0569 (1)

Here it is with the lining tissue smoothed down. Try to ignore that hemline that I drew in.  Obviously, I misjudged where this would end up, which is why this method is better than doing the math.

IMG_0570 (1)

Here is a view that tries to show everything that’s going on in the area under the jump hem that is hidden when you see a sewn sample.

Lesson learned: Visual mock-ups can avoid a whole bunch of stress and can sometimes clarify things that were once a mystery.

Resewing Has Its Limits

Not all of the problems I encountered were in the pattern. I made some plain, vanilla sewing mistakes that gave me quality time with my seam ripper. There was a snowball effect to this, which I encounter quite a bit. Once I make one dumb mistake I seem to make a whole slew of them. One example was that I set the collar with right sides together. Very dumb. Ordinarily, sewing mistakes are easy to fix, assuming you haven’t trimmed or clipped anything yet. But the lovely silk and wool blend fabric I used for the jacket raveled an unbelievable amount when handled. No matter how careful I was in removing stitches, I was left with very little seam allowance in many areas. It makes me worry about the jacket falling apart when I wear it.

Lesson learned: check the big picture before sewing a seam. Just because the pieces went together nicely when pinning doesn’t guarantee that they are oriented correctly.

There’s More, But It Can Wait

I also learned that my understanding of collars and undercollars had some gaps. We can walk through that in a later post once I’ve gotten comfortable employing my new knowledge on the subject. Besides, I’m more than ready to stop dwelling on my disappointment and move on to some successes.

Here is what the jacket looks like. I finished it in time for the Sew Chicago holiday brunch. Everyone was very supportive and had nice things to say about it and I know that if I hadn’t blabbed about all the mistakes I made most people would never have noticed. I’m looking forward to getting the 2.0 version of it done and feeling really good about the work.

Homage Jkt 1 Modeled

The Disorienting Experience of Constructing the Tulip Dress

Time has an annoying habit of flying by, whether you’re having fun or not, doesn’t it? I really am sorry so much time has passed since my last post. The first few days were spent away from work with friends. I should have known those days would be too full to finish another post. Then it was back to work in full immersion mode and I didn’t emerge from that for another three weeks. Okay, enough about that. We’re here to talk about sewing.

What I promised to tell you about last time was sewing the two-piece tulip dress, which was quite an adventure. Looking at fabric cut in the pieces you see below, plus all the other pieces that didn’t fit into the frame, made me think of a jigsaw puzzle with no picture to give a hint as to how to put it together. I also found the sheer number of pattern pieces daunting. Both the bodice and the skirt have princess seams, so that’s 14 main pattern pieces right off the bat.

Puzzle

Then there are the facings for the shaped bodice hem and the front and back facings for the neckline, plus the cap sleeves and lining pieces that look pretty strange, at least in the bodice, where they hang down from facing pieces.

Back facing and liningLike I said, daunting.

This is where painter’s tape became my best friend. I usually use it to label my pattern pieces and distinguish the right side of the fabric from the wrong side. In skirts, I need to add arrows showing me which side is the princess seam and which is the side seam so I don’t repeat the mistake of trying to sew a side seam to a princess seam. For this project, the notes on the tape were more detailed and still I found myself having to refer back to the pattern to figure out which way was up. Add to that the complication that I actually cut this dress out last summer and put it aside until this spring, because linen isn’t exactly a three-season fabric in Chicago.

Once the pieces were cut and labeled, I tested some fusible interfacing on swatch “sandwiches” to find one with the right amount of body to support the neckline and retain the shape of the hem on the bodice piece. I chose fusible tricot for the neckline facings and fusibles with less body for the hem facings and the area around the invisible zippers (one in the side seam of the bodice and the other in the back of the skirt). This is where I should mention that linen worked particularly well for this design. I tried the same neckline in a light silk (broadcloth maybe?) and it tends to collapse when I move.

Silk Tulip Top

So, if I want to make it again in a a fabric with that much drape, I need to give it a little less length. Or, should I say height?

As I mentioned in my last post, the key to achieving the shape I was after in this neckline is two curved darts in the back.

Back Facing

It looks like a bear to sew, doesn’t it? But the method I use for sewing any dart accurately actually makes sewing these darts pretty much routine.

A lot of the fabrics I work with are drapey and some are also slippery, and I was getting frustrated with the way my darts were turning out. I’d mark them carefully, usually with a tracing wheel, plus snip marks at the cut edge. Then I’d pin them across and get everything lined up, but when they came out of the sewing machine only the side I could see as I was stitching followed the markings. The hidden side almost always came out all wonky. Couture’s answer to this problem is hand basting, but I was still in avoiding hand basting mode when I tackled this problem. The solution that works for me is actually pin basting, which looks something like this.

Pin BastingDepending on how wiggly the fabric is, I might weave each pin through twice. I also always put a pin across the work at the point so I can see clearly where the stitching needs to end.

Once the pins are in with the heads facing me I slide them toward me as I sew with the marked line centered between the toes of the presser foot and remove each one as I get to it. I always set the machine to stop with the needle down, so everything stays pretty much where it is supposed to be.

Dart StitchAs for the big debate about whether to start sewing darts at the cut edge or the point, I think there is something to be said about both approaches. For the most part, I start at the cut edge, but for really narrow darts or times when when hitting the point exactly as marked seems critical, I start at the point.

One cool trick I tried out while sewing the tulip dress was using paper to keep the cut edge of the lining fabric from disappearing into the machine. This doesn’t happen often with my machine, but with China silk lining, why not try an ounce of prevention? Some teachers say you should use a paper stabilizer for the entire seam on certain fabrics, but I recently saw a teacher use just a small scrap of paper at the beginning of the seam. It works like a charm.

Paper on MachineThis is what it looks like from the back.

Paper BackFor some seams, I used paper at both the beginning and the end. You could do the same with a dart, using paper at the point if you think it would help.

When you finish the seam or the dart, the paper tears away easily. And, if it doesn’t, that’s why we keep a pair of tweezers handy.

Tear Paper

My general approach to construction order once any darts I might have are sewn and pressed is to sew the princess seams so I have full front and back units. I know some people like to stay stitch and clip (or just clip without stay stitching) the curved part of princess seams, but I find that working with 3/8″ seam allowances and fabrics made from natural fibers that are pretty cooperative allows me to manipulate the curves with a few pins and stopping to manipulate the fabric with my hands. I love the tactile experience of sewing and this is a big part of it. When I press the princess seam allowances open using the curves on a tailor board, I can tell what areas need to be clipped and so I just do the clipping right there.

Usually, the next order of business is to get the zipper sewn in while the garment is flat. We can talk zippers another time.

This was the first time I tried a shaped hem with facings. As  I was approaching that step, I asked myself why I had thought a shaped hem was a good idea. How was I ever going to get each one of those curves to look the same? The answer, of course, is to mark the stitching lines using a rounded corner template. Curve 2Except I forgot which template I had used to make the pattern(!) In fact, I forgot I even had the one I used. Remember. I said I cut this garment out months before I started to sew it.

Right curve

One option for marking the stitching line would have been to draw it on the pattern and use a tracing wheel and waxed tracing paper. Had I done that at the beginning, I wouldn’t have wasted all that time trying to figure out where that particular curve came from. What I ended up doing is tracing the template with a chalk pen made by Bohin that makes a very thin line. Sarah Veblen told me about this. It’s one of those wonderful tools quilters know about and garment sewists find out about later. Here it is with my trusty roll of painter’s tape.

Tape and Chalk PenOnce the line was drawn, sewing the curve slowly with smaller stitches got the job done.

Sew Curved CornerThen I followed another tip I picked up recently, which is to trim curves using pinking shears instead of making a bunch of snips or clips one by one. How great is that?

Trimmed 2Next, I pressed the seams open over a tailor board. I know it sounds weird, but I got in the habit of doing this after taking a workshop a while back and it seems to make points and curves turn more easily and allow you to favor one side when you do the final press.

On Pt Presser

Press Open Curve

Turned Curved CornerThe one thing about constructing this dress that was exactly like every garment I make is that it took much, much longer than I had thought it would. A lovely friend of mine tells me that the reason I always underestimate the amount of time something will take is because I’m an optimist. I’m going to go with that.

The thing is, after all that time and no small amount of anxiety, I really enjoy wearing this dress.

Linen Tulip Dress