Storm Blue Dress

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Let’s not dwell on how long it’s been since I’ve completed a project or how long since I’ve blogged. Instead, I’d like to celebrate the latest addition to my handmade wardrobe. It’s a dress that incorporates the raise V neckline I adore and fabulous crinkly rayon in an intriguing shade I’m calling Storm Cloud Blue. This fabric has been aging in my fiber collection for a long time. I’ve lost track of how long ago I bought it at EmmaOneSock. It’s actually a double cloth and the texture is achieved with stitching.

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My original vision was to make this into a dress using this particular neckline, and then I veered off into other directions before coming back to this. I’m glad it took me a long time to start this project because I’ve refined the neckline pattern and found the perfect interfacing to make it work and because I decided to make the body of the dress the same as my LBD. I also decided to echo the tulip-like shape of the neckline with a curved faced hem on the sleeves. I think the combination is just right.

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The neckline has been through a couple of revisions since I put it in a lightweight silk blouse that never stayed put and ultimately had to be cut down and then used successfully in my linen Tulip Dress, which is two pieces.

 

For the white double gauze cotton top I cut the back a bit and discovered that Shirtmaker’s Choice from Islander Sewing Systems (now called Shirtmaker’s Choice Medium) is the perfect interfacing for this design. It gives the neckline enough body to hold its shape without turning it into a stiff board.

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The additional refinement I made to the pattern for this iteration was to do a better job of squaring it off at Center Back so it doesn’t dip at the Center Back seam. The next step was to graft the neck and shoulder onto my bodice master pattern and then to incorporate the curved Empire seam of the Little Black Dress. I also took my master pattern for 2-piece sleeves and incorporated a curved hem and made two hem facing pattern pieces.

With the pattern work done, construction was relatively straightforward after making one more decision. I didn’t line this dress so the question for the bodice was do I make neck facings or simply self-face the entire bodice. I was concerned about the bulk of the fabric, but I tested and decided it was okay to mak a full self-facing so there are no worries about slippage. With this neckline it’s only possible to understitch part of the way because the stitching would be visible about half-way up. The fabric sewed and pressed beautifully. I finished the seam allowances with 3-thread serging.

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When it came to installing the invisible zipper in a side seam, I stitched the first side by machine, hand basted the second side to be sure I got the Empire seam to line up and everything was even at the top and then sewed over it by machine.

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Getting the seam in the two-piece sleeves to line up with the shoulder seam was a bit fussier, so after one attempt to sew it all in by machine failed I sewed in the lower part of the sleeves (princess seam to princess seam) by machine, then pinned the sleeve cap on over a pressing ham for the right shape and attached the caps by hand using a fell stitch.

After attaching the sleeve hem facings (and finding I’d cut two the same and needed to recut the second one), pressing and pinning, I got to work with the hand sewn finishes at the sleeve hem facings and skirt hem.

The result is a dress I feel great in.

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It Started With The Collar

You know how one detail can make an outfit? My latest completed project isn’t something that required great leaps from what I’ve done before. It started with a collar I saw on a red dress worn by a minor character in an episode of Father Brown Murder Mysteries. I love the 1950s fashions in that show and I often rewind to take a picture or sketch something one of the characters is wearing.

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I filed this image in my inspiration album and forgot about it until one day last spring when I was looking through my fabric collection for something else entirely and I came across this fabulous wool and linen blend that I had bought from A Fabric Place in Baltimore. The next thing that occurred to me is that I could make this as a two-piece dress, using my master patterns for bodice and skirt. Suddenly, I could see myself in this dress at court, at a luncheon, at anything that calls for business dress.

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I found the absolutely perfect buttons in my button collection, but I only had the size that was right for the sleeves. I was really bummed, but the buttons were a recent purchase from my favorite source, Soutache Buttons & Trims here in Chicago, so I emailed the proprietor, Maili Powell, a picture of the buttons and asked whether she still had the larger ones. “How many do you need? I’ll set them said for you” was the prompt response. Yay! I mean, are these buttons not meant for this fabric?

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In thinking about the collar, I realized I could work from the collar on my Spoonflower dress pattern and use the neckline for that dress so there would be little or no futzing around to get the collar and neckline to work with one another. The collar I ended up with is narrower than the inspiration one, but I think it works.

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The Spoonflower dress collar is a Peter Pan collar that overlaps and is shifted about a quarter turn around the body so the overlap happens at the shoulder.

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Sarah Veblen walked me through the process of converting that collar pattern so I didn’t have to redraft the pattern from scratch.

I started out by tracing the Spoonflower collar pattern and marking Center Front, Center Back and the shoulder seams. Once it was cut out, I joined the ends, eliminating the overlap and underlap. Because the collar is drafted to have a slight lift (stand), it won’t lay flat when connected.

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The next step was to cut the pattern where the overlap would happen and add the underlap and overlap. Then it was on to the dress form to refine the shape of the overlap and get that curve-into-a-point bit to look proportional and achieve the effect I was going for.

Once it looked right to me in paper on the dress form, I cleaned up the pattern, added seam allowances and was ready to cut it in fashion fabric. Whenever I make anything asymmetrical, I have to go to great lengths to make sure the finished product is going to be placed on the side I intended for it to end up on. Layer on top of that the fact that I tend to get lost when doing collars because they are sewn wrong side/undercollar to the right side of the bodice and I end up rechecking what I’m doing several times before fusing the interfacing.

I’ve started a notebook with machine settings and presser feet that I use for different tasks on my new machine. I had been experimenting with different approaches for understitching, and for this project the third presser foot I tried was the skinny zipper foot. Instead of sewing with the needle off to the side the way you do when you insert a zipper, I sewed with the needle in the center hole. Because my seam allowances are ⅜” it worked out very well.

Once I got the collar attached, it occurred to me that it might be nice to have turned-back cuffs that echo the collar shape. So, I traced the turned-back cuff pattern from my shirtdress and to achieve the curved pointy detail I took a wild guess and made a photocopy of the overlap portion of the collar reduced to 70%. I had expected to need to try different percentages, but that guess was spot on.

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My intention had been to try something new with the skirt, but I ran into an obstacle and so the skirt variation had to be put on hold. The skirt ended up being another pencil skirt from my master pattern. Both pieces are lined in China silk.

I absolutely love wearing this dress.

 

As the Fabric Ravels

I started off the year promising myself I would sew wardrobe-building pieces from patterns I’ve already developed. For some variety, I’d change one or two design details and not attempt any quantum leaps. So in January I took a fabulous cotton tweed (yes, cotton tweed!) fabric that I bought from Sawyer Brook a few years ago and a dress pattern I’ve used before.  It’s the pattern I developed for my ASG Neighborhood Group’s Spoonflower fabric challenge.

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I also used the pattern for last year’s bias challenge.

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Those two dresses are sleeveless and the first one has a collar, so the only changes I made to this dress were to add ¾ length sleeves and omit the collar. I planned to make it an easy, casual dress with no lining. What could go wrong?

Two months, later, I can give you an answer to that question.

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This fabric raveled so much the serging fell off in places and threatened to fall off everywhere else. And, the problem might not have been quite so bad if it weren’t for the fact that I use ⅜” seam allowances. The lesson for future projects: test the fabric before cutting and if it looks like raveling might be a problem, add wider seam allowances to the pattern and clean finish all edges immediately after cutting the pattern pieces.

So, what to do for this dress? (Besides abandon it, which I seriously considered doing, along with abandoning sewing altogether and taking photography lessons.) I turned to fusible bias tape to literally glue the cut edges.

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I then serged and, in some places, serged for a second time.

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Then I decided that the seam allowances might hold up through a few more wearings if I cut down on the friction by installing a lining. So, I cut Bemberg Ambiance and my quick and easy dress became a bigger deal than I had anticipated.

I also had to deal with the fact that the worst fraying was in the Empire seam in the back, which meant that my hemline was way off. I’d lost so much length in the back that I had to opt for a hem faced with stretch lace and trimmed the excess in the front and at the sides. The overall length is ¾” shorter than I usually wear my skirts and dresses, but I figured with opaque tights it would be fine.

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I really like the shape of the dress and the the way the fabric looks and feels when I’m wearing it. I’m glad I finished it. I’m just hoping my next project is less of a challenge.

 

 

In The Sketchbook – December 2017

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

This month, I’ve been trying to work out a plan for some stunning guipure lace I found last winter. My dear friend Steph and I have challenged ourselves to making guipure lace dresses for the final opera in our season subscription in February. The first task, finding just the right color of silk charmeuse to use as a foundation for the dress, took over 8 months. I did manage to find the winning combination at the end of an action-packed business trip to New York in the fall.

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When I bought the lace, I had in mind a simple sheath dress, or maybe a sheath with cap sleeves. But earlier this month when I was on the El, I saw a young woman wearing a pretty embroidered lace dress with a full skirt and it made me reconsider the silhouette.

My sketching skills absolutely do not do these fabrics any justice, but here goes.

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Then I wondered whether a high boat neck in the front and a dip in the back might be appealing.

Then I thought about the weight of the lace and decided it would be better to reign in the fullness of the skirt. Something like this.

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The next thought that popped into my head was managing the zipper. That will require a review of Susan Khaljie’s Craftsy class on the guipure lace skirt. Then it will be time to get to work on the pattern and mock-up!

Be sure to check out what fabulous designs my dear friend Stephanie King of Siouxzeegirl Designs is showing at 10 Sewing Machines & a Serger. We’d love to see and hear about what you’re sketching, so  please leave a comment.

The Bias Challenge

For this year’s ASG Chicago Chapter fashion show, my neighborhood group, Sew Chicago, challenged ourselves to create a garment that has at least 50% of the visible area sewn on the bias.

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Four members of Sew Chicago met the challenge to “Show Your Bias” on the runway

Before embarking on this challenge, my experience with bias had been limited to bias bindings for necklines and armholes and using a single bias panel in the Decades of Style Stardust Skirt.   So, of course I did a ton of research on the subject and shared what I had learned with the Sew Chicago Neighborhood Group.

My plan for the challenge project had been simple, or so I thought. I copied my master skirt pattern, which is for a slightly pegged pencil skirt with princess seams. I used the slash and spread method to swing out the seams at the side, side front and side back, kept the center back seam as it was in the original and added a center front seam. I then converted the grainline on each piece to bias.

I decided to test first with a wearable muslin, which turned out to be a very good call. I was planning to make the skirt in rayon challis so I tested in a less expensive rayon challis I had bought on sale. The skirt sewed like a dream and I was very excited about having a wearable muslin I actually wanted to wear. When I tried on the skirt I really liked the way it looked and moved. I then put the skirt on my dress form so the bias could relax overnight. When I put the skirt on to show Sarah Veblen in a mentoring session I discovered that the seams had developed waves just below the waistband and those wavy seams made the fabric in between pooch out. Sarah had me try various methods to address the problem, but it just got worse and later showed up at center back. I didn’t keep any of the pictures because I was so fed up with the whole project.

In thinking through what had happened, I came to the conclusion that the problem was showing up in the curved sections of the seams. My master pattern follows my curves and I had preserved those curves in the bias pattern, whereas most bias skirt patterns only have side seams and they tend to be straight. The message I thought the fabric might be sending me was “I like to curve when I’m on the bias, but I want to do it on my own terms, not in a way that’s dictated by a pattern.” It’s not any different from the messages my cat gives me, which is that whatever she does, she wants it to be her idea, not mine. I know I overthink everything, but this made sense to me. Cats and bias are both pretty finicky.

Having identified what I thought might be the problem, the next thought that popped into my head was a possible solution. The dress I had developed for the Sew Chicago Spoonflower Fabric Challenge has a fitted bodice, a curved Empire seam and a skirt portion with a relaxed fit. What if I took those skirt pattern pieces, eliminated all of the curves from the vertical seamlines and flared out the pieces straight from where they attach to the Empire seam?

I could cut the bodice on straight of grain and, for some extra insurance, place a zipper at center back but stop it at the Empire seam so there would be no zipper in any part of a bias seam. Sarah thought this might work, so that’s what I did.

I ordered 5 yards of rayon challis from Stone Mountain & Daughter so I would have plenty to work with for the bias pieces. As it turned out, I have 1¾ yards left over.

The print made me glad I’m not prone to vertigo!

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Construction went smoothly and the method I used for setting the invisible zipper was so easy I worried that I had done something wrong. One fun thing I was able to do in constructing this dress was use the method of attaching the all-in-one facing that makes me feel like I’m doing a magic trick. I’ve gone through the details of the other cool method for attaching an all-in-one facing entirely by machine, which involves sewing in a tunnel. The method I used for this dress can only be used if you have an opening at center front or center back. I had planned to use a center back zipper for the bodice of this dress, so this was my chance to use the method in something other than a half-scale sample.

This has to be done before that center back (or center front) seam and side seams have been sewn.

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After the bodice and the facing pieces are connected at the shoulders and the shoulder seams are pressed open, you attach the facing at the neck, press as sewn, clip the curves press the seam open and then turn the facing to the inside of the bodice and press the seam, favoring it so the seam is visible only from the inside of the bodice. The next step is to understitch, which goes very easily because the garment is still flat. I have a new machine and I found that using the stitch in the ditch foot with the needle position moved away from the seam worked very well.

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The next step is to sew the armscye seams, following the same steps used for the neck seam. The only difference is that the understitching cannot be done all the way to the shoulder unless you do the tunnel stitching, but on this dress I got pretty close. The thing is, as long as you cut your facing pattern pieces ¼” shy of the fashion fabric pieces at the shoulder on the armscye side and taper out to the original bodice pattern piece about mid-way down, the seam will naturally roll toward the facing in the area that’s difficult to reach for understitching so you are okay.

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Now we’ve come to the fun part. Other sewists have included videos in their tutorials and you might want to watch them if this sounds confusing. What I’ve found is that it sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. Just follow the steps and once you’ve done it, you will be able to use the technique from memory.

What you want to do is reach into the space between the fashion fabric and the facing from the side that doesn’t have an opening with two fingers extending past the shoulder seam. In the case of this dress, I reached from the front toward the back.

You then use your other hand to pass one half of the back of the bodice and facing unit to those waiting fingers. Then you simply pull the fabric through until it is right side out.

Repeat on the other side and you’re done.

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After construction was completed, I put the dress on Dottie (my dress form), marveled at the way the skirt seems to be in motion even when it’s perfectly still and hoped there would be none of those unpleasant surprises I encountered with the skirt.

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When disaster didn’t strike after three days on Dottie (two would have been sufficient), I tried on the dress and the only issue that needed to be dealt with was the hem. The back was considerably shorter than the front. At first I thought this was due to the bias, but in taking the pictures of the pattern pieces I see it was a mistake in patternmaking. I don’t understand how that happened when I walked all the seamlines, but it did. With help from my dear friend Stephanie King I was able to sort out the hem length and finish the dress in time for the runway show.

One issue I noticed is some crumpling above the princess seams in the front. I thought it was a pressing issue, but pressing didn’t resolve it. And it’s not a question of posture.

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I sent a picture and asked Sarah Veblen about it in a mentoring session. She thinks the bodice is too snug around the apex, at least for a fabric with the qualities of this rayon challis. That would explain why I haven’t encountered this problem when using my master pattern with more stable fabrics. I think this theory is probably correct. It doesn’t help that I’ve regained the weight I’ve lost repeatedly and regained again over the past couple of years. I’ll work on tweaking the fit before I try a version of this dress again.

Overall, I think this was a successful experiment. I’m happy that I found a solution to my bias problem in time to join in on the group challenge and I’m very happy that I have this dress.

My First Appleton Dress

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The Appleton Dress before hemming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Belated Spoonflower Challenge Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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