A Summer Jacket that Means Business

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted on this blog and it seems like forever since I’ve finished a garment to blog about. So, let’s get down to business with the jacket that I was going to wear on a trip to Brazil that has since been cancelled.

Houndstooth Linen Jacket

Except for the wrinkles, you would never know that this is linen. It has the look and texture of wool. The fabric is Armani (it says so in the selvage), which I bought from Marcy Titlon’s web site possibly two years ago. The pattern is one of those things that’s hard for cameras to capture accurately. It’s tiny houndstooth checks in black, taupe and beige. The buttons are from Soutache Ribbons and Trim and it is lined in Bemberg Ambiance.

I started with my basic armscye princess bodice and ¾ length two-piece sleeves. I knew I wanted to do a Mandarin collar and at first I thought I might want the jacket to be asymmetrical, similar to this sketch I had made earlier (the one on the left).

 

After looking at circles of paper the size of my buttons arranged on my dress form, I decided to drop the idea of asymmetry. Having the buttons at center front looked just fine. I also decided I didn’t need the curve in the front overlap/underlap and cuffs or buttons on the sleeves could be eliminated as well. Work had been getting increasingly busy and I needed to get this project done.

 In a mentoring session, Sarah Veblen told me I could just mock up the collar once I got the body of the jacket constructed, but I was unsure about the neckline so I did a muslin of  a part of the front, the back and the collar. Sarah made minor adjustments to the mockup during a You Choose Your Focus workshop here in Chicago in March. Her advice was to make the collar slightly shorter in the front, which I did.

The next issue I thought through was the button in the collar. I knew that trying for a functional buttonhole and button in that location was asking for trouble, particularly with the diminished amount of real estate that resulted from making the front of the collar dipping a bit lower than the rest of the collar. I knew a plastic snap behind a button would work, but that still meant taking a risk of running into all sorts of headaches with the buttonhole. My solution was to make the top buttonhole before assembling and attaching the collar. That gave the automatic buttonhole foot an unobstructed path to work with. The stitching is on the upper collar only and I never cut it open. I made several practice buttonholes, both before making the non-functioning one and before making the rest of them, just to make sure that nothing had shifted when I set the buttonhole foot aside to sew the rest of the jacket and to account for the differences between a single layer of fabric and a fashion fabric/interfaced facing sandwich with a seam connecting them. Except for some skipped stitches that had to be resewn by hand, that part of the process worked fine.

For this project, I made a complete checklist of all the construction steps in advance in an attempt to keep myself on track and help with time estimates. This is one of the suggestions Sarah has made to help me be more realistic about my expectations and chart my progress. Checklists, like shopping lists, are extremely helpful, but only if you read them! I was working merrily along without referring to my checklist when I realized that I worked the collar construction the way I do a rolled collar, assembling it before attaching it to the body, whereas I had wanted to use the method you use for a collar band on a tailored shirt. I caught my mistake too late and complained to Sarah that I was going to have to make a new collar. She pointed out that there is more than one way to approach this construction and, in fact, she never uses the tailored shirt method. I followed her advice and concluded that, for a lined jacket, both methods work just fine.

I did lose my momentum when my travel plans were changed and work got crazier. And, as you can see, I didn’t take a lot of pictures to document this project. My enthusiasm for this project dropped even more when I saw this bubble thing on one side:

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The other side was perfectly smooth. Sarah tried to diagnose the problem by looking at pictures of what was going on inside.

After repeated pressings, extra clipping of the curve and general futzing, I remembered that I had needed to resort to spot steaming and some easing when sewing the neck seam. In all likelihood, one side got stretched out of shape in that process. Probably nobody would have noticed had I not pointed it out here, but I think it’s important to go over the pitfalls so we all can learn from them. Anyway, that close-up does show you my nice fake buttonhole.

The jacket is finally in my closet, and I might actually wear it if (1) I get the black linen skirt that goes with it sewn (right now all the pieces are cut out and only the back darts are sewn); and (2) I have a meeting that does not involve a video conference component (there is a reason nobody wears houndstooth prints on TV) on a day when the dew point isn’t in the stratosphere. Is that asking too much?

 

Adding Variety to My Favorite Knit Top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drape Version 1

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

Faced Drape Neck

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

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

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

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

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

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

This approach is definitely a keeper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bluebonnet with Collar

The Campish Shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interfacing Diagram

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Inspired by Miss Fisher

I adore the Australian TV series Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries. Set in the 1920s, the series has much to offer in the way of engaging characters you can’t help caring about, but the bonus is that the costumes are absolutely fabulous. I’m talking rivaling Downton Abbey fabulous, and that’s saying something. The show had a three-season run that can be streamed here in the US on Netflix and sometimes found on PBS. After watching an episode all the way through, I would often rerun it so I could stop and sketch costumes that inspired me. In one episode, Miss Phryne Fisher appeared in a pair of black wide-legged trousers and a black top that had a mesh inset at the top and sleeves made of the same mesh. I had to have one of my own.

The pattern I used as a starting point is my knit version of my basic fitting bodice, which has armscye princess seams. I know, fussy for a knit but the shaping is worth it. Besides, I managed to make this project quite a bit fussier.

The pattern work was pretty straightforward. Buy a strapless bra. Try on a muslin from another garment and trace where the bra ended. I drew a line  across the front pattern piece that was above that point and made two new pattern pieces with seam allowances.

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Miss Fisher’s version of the top has a jewel neck, which I tend to avoid. Still, I think I could have gone a bit higher on the neckline for this.

The black knit has been residing in my fiber archive collection for some time. The mesh inset is a Pointe d’Esprit that sang out to me on Marcy Tilton’s web site. She has an entire section on her web store devoted to mesh, lace and net.

I had never worked with mesh before and so I did some reading and tested some seaming options on scraps. I decided to baste the mesh on the sewing machine and then finish the seams with a narrow hem on the serger. It gave me the effect I was after.

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Of course I needed to sew down the seam allowance on the seam separating the mesh from the knit so that it would stay hidden, but when I tested topstitching I didn’t like the way it looked. That’s where this project started getting more involved than I had planned.

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I remembered from an online class taught by Susan Khaljie that in couture, the generous 1-inch seam allowances are attached to underlinings with catch stitches. I didn’t have underlining to work with, but I wasn’t using a tissue knit so I figured I could just catch a thread or two in the body of the garment in each catch stitch and it wouldn’t show on the the outside. The results were nice and smoooth. That’s when I got carried away and decided to use the same treatment for the princess seams and the hem.

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Yes, that’s the point at which I asked myself if I was completely crazy to do this much work for a knit top, but it’s not just any ordinary knit top.

I considered binding the neck edge and sleeves with a strip of the knit fabric, but I decided that would be too heavy. Instead, I opted for a bias binding of China silk. Of course, that was attached on one side by machine, then wrapped around the edge, pinned and sewn to the inside by hand.

So, it’s definitely a fussy project but I enjoyed the process of experimentation and discovery and I really enjoy wearing the finished product. So far I’ve worn it with black slacks, but I’m contemplating a black trumpet skirt (the current term is fit and flare) in a drapy rayon crepe that I think will look great with it too.

 

Sarah Veblen’s You Choose Your Focus Workshop

Last weekend I took another quantum leap in developing my sewing and personal design skills. As always, Sarah Veblen was at the heart of this experience.

Sarah was here in Chicago to teach a workshop she calls “Choose Your Focus.” Instead of having a predetermined topic such as fitting or jacket fit and construction, this workshop provides an opportunity for each participant to work one-on-one with Sarah with whatever project or projects are at the top of that person’s wish list. It is basically private instruction in a group setting. This is the second Choose Your Focus Workshop I’ve attended and it definitely won’t be my last.

All levels of skill are welcome in these workshops and Sarah is more than capable of meeting each participant’s particular needs. Everyone’s experience in these workshops is unique. Steph has shared her perspective on her blog, 10 Sewing Machines & A Serger, and she also generously allowed me to use her workshop pictures in this post. I always start out with the intention to document with pictures, but often don’t follow through.

The first morning, the group gathers and each participant discusses what she hopes to accomplish in the workshop. Often we’ve emailed Sarah in advance to give her an idea of what we will be bringing, but this is everyone’s opportunity to crystallize their thinking and Sarah’s opportunity to formulate an idea of workflow and how she can most effectively help the participants reach their goals. Some topics come up that will best be handled with a demo, which the entire group will benefit from watching. This exchange also allows other participants to learn from the other projects that are being worked on.

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I arrived with a list of projects in order of priority that I placed into two categories: “required” (a/k/a “gottas”) and “extra credit.” The workshop was three days long, but I only had 2½ days because of a volunteer commitment. Factor into that my lack of speed in all things sewing and patternmaking and I knew that I needed wiggle room in my list of goals.

At the top of my “gotta” list was finalizing the design, pattern, fabric, embellishment and construction methods for a Little Black Dress to wear to a wedding in June and, I hope, model in the Haute Couture Club of Chicago fashion show that I’m co-chairing in April. I had chosen a lovely matlesse that I bought at A Fabric Place outside Baltimore (known as Michael’s Fabrics online) when I had worked with Sarah at her home studio a while back. I had questions about whether I should make the collar out of a different fabric and whether I should go with my original plan to add a few black faceted beads or use the fabulous embellishment piece made of beads and covered buttons that I bought at Soutache quite some time ago with no idea what I would do with it.

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The verdict was to use it on this dress and Sarah demonstrated to the group how I should handle it. The collar will be made of the same fabric as the rest of the dress. I also asked about underlining—yes, with silk organza—and confirmed that I will be using China silk lining.

I also had questions about fabric choice, closure placement and design details for the dress I’m making to wear to the luncheon portion of the upcoming fashion show and to a bridal shower I’m co-hosting the following week. (It’s going to be a ridiculously busy spring). Those questions were answered and I was able to check that item off my list.

To finalize the design of the LBD, I assembled the muslin pieces that I had cut last fall before the workshop began. The body of the dress is derived from my sheath pattern, which has armscye princess seams. I wanted a curved Empire waist seam that dips lower in the back, but not so low that it reaches waist height and accentuates my most prominent feature. (My derrière draws quite enough attention without any help.) I wanted to use the 60’s-esque collar that I’ve worked with before, only I wanted it to sit higher in the front and extend a little farther out on my shoulders and then follow a dip in the neckline in back and trail off in points. In preparing the muslin, I made the front of the neckline what I thought it would end up being, cut the collar longer than I would need and only attached it from the front to the shoulders so that Sarah could drape it.

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After some testing, we decided to make the front neckline a bit wider and Sarah worked her magic on the back.

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This is exactly as I had envisioned it!

The next step was to transfer the adjustments to the pattern. This is an area where I still am prone to doubts and confusion. As the workshop progressed, I got more confident about drawing new lines with the Fashion Ruler that don’t pick up every single pin placement mark. (It’s only pencil! I have a lifetime supply of erasers!) I’m just so worried about making a mistake that will throw off the entire garment when I sew it. I got better at this as the workshop progressed and was able to draw lines where I thought they should go. This confidence came from knowing I could ask Sarah to check my work right away. Call it a crutch if you must. I prefer security blanket. In any event, the whole point of participating in these workshops is that we don’t have to guess and compound our errors until we end up with a mess.

Anyway, Sarah ended up doing much of the pattern work on the LBD and I did more on my own on the next project.

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The final step was to test out the collar on a quick mock-up of the neckline on Day 2 of the workshop. It worked perfectly. I’m now ready to cut the fashion fabric!

My next project was to address yet another issue that has cropped up with my two-piece sleeve pattern. When I attended Sarah’s workshop last November, I corrected my basic two-piece sleeve pattern so that it fit well and had a total of ¾” ease evenly divided between the front and back when it is set into my basic jacket pattern. However, I’ve been using this as my all-purpose sleeve pattern and when I walked my pattern pieces to make a two-piece dress last month I noticed that the sleeve pattern had too much ease and it was not evenly distributed front to back. Both garment patterns were derived from my basic fitting bodice pattern but there have been some adjustments along the way and now there are differences. When I made this discovery, I prepared muslin pieces for my fitted blouse pattern and my topper pattern and brought the lining pieces for my two-piece dress bodice, along with all three patterns. I also started the project of making a full set of pattern pieces for each of my garments, instead of reusing side panel pieces and sleeves for multiple garment patterns.

I tried to make a mock-up of the sleeve before the workshop by putting in one adjustment to the sleeve pattern to even out distribution of ease, but I did what I almost always do—I added to the piece that was supposed to be made smaller and subtracted from the piece that was supposed to be made larger. I’m amazed at how often I defy the odds in that annoying way. Sarah straightened me out and I made a new test sleeve.

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I now have a two-piece sleeve pattern that works as it should for my fitted blouse pattern, my two-piece dress and my topper pattern. The topper pattern is going to be a building block for upcoming blouse projects.

That brought me to the end of my must-have list. Amazingly, I was able to make substantial progress on my extra credit.

I consulted with Sarah about my plans for developing a “flowy” blouse pattern from my topper pattern for a lovely teal hammered silk and a gray and cream striped rayon that have been aging in my collection for quite some time.

I can’t get the true color of the silk, but the picture is a close-up of its texture. I’ve been wanting to do that trick with the rayon that uses stitched-down tucks to hide the stripes at the shoulder, extending down just a bit. We decided I’d do that at the sleeve cap as well.

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The blouse will use the front pleat from Vogue 1412 that I used in my shirtdress and have a shirt-tail hem or a curved hem with side vents.

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The striped version will have a variation on the neckline from View B of Vogue 1412 and the teal silk will have the shirtdress neckline and collar. For both, I wanted sleeves similar to the one in Vogue 1367, a scaled-back poet’s sleeve. IMG_0673

Development of the sleeve required me to merge the two-piece sleeve pattern together and make the necessary design changes. Sarah worked closely with me to get this done. I then mocked it up and Sarah worked on getting it into the topper armhole.

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We decided on a series of tucks, which are going to be a lot of work but will achieve the effect I’m after. I now have a pattern for the sleeve and cuff and instructions for working with the tucks.

Sarah took this opportunity to give us a demo on her method for attaching a continuous sleeve placket using a bias strip of fabric.

With this checked off my list, I couldn’t believe there were still a couple of hours left in the workshop. I started on my second “extra credit” project, which is to draft a trumpet skirt. The shape will be similar to this picture, but without godets.

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I got a little bit of the way into it, but realized I was tired and that would make me prone to even more mistakes than usual. Still, I have a process plan and Sarah answered my dumb questions about the pattern work so I can pick this up after my “gotta” sewing projects are done.

As always, the workshop time flew by and all too soon it was time to say good-bye to Sarah and get back to the real world where sewing and design have to share time with earning a living and volunteer commitments. I’m really amazed at how much I accomplished and I have renewed energy around my projects. All that, plus I got to spend time with a group of talented, dedicated home sewers who always inspire me and never fail to offer encouragement. Who could possibly ask for more?

Connecting the Dots

Blue SheathOkay, time to take the two-piece dress pattern and convert it to a pattern for a sheath dress. No big deal, right? Well, not a really big deal but there were issues.

The first hurdle was to decide where the bodice pattern leaves off and the skirt pattern begins. Why wasn’t it just a matter of extending the bodice piece? Isn’t that how we’re told we can convert commercial blouse or shirt patterns into dress patterns? Yes, that is what we’re told, but it doesn’t work on me.

First, let’s take a look at the two-piece dress sloper, or master pattern.

2pc front

See how the bodice is nipped in a bit, but not as much as the waistband on the skirt, then flares out? If you continue that flare the silhouette wouldn’t be anything close to a sheath.

There’s another problem lurking here. I’m one of those women with a tilted waist. And, because of my shape—lots of tush, less of me at the waist—the center back seam is not the same length as the center front seam. You can get a sense of that tilt from this picture, which also approximates the way the two pieces overlap as worn.

SideSeamOverlapHere’s where working with horizontal balance lines that Sarah Veblen teaches us to use comes to the rescue. When developing a pattern from one that has been fitted using Sarah’s method, there are two things you know for sure. The hem will be parallel to the floor, making hemming a breeze, and the horizontal balance line or lines (HBLs) used in the fitting process will also be parallel to the floor/perpendicular to center front and center back. HBLs are drawn somewhere below the bust on blouses and jackets and in the hip area on skirts and pants. That means I was able to use everything above the HBL in the bodice and everything below the HBL in the skirt for my sheath dress mock-up. The mystery was what the pattern needed to look like in between those HBLs.

You may be wondering why all the angst about something I’m going to mock up in muslin and can fine tune anyway. For one thing, I was still reeling from all the trial and error that had gone into getting a good fit before I started working with Sarah. A big chunk of that time was spent trying to make a sheath dress, and that includes a workshop in which everyone was close to finishing a dress at the end of the weekend and I was still getting a muslin repinned that never made it to a completed garment. In other words, this project had even more baggage than usual associated with it.

In consultation with Sarah, I chose a point on the bodice and a point on the skirt to attach the two pieces. I drew a line perpendicular to center front at that point and walked the adjoining seams (front princess, side seam, back princess) until the line was extended all the way through each of the two garment patterns.

Here is the connecting line on the skirt side front. This picture also gives you a clear view of how much tilt there is to my waist.

Skirt Join

Here is how I ended up connecting the bodice and skirt front pieces.

Connected

Once I mocked up the dress in muslin, I used a fit appointment with Sarah for fine-tuning. We added more shaping to the princess and side seams and everything looked good to go. After transferring the markings to the pattern, I proceeded to make up the dress in a fabulous variegated silk from Emma One Sock. I even used nail polish to make the pull on a black invisible zipper to blend in with the fabric.

ZipperPullBefore attaching the lining, I tried on the dress and absolutely hated what I saw in the mirror. There was nothing wrong with the fit, but it was definitely not flattering.

Before tackling this project, I had asked a couple of teachers, including Sarah, whether a sheath was not the right silhouette for me. That’s why I had opted for the two-piece dress in the first place. Having the skirt hugging the waist underneath the bodice and the bodice skimming over the area between the bottom of the rib cage and high hip seems much more pleasing to me than what I think of as the sack-of-potatoes look when that area is covered by a continuous layer of fabric. But I was told not to give up on a sheath and so I had invested even more time and money and I was feeling as if it was all wasted.

I put the dress on my dress form and walked away from it. Later, I wondered whether adding a collar would help by diverting attention away from the problem area. I played around with some extra fabric, cutting it on the bias and draping it along the neckline on the dress form. It certainly gave the dress a different look, but I just didn’t know. I went on to work on other projects while the dress stared back at me from the dress form.

The next time I saw Sarah, I put the dress on to show her and while she would never in a million years use a term like “sack of potatoes,” she understood why I was unhappy with the dress. Her solution was to add a design element as an “interruption” in the area I was unhappy about. I was skeptical, but it actually worked.

ButtonTab TabBackIt’s just a self-fabric partial belt or tab that sits next to the front princess seam on each side with a decorative button from Soutache, my favorite ribbon and trim store which is right here in Chicago.  The belt crosses the side seam and disappears into the back princess seam on each side. It’s subtle, but I think it’s effective. At least it got me to finish the dress.

Sarah thought I should also add the collar, which surprised me. But that’s what I ended up doing. Here is the result.

Wendy Blue Sheath Sep 2014I’ve worn this dress several times and I feel great in it. I’m planning another one with a different neckline and collar.