Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Cute Summer Dress

I think the multi-colored fabric was meant to be for quilting or home decor. It is a cotton batik with rayon embroidery. Its texture and drape are not very pleasant. But I loved the colors so much, I decided to buy it for this dress, Kwik Sew 3492. I somehow managed to lose the instructions. Probably put them into another pattern envelope. WHEN am I going to learn not to take out more than one pattern at a time? Or if I must take out more than one at a time, I should at least color code each piece so I'll know exactly which envelope it goes into when it's time to put it away.

Luckily, this dress was so easy to put together that I didn't need instructions. And it actually came out well enough to wear in public. I'm going to make a loose fitting jacket to go with it, made from the same cotton poplin I used for the triangular bit in the middle of the bodice. 

Here are a couple of things I learned from making this dress:

1. If you don't press the coils of invisible zippers flat enough before sewing them in, the seam can end up running into the coils, which prevents the zipper from closing. I did this and had the rip out the zipper and reinstall it.

2. Zippers are probably not the most suitable closures for embroidered fabric. I left the zipper in this dress, but if I had it to do over again, I'd probably widen the seam allowances at the center back and put in buttons. Or maybe leave the seam allowances as they are and put in button with loops. I may yet do the buttons and loops if the zipper gets caught on the embroidery threads too often.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Small Success

A few weeks ago I made a cotton knit tank top copied from a RTW top I've had for many years (I believe it belonged to my daughter, and she passed it on to me when she grew tired of wearing it -- that would have been something like 10 years ago -- the top is pretty well worn, so I really need a new one).

The first time I made the top, the straps stretched, resulting in a gaping neckline and armholes that were much too large. The second time, I cut the fabric for the straps too small. With stretch knits, a bit too small works better than too large. I decided to wear the top to work today, a rather daring thing to do, since I have to make a good impression on my clients.

I got two unsolicited compliments! I almost hated to cover up the top with a jacket when I met with clients, but this is conservative San Antonio, not laid-back Austin. One has to look "professional." Later ... make that 3 unsolicited compliments. My husband commented that the top has a slimming effect, and he really likes the color. He was surprised to learn that I made it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Sewing Paradise

The past week I've wanted to absorb as much as I can about fabrics. To this end, I watched Katrina Walker's and Pati Palmer's DVD Will This Fabric Work For You? and began reading Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide.

I now have a better understanding of why that thightly woven cotton-Lycra blend was so hard to ease and ended up with puckers at the neckline. I still don't know how to avoid the puckers, other than by not using tightly woven fabric on garments that require easing one part into another. Maybe what's needed is a walking foot for the sewing machine. But it may be more a matter of technique than tools. I'm not sure.

When I began sewing seven months ago, I made a deal with myself that I would buy a nice new sewing machine if I were still enjoying sewing after a year. I still have five months to go before I can start looking at new sewing machines. But the deal I struck with myself didn't say anything about sergers. I very much want to work more with stretchy fabrics and knits, and it didn't make sense not to have the proper tools. 

After doing some research on various brands and models of sergers, I chose the Baby Lock Enlighten. What sold me on it was the Extradordinaire (TM) looper threading system. The purchase entitles me to free training, so other than practicing threading the machine and reading the manual, I haven't used the serger yet. The owner of the shop, who will be my instructor, is out of town this week, so I can't do the training until next week.

Katrina Walker made a comment on the Frabrics DVD that sewing is very Zen-like. This resonated with me, as I had had the same thought. My sewing room is like a bit of paradise. It is very plain, with no special furniture designed for sewing. But it has openings in all 4 walls that let in lots of light. The afternoon sunlight is especially nice, shining through the trees to the west of the herb garden.

My cutting surface is a sheet of  heavy manilla paper I spread out on the floor when I'm cutting fabric and roll up when I'm not. This is actually  a good thing for more reasons than the large surface area. One of my goals when I started sewing was to exercise my brain by learning something new. Sitting on the floor provides a different sort of exercise. That's my Border Collie, Rufus, in the foreground. He's such an intelligent dog, I didn't even have to tell him not to walk on my fabric when I'm cutting it out on the floor.

I've reached a rather exciting point in my sewing studies. I'm ready to make something to wear to a special occassion. My nephew's wedding is at the end of the month. Making a dress for a wedding at this early stage  is not quite as audacious as it might sound. If the dress doesn't come out the way I hope, I have something else I can wear. 

I'm planning to make Vogue 1237, using a yellow silk dupioni fabric with slightly different colors in the warp and weft, so it looks irredescent. The publisher claims that the patter is easy. We shall see ... easy is a step up from Very Easy. But the instructions look easy to follow. One clever feature of the design is that the button holes are built into the seamlines of the jacket. 

The yellow I've chosen is paler than that on the pattern envelope. Some fashion experts say that people with gray hair should not wear yellow. But it's always been my favorite color from the time I was a small child. So sunny and bright. What the heck. If the Queen of England can wear yellow to her grandson's wedding, I can wear yellow to my nephew's. I've already pinned on the pattern, and it fits me nicely except that it will need to take up the shoulder seams a bit. I'm putting off starting to sew, because when I looked up silk dupioni in the Pattern Review knowledge base, the author recommended using underlining to keep the silk from ripping out at the seams. So I've ordered some white silk organza. I'll be using Ambiance Bemberg rayon for the lining. With all that lovely fabric, I'll be very unhappy if I mess it up. But since another of my sewing goals is to have clothes made from beautiful fabrics, I have to take the plunge some time. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

First Ever Trousers

Vogue # 9231 was published in 1985. My daughter turned 2 that November, and I was still in law school at the University of Texas at Austin and running a part-time CPA practice.

I love the comfortable, loose-fitting style. I made the short version of the pants. (pant? I'm never sure which to say) out of an old bed sheet. As I mentioned earlier, the waist was too large, so I took gathers in the back, which resulted in side seams that fall way toward the back. Not something I would wear in public if I wanted to make a good impression, but it works great for around the house and working in the garden. In fact, I love them (it?). Here I am wearing the bedsheet pants and a practice shirt I made from cheap muslin. White muslin is the absolute perfect fabric for a hot, sunny climate.

The pants make my butt look huge (of course, my butt is huge relative to the rest of me, so these pants are only being honest). This would be a marvelous thing if I lived in a time and place where large butts were considered things of beauty. Not so good in the present time and place, but one of the benefits of being an old lady is that one doesn't have to worry too much about conforming to current standards of beauty.

I'm just finishing up the same pants in a peach-colored linen. These will definitely by wearable in public, with a loose-fitting jacket as shown in the pattern illustration, or a long, loose-fitting shirt.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Vogue 7612 - Loose Fitting Top

The best I can say about this garment is that it's one of the most comfortable tops I own. As far as my sewing technique, I cannot give myself a passing grade. I must go back and try this one again. I was using a small piece of fabric that did not allow me to make the top in its full intended below-hip length. I ordered the fabric online, meant to order 2 yards and somehow ened up with only one. This was actually a good thing, since the color of the fabric turned out not to be as I expected. It is a murky sort of mauve that doesn't match any other item in my wardrobe. For this reason, I probably was not as diligent as I should have been, and I'm definitely not motivated to rip out seams and fix my mistakes.

Part of the problem may have been that the fabric is a very thin cotton-lycra blend that was a bit difficult for this rank beginniner to handle. So when I make this top again, I'll try a light-weight denim or chambray. I may also extend the opening all the way down. I don't really like the center seam with the button-tab at the top. But will the top be as comfortable in chambray or denim? I doubt it. The comfort partly comes from the lightness of the fabric. Hmm ... there is surely a reason the pattern designer recommended light-weight linen, denim or chambray for this top ... all I can do at this point is try it and see. I'm not smart or experienced enough to predict the results with any certainty.

The biggest error I made was in pulling the fabric when I attached the top piece of the collar. The pattern instructions called for attaching the lower collar first, rather than sewing the top and bottom sections of the collar together first. Obviously, it's possible NOT to mess up the collar, because the non-pulled side is almost perfect. Well, except for that one little pucker. Oh dear! Back to try again.

Also this past week I made my first ever pair of trousers, a practice version made with fabric from an old bed sheet. The waist was too big, for which I compensated by taking gathers in the back. I didn't quite think it all the way through. The gathers in the back, without corresponding gathers in the front, cause the side seams to fall way toward the back. They're pretty funny looking trousers. Good thing I'll only be wearing them to work in the garden.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ten Things I've Learned About Sewing in Ten Weeks

I can never resist reading articles like "The Ten Best Cities For Raising Kids," "The Ten Best Retirement Locations;" "Ten Ways to Fold Socks." So here's my own list. The ten most memorable things I've learned about sewing during the ten weeks I've been doing it.

1. Fabric choice is as important as sewing skill 

I learned this from clicking through the pages of  The most fascinating aspect of this web site to me at this point in my studies is the variation in appearance of garments made from the same pattern. One thing that caught my attention immediately was the effect of fabric choice on the appearance of the garment. To pick a random example, take a look at the 5 reviews for Vogue Pattern # 8472, which reviewers have made using fabrics ranging from demure black linen to floral patterned cotton with contrasting neck and arm bands to striped ticking.

2. Read everything printed on the pattern pieces, instruction sheets and pattern envelopes

Whether it's a chain saw or a desk-top computer or a sewing machine, I usually like to jump right into setting up and using gadgets, and I'll only read instruction manuals if something goes wrong. But I've found that commercial patterns contain a treasure-trove of information for the baby garment-builder.

3. Transfer construction guides such as dart lines to the fabric as part of the cutting out operation.

I've found it's easier to deal with transferring guides at the point in time when the fabric and pattern are spread out on the cutting surface. That way, you can put the pattern pieces away after cutting, and there is less risk of damaging the pattern or losing parts of it.

4. I'm sure most people will roll their eyes at this one. What idiot wouldn't know this as a matter of common sense: avoid removing more than one set of pattern pieces from their envelopes at any one time.

5. If you screw up a seam, rip it out on the spot. Don't keep going, hoping that maybe it won't show too much when the garment is finished.

6. This is especially for beginners like me, but I suspect it continues to be useful even for experienced people: when using a pattern for the first time, make a practice garment out of cheap fabric that is similar in weight to the fabric you're using for the final garment. 

This way, you can make the mistakes on the practice fabric, and by the time you get to the more expensive fabric, you'll know all the pitfalls of the pattern-fabric combination. You can also fine-tune the fit while working with the practice fabric. For example, when I made the Perry Ellis skirt in muslin, I discovered that the skirt was a bit loose at the waist and tight at the hips, even though the measurements on the pattern envelope matched my measurements. Either my measurements are off a bit (definitely a possibilty) or patterns in the exact same size differ from each other. Or both.

7. If your sewing machine starts doing weird things, check to make sure it's put together and threaded properly. The little thingees on the machine that you pass the thread through are there for a reason. If you miss passing the thread through even one thingee, the top thread won't loop properly around the bottom thread, and your stitches come out all wrong, or don't come out at all.

8. You have to take the stretch into account when you're working with stretchy knits.

9. You can find some fantastic prices on fabrics at certain times of the year (I'm not exactly sure yet when these times are, but there have been some really good deals online the last coupla weeks).

 If you want to use nice fabrics without spending a fortune, buy up a lot of fabric when it's on sale. I've found that fabric requirements for most types of garments fall within a certain range. For example, most jackets can be made from 3 yards of fabric that's at least 45 inches wide. Almost any shirt can be made from 2.5 yards. And so forth. To be safe, I often buy 3 yards even when I'm planning to use the fabric for a shirt. When the fabric is on sale for $2.99 per yard, the extra half yard is not going to break the bank.

10. Having a decent steam iron makes a HUGE difference. 

Also a tailor's ham and sleeve board are as important as having a sewing machine. Maybe more important. After all, it's possible to make a garment completely by hand, but it's nigh impossible to come out with a good finished garment without pressing the seams.