Monday, November 21, 2016

Cozy for the Holidays!

It's a shame I didn't sew this up last year when I purchased the Italian wool knit from Emma One Sock with McCalls 6844 in mind.  Better late than never...and just in time for the very late arrival of cool weather in the northeast.  I think this may quickly become my most worn garment of 2016!

Based on Pattern Review, I cut a size smaller (XS) and graded up to a small in the hips.  Reviewers also noted that the sleeves were tight so I graded those to a small as well.  Even though I abandoned the sleeves in favor of a vest.

The vest is as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

I used this tutorial for the continuous bias tape and this tutorial for a hong kong seam.  I catch stitched all seam allowances down. Quite laborious but worth it.

After finishing all the seams with the bias tape I was inspired to incorporate the black silk charmeuse into the collar as well.  I love the result.

It was tricky to reduce bulk when sewing the collar because the wool was so lofty. I graded the seams a good deal.

It was a busy fall with visits from family + weekends away in Atlanta, Philadelphia and California.   California was extra special because it was a girls weekend to wine country. Highly recommend Hanzell Winery in Sonoma for its picturesque and secluded location in the Mayacama mountains, chateau inspired by Clos Vougeuot in Burgundy, and informative tour of the production facilities and cave.  The tour + tasting is by appointment only which is nice because you don't have to deal with the crowds at the commercialized wineries along the wine trail.  We dined at Frances in San Francisco, Girl and the Fig in Sonoma and Michael Chiarrello's Bottega in Yountville.  Girl & The Fig was easily my favorite. Can't beat California produce + French cuisine....  

I am traveling to Bangkok, Thailand on Friday on business, but have extended my stay for a short weekend to sight-see.  Top of the list when I escape the conference room is a visit to the Jim Thompson House silk museum + custom clothes.  On my last trip to Bangkok, I had dresses made at Cotton House but would like to try a new tailor this time. On the off chance anyone reading this has had clothes made in Bangkok, any tailor recommendations? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lessons in Prewashing...

I had high hopes for this beautiful navy knit from Paron's Going out of Business Sale in NYC's garment district.  The Italian viscose has a lovely hand with about 20% stretch.  It's wrinkle free = perfect for travel.

From the start, I intended to use the fabric for an office appropriate dress with out of print Vogue 8663.

 But the finished dress was solidly in the boring camp (even for office wear), too big and doesn't at all do justice to the lovely fabric.

Accessorizing with a silk scarf belt makes the ensemble a tad less forgettable, don't you think?  But still quite blah....

Although I am usually a Vogue size 10, I cut out a 12 based on the finished measurements.  It turned out to be too big in the bodice.

I turned to Pattern Review for assistance with the pleats.  After marking with chalk I basted them in place by hand.  I also topstitched the pleats down (not in the pattern direction).  In spite of my prep, the center pleat shifted.  I unpicked it and re-sewed it as a dart.  Better but far from perfect. 

I applied Sewkeyse knit stay tape to the neckline, sleeves and hem and then folded over twice and catch stitched.  I prefer the look of hand finishing to machine or even twin needle.

I wore the dress twice before sending it out with the laundry. (One of the many peculiarities of NYC living is that many of us don't have in-unit washer/dryers...) I forgot to specify that the dress needed to be air dried and it shrunk...A LOT.  The new "dress" is tunic length and barely covers my bum. On the upside, it fits pretty close to perfect in the bodice...

To keep the faith, I am reframing this experience as a wearable muslin and intend to make the dress again with the following modifications:
  •  smaller size (8 or 10)
  •  lengthen the bodice 2 inches
  •  use darts instead of pleats in the bodice
  • cut the back bodice and back skirt on the fold
  • construct a full lining
Guess who will never again forget to prewash her fabric?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cocktail Culottes

Semi-formal, Black Tie Preferred, Coastal Cocktail, Dressy Casual...

Between the destination wedding craze and the Pinterest inspired mason-jar/burlap trend, wedding attire has become C A S U A L.

In July I attended a (husband's) family wedding in Lancaster Pennsylvania.  The couple didn't specify dress code and I am not close enough to have a sense of their style.  I knew that the venue was a hotel, the ceremony began at 3pm, and the invitation wording was informal ;)

What to wear?

C U L O T T E S of course!

Helen from Helen's Closet recently released her Winslow Culottes.  I chose View D, the palazzo pant style.

The pattern requires 4.5 yards of 54" fabric, but I managed with 4 yards of 54" for the size 8.  I think I could have used less yardage if I weren't trying to match a border print.  I purchased the first 2 yards from Kashi at Metro Textiles several years ago and the final 2 yards from AK Fabrics.  Kashi told me that this was a lovely "Italian silk."  I did a quick burn test and the fabric burned too quickly to be silk.  Silk or synthetic, I still love it.  Especially since it travels nicely and doesn't wrinkle.

I french seamed the outer and inner pant leg seams and finished the curved crotch seams with a narrow hem before joining the crotch seams. I may have made an error when cutting out because the pant circumference didn't quite match the waistband length.  Next time I make these, I will map the paper pattern pieces against one another and cut the waistband a few inches longer. Instead of commercial interfacing, I used a heavy silk organza to interface the waistband.  I chose not to sew the pockets because I didn't want the added bulk.

To dress the culottes up for the wedding, I opted for a quick top in a stretch green charmeuse from the stash. This literally took one hour to make.  I loosely cut an "A-Frame" of the fabric for the front and a rectangle for the back.  Next, I removed the charm from an old black organza ribbon necklace and knotted the charmeuse fabric around the necklace to secure it in the front.  Then, I sewed up the side seams, trying the top on several times as I widdled it down to fit.


One of my favorite things about sewing is that it allows me to make a small $ investment in trendy clothes that I otherwise wouldn't have bought off the rack.  I am slowly figuring out the styles that I feel most comfortable and confident wearing. This one is a winner for sure!

So much so that I wore it to our last wedding of the season (phheww!) over Labor Day Weekend.  My cocktail culottes were perfect for the venue (Prospect Park, Brooklyn), time (4:30pm), and relaxed vibe of the wedding.  Hoping to finish a silk pair this week just in time for an engagement party and am already envisioning another pair for the fall in suede...

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Trending Off the Shoulder

I am enjoying a quiet week at Bald Head Island with bookend weekend visits from family.   It's hot as hades here and even the ocean breeze is no match for the Carolina heat.

There are no cars on the island and only golf carts and bikes to get around. It's just the right pace for me and there's no place I'd rather be!

My usual beach look is wild-haired and makeup free in an old knit dress.  Occasionally my Southern heritage kicks in and I feel compelled to get moderately "dolled up." I selected the Style Arc Cara for my on-trend off the shoulder look.

I cut a size 8, though I wish I had sewed the 6 as the neckline could be a smidge tighter. The blue cotton is from Gail K Fabrics in Atlanta. The white contrast shirting is a B&J scrap from my husband's shirts. The lace is from M&J Trimmings:  3.5 yards of the wider lace for the hem and neckline band and 1 yard of the smaller lace for the sleeve caps.

I originally lengthened the front and back pieces by 16 inches to make a dress.  As soon as I sewed it up I knew I had a potential wadder on my hands.  Wadder status was confirmed when my husband innocently asked if I was going for the "Robin Hood's merry men" look.  I tried belting the dress, but the Robin Hood jokes didn't cease...


To salvage the dress, I cut off 16 inches and made it into the top intended by the pattern.

The front neckline piece (which is attached to the sleeves and top front) is interfaced and elastic is only inserted on the back neckline piece to ensure no wardrobe malfunctions. Before attaching the white neckline to the blue top, I sewed the back neckline to the front neckline at the side seams and pressed open the seam allowances.  I sewed the elastic on each side to the back neckline seam allowance. See the stitching in blue below.


Next, I secured the elastic to the back neckline with a zigzag stitch on the side of the neckline touching my skin, rendering the zigzag invisible from the outside.

From there, I used a typical skirt waistband technique of stitching in the ditch to secure the neckline to the top with a clean finish. 

I enjoyed using lace as an embellishment. Quality RTW lace embellishments usually catapult a RTW garment out of my price range. This makes embellishing me-mades with lace all the more appealing. Yes, it does take extra time and care to sew down the lace, but I think it's worth it!

I sewed the sleeve lace directly on top of the sleeves.

The wider lace is sewn as an insert along the hem of the top.  I used the remaining lace to embellish the front neckline band.

For the first time since our wedding we dined at our reception venue on the island.  The quiet ambience could not have been more different from our boisterous wedding celebration over two years ago, but it was a great evening nonetheless. Perfect for my new beach chic Cara top!

Wish I could stay on "Island Time" forever!   

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tale of Two Laurels

It's amazing how the same pattern can look so different dependent on the fabric!  I first made the Colette Laurel in lace back in 2014 for my rehearsal dinner. Two years later, at the beginning of summer 2016, I completed a second Laurel in cotton lawn.  While the lace version will always be extra special because I wore it during our wedding weekend, the cotton version has already taken its place as my 2016 "wear it to death" summer dress. Here are the details on both makes:

Guipure Lace Version:


The guipure lace is from Gorgeous Fabrics.  It's a couture remnant that I snatched up the week after my engagement in January 2013.  I can remember Ann advertising it as normally selling for hundreds of dollars per yard. I paid $50/yard.   No doubt it's couture, as this week I saw the same fabric appear on Susan Khalje's Instagram feed for a wedding gown. The pink silk charmeuse is from B&J.

Guipure is so pretty in the candlelight!

I sewed the silk charmeuse into a full and separate dress, installing the zipper, hemming it, narrow hem at armholes and neck, finishing the seams with the serger, etc.  With the help of an instructor at the now closed Sewing Studio where I took a few lessons, I used the pattern pieces to loosely cut the guipure with very large seam allowances.  The instructor draped the guipure over the silk charmeuse dress on a dressform. We pinned the lace in place and then cut out the excess loosely around the side seams and neck/arm holes.  From there, I did the laborious work of sewing the guipure to the silk by hand.  I never made a lining for the dress, so the hand stitches are still visible on the underside. I decided to cut the lace blunt at the hem.

This is the only full length photo I have from that wonderful evening!

Although the end result was exactly what I was after, I did not use any couture techniques on my couture lace!  Tsk, tsk, tsk. If I am being honest, I am none the wiser if something is couture vs. RTW unless I look inside the garment.   I have been thinking about the couture vs. RTW debate since viewing the showcase piece at the Met's Manus x Machina exhibition: a 2015 Chanel wedding ensemble made of scuba with screen printed embroidery which Lagerfeld described as "haute couture without the couture."

Who would have thought that beautiful fabric was synthetic or that the intricate beading was accomplished with digital technology?  I think it is possible to still appreciate couture work while also questioning the time-honored view that handwork is superior to machine.

Trendsetting? Michael used his umbrella placecard as a matching fascinator!

I loved wearing this dress to our rehearsal dinner, especially with the fascinator I made to accessorize it. Sure it was a little fancy for our beach club rehearsal dinner, but you only get the "I'm the bride" excuse once!

Everyday Cotton Lawn Version:

I have been wearing this dress to death all summer!  I purchased the cotton lawn from B&J in 2010. It was my first visit to B&J and I remember that the fabric was part of a new collection of cotton lawn produced specifically for the store. At about 1/2 the price of Liberty, it felt like a good deal.

Since its inception, the lawn dress was intended to be the wearable muslin for the lace rehearsal dinner version.  I worked out the fitting kinks in the cotton lawn in early 2014, transferred the pattern changes to pattern paper, but never finished the lawn version before going full steam ahead with the lace. As any bride can attest, when the wedding is over you don't want to touch ANYTHING wedding related for months, if not years...

Summer cactus garden at Rockefeller Center
The unfinished lawn dress languished in my UFO drawer until the night before a whirlwind rafting trip to Oregon this past Memorial Day weekend!  Of course.

Hotel bathroom selfie in Portland. I have been wearing the dress with this long cardigan when in A/C.

Perhaps I just wanted to wear a Colette pattern in Portland (where Colette Pattern company is based), or maybe I'm just mad in the head...Either way, finishing this dress was straightforward and only took a few late night hours. I wanted the neckline to be more of a scoop, so I folded the front in half and eyeballed it with scissors. Since the dress is unlined,  I used pre-purchased double fold bias tape to bind the neck and armholes (first time doing this) and installed an invisible zipper.  The dress is a little short on me and I wish I had 1/2 inch more length.

If I make the Laurel again, I will be sure to lower the bust darts a little, add a kick pleat in the back, and add a little length to the dress.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bombshell Bridesmaid Dress

I am still basking in the great success that was my me-made bridesmaid dress!  

Bridal Party!

The bride, Sara, selected short navy lace bridesmaid dresses for her traditional wedding in our South Carolina hometown.  My DIY wheels started turning when she told me I could choose my own style among the J. Crew leavers lace collection. In October I ordered the Cathleen from J.Crew but returned it shortly thereafter. It didn't fit well and I felt confident I could make something better.

Under the guise of sewing a matching flower girl dress, I emailed J.Crew's "wedding specialist" and procured three yards of the navy lace at $25/yard + tax/shipping.  Can you believe it was that easy? I only wish the rest of the dress-making process was as easy!

The dress  is Burdastyle (5/2011 #122A).  I mostly used the instructions in Gertie's Bombshell dress course (no longer available on Craftsy).

I planned to sew a test dress (the "jungle dress") for a New Year's Eve wedding.  I failed to meet deadline and resurrected a pink and gold brocade me-made to wear instead.  Throughout January, I continued to work on the jungle dress but ran into issues practically every step of the way.

I LOVE this fabric!  A Marchesa silk organza purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics several years ago.

As of this writing, the jungle dress is still incomplete but it allowed me to work out so many of the kinks before cutting into the blue lace for the bridesmaid dress.  2016 Holiday Party dress, perhaps?

Fitting the Bodice Pattern:

I muslined the bombshell bodice two years ago with the intent of sewing it for my rehearsal dinner dress. During this initial muslin stage I made minor adjustments that I now recognize as echoing the adjustments necessary for bramaking:  1) I graded the side of the cup to accommodate more cup volume, as I am between a B and C cup and  2) I added extra coverage at the top of the breast to the upper cup.  I still think I could add a bit more coverage as the final dress is borderline too revealing for conservative me.

In keeping with the vintage style, the Burda pattern was drafted with a fairly low waistline.  I look better with a raised waistline (empire).  After I had sewn the separate bodice and skirt on the jungle dress, Sharon pinned me in and we identified a new waistline.

Skirt is pinned into the bodice with new raised waistline  

I removed the dress from my body very carefully and immediately used a contrasting silk thread to mark the new seamline along the bodice.  I transferred this to the paper pattern by laying the fashion fabric on top of the paper and drawing in the new line.  As you can see from the photo below, the new waistline curves a great deal.

Sewing the Bodice:

Before cutting into the blue lace, I laboriously hand basted the three layers that became the fashion fabric: J. Crew leavers lace, navy silk georgette (Chic Fabrics), and silk organza (Susan Khalje).

Hand basting the 3 layers with silk thread (every 3-5 inches) and using candles (my go-to) as pattern weights

Once the three fabrics were acting as one, I cut out all dress pieces.  I had constructed the jungle dress with no seam allowances and thread traced seamlines.  I am not a big fan of this no seam allowances couture method and fail to see how it ensures more precision than a regular seam allowance.  So I added a 5/8" seam allowance for purposes of sewing the lace dress.

Ready to cut--Only used a little over a yard for the dress itself!

Right before starting to sew the bodice pieces together in the lace dress, I decided to add an additional layer of stability to all bodice pieces (minus the cups) in a quilting cotton.This means that the bodice is comprised of 4 layers (excluding lining):  lace, silk georgette, silk organza, quilting cotton.  Perhaps the cotton layer was not necessary, but I don't regret it.

Sewing the bodice pieces together was fairly straightforward.  Attaching the cups to the bodice took a good deal of patience and lots of hand basting.

Bodice Cups

The cups are a bit fiddly.  Gertie's instructions require that you pad out the bodice cups with needle punch or cotton batting.  This process is largely done by hand. I added an additional layer of batting to all three pieces of the cups on the blue lace dress to provide more shape. I still think I could have padded them a bit more in the upper cup.  When I complete the jungle dress, I will add a third layer of needlepunch to the upper cup.

Bodice Boning and Lining:

Using a light blue printed silk (Chic Fabrics) I sewed the lining in full prior to making the dress.  I picked up this sewing-the-lining-first tip from the Gorgeous Fabrics Blog.    I'm glad I did it, because it definitely helped me push through and avoid what Ann calls "lining fatigue."

In hindsight, I regret choosing this print. In spite of edge stitching the lining to the seam allowance and tacking it down by hand, the lining did start to peak out of the top of the dress along the cups, as you can see in the photo below.


I credit my mom in full for cutting all the boning in the days before the wedding.  The boning was inserted into the lining along every seam, two pieces on the diagonal from the side seam down toward the center front, as well as two final pieces close to the zipper.  That's eleven pieces of boning in total!  Per the instructions, no boning was inserted into the cups.

I sourced additional spiral steel tips and white casing from Daytona Trimmings.  Unfortunately, I bought the wrong size tips and didn't realize it until I was already in South Carolina.  Mom to the rescue – My mom removed the existing tips, cut the boning with pliers (it's not easy) and then reinserted the tips before sliding the boning into the casing.  Next time I make this dress, I will be sure to leave a bit of extra margin for the casing.

The Skirt:

I had MANY problems with the skirt in the jungle dress! I had originally cut out the skirt pieces in the jungle dress to make the Burdastyle sarong style skirt.  But I quickly realized that the silk organza did not have the proper hand to be flattering in the sarong style.  In the picture below you can see where I barely squeezed a straight skirt front out of the bias cut sarong piece.


While I had dutifully followed Gertie's directions for more than half the construction, when it came to finishing the dress I was low on time, patience, and everything in between.  My RTW finishing deviated a bit from Gertie's couture methods. In particular, I joined the skirt to bodice by machine instead of using fell stitches per Gertie's instructions.  Further, I opted for an invisible zipper instead of the vintage lapped zipper that Gertie favors. Finally, I used twill tape instead of petersham for the waist stay.

With the bride before the ceremony


In the interest of taking the bombshell out of the bombshell, I selected Vintage Vogue 8812 for a simple bolero to cover my shoulders in the church.  I cut out the bolero pattern pieces before flying home and my mom sewed it up two days before the wedding.   (Yes, Maman to the rescue AGAIN.)  Luckily, she had previously made the same pattern for herself in the same size.  In fact she also wore it to the wedding!

Different fabric, same bolero!

The bolero pattern does not include instructions for a lining.  Instead, it has facings.  Maman sewed the lining separately, trimmed it down, and then attached it to the facings by hand.  She also angled the bust darts down about an inch.  The size 8 bolero fit properly, but if I make it again I will use a size 10 for my back and retain the size 8 in the front.

It was a special dress for a special celebration.  Easily the biggest sewing challenge I have ever undertaken!  I felt so much more confident in this dress than I ever did in the J. Crew version and am very proud of the construction throughout.  Still not the best testament to my time management skills, but I guess that's par for the course when you have a full time job/full life and still commit to a hobby!  I was absolutely down to the wire to finish and couldn't have done so without my Mom's help.

Family photo with the bride and groom! 

best friends + husbands = my NYC family!