Thursday, April 22, 2010

Finished! The Brown Linen Skirt

Here I am, once again, new-to-me computer on lap, blogging into the great void. As I reported, in my last, long ago post, I finished the Sew U skirt, and now I have pictures.

This is me in the classic iPhone/mirror sideview, wearing the skirt, which is knee-length, as you can see, with a purple H&M sweater I bought a couple years ago. I wore this outfit to my friend Pat's birthday party (with shoes, of course). "I made this!" I told everyone whose eyes strayed anywhere near my skirt. I was and am very proud it, the first publicly-wearable garment of my latest foray into sewing.

I have not managed to master iPhone/mirror self-portraiture, and Shawn is always working when I want photos taken, so the above photo is the only usable one of the skirt on me. Here are two more views of the skirt posing on my front door:

The Front

The Back

My favorite thing about Sew U is that it makes it seem really easy to change things up to suit your own tastes, mostly by giving you lots of ideas of things that could be changed (adding pockets, shortening, adding trim, etc.), then giving the means (pattern pieces) and breezy instructions about how to make the changes. The skirt pattern is a basic a-line skirt with darts at the waist, a back center zipper, and a facing. I added patch pockets, put the facing on the outside (does that make it a yoke?) and put a bow on the back. I was going to do a self-belt, but decided it would be too much.

Some people complain about the briefness of the Sew U instructions, but here's the thing: during my last sewing spree, in grad school, I made a skirt, using only the instructions contained in the pattern envelope, and it turned out beautifully. Now, I have the internet, and I read all about the disasters one can run into, and it makes me scared and nervous about doing anything new. I was even worried about putting in the zipper on this skirt, even though I had done it before. And done it well enough that the skirt is wearable to this day. So my lesson (the lesson I'm always trying to learn): Don't Freak Out.

Sew U did fail me (or allowed me to fail myself) when it came to the bias binding I needed to put on the inner curves of the patch pockets. The book told me how to make the bias binding, and gave me a pattern piece to make the proper size strip for the pocket I was adding (for which there was also a pattern piece), and told me how to attach it. Man, is it hard to attach bias binding! It's so fiddly-small. I found an awesome hint in my 1st edition Vogue Sewing Book, though, which made it a lot easier.

First, you cut out your piece of fabric (on the bias, natch):

Then, you fold it in half and press and fold the halves in to make your nice thin bias strip:

Then, you press your strip into the shape it will be in when you sew it on the garment:
This last step makes it a million times easier to make the strip stay where it needs to when you're sewing it on. Also, very important, SEW SLOW when topstitching bias binding. Trust me.

My topstitching needs work, so no detail views here, but, overall, I'm quite pleased with the way this turned out. Next up, I'm doing a shirt (McCall's 6035). I've got the pattern traced and cut out, and I just pressed my muslin. Here's to a productive afternoon!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So long, computer.

My computer died last night, about a half hour after I posted my last post. Bummer, right? Shawn, however, is quite pleased, since it means he gets to shop for a new one. (Mine was his before we started dating; he gave it to me when my old computer died last winter.) Blogging from the iPhone isn't great, so there will be some dead air here, until my computing situation is fixed.

The good news is that since I couldn't spend all evening browsing the Internet last night, I finished my Built-by-Wendy skirt, and it's lovely! Well, mostly lovely. My topstitching leaves something to be desired. I'll post a post on it as soon as I'm able.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Shape of Me

I was inspired by Polka Dot Overload to make my own digital croquis. A croquis (I'm not sure if it rhymes with "hockey" or "hokey") is basically the drawing of a figure on which fashion designers draw their designs. BurdaStyle recently had a post about making your own hand-drawn one, and I also found this tutorial, to make the classic fashion 9-head-high croquis, the proportions of which are quite different than that of an actual human (most humans, including me, are approximately 7.5 heads high). I made a 9-head croquis and then drew an outfit to put on it.

You can only tell the drawing is supposed to be me because it has glasses on. The croquis, like the size zero model, is not a reliable way to tell how a given piece of clothing will look on my particular proportions.

Here's what I did to make my croquis useful: I got my boyfriend (to whom I shall refer hereafter as Shawn) to take a picture of me in my underwear. Then I put on my robe and imported the photo to a drawing program (I use Inkscape, which was free, but would love to be given Illustrator) and traced my outline using the straight line/bezier curve tool. I added my underwear, for modesty, and drew some squiggles in the approximate locations of my facial features. I put in some blurred and slightly transparent lines for my cleavage, knees, belly button and elbow pits (is there a better word for the inside of one's elbow?). I colored the whole thing in. I had to move around some layers, too, and then, ta-dah! Realistic croquis:

I wanted to draw things onto the croquis in the drawing program, but a) it's not very easy to draw precisely with a mouse and b) Inkscape is Linux-based, and I've got the Mac OS running on a PC (Shawn's a computer guy; he does stuff like that), and it's all too much work for my poor little Dell. Everything started going slow, so I had to put it to sleep so it could cool down for a while. I ended up printing a copy of the drawing (which only partially printed for some reason) and used my tracing paper to draw a couple of outfits on top it.

So far I have learned from my croquis experiments that I probably shouldn't wear loose-fitting pants that end just below my knee. It's croquis magic!

(I just discovered, while getting all the links for this post, that Mikhaela, the doyenne of Polka Dot Overload is working on a digital croquis tutorial for Burdastyle, according to her BurdaStyle status. OMG, my croquis is going to be so rad after that tutorial is done!)

Field Trip

I've almost finished the linen skirt. All I have left is to hem it and I have to do something with the inside-out-facing/waistband. I got that far and realized I was almost out of thread. I knew it would be really annoying to run out in the middle of hemming, so I have put off doing anything until I got some more thread, which I didn't manage to do until yesterday. There used to be a Hancock Fabrics a block away from my job, but it closed down just before I moved here. My life would be so much easier if I could just walk five minutes to a fabric store instead of taking a bus and walking half a mile to get some thread. But, it turns out the traveling is worth it.

There's a fabric store called Nancy's Sewing Basket in Upper Queen Anne, here in Seattle, and, oh my goodness, what a revelation it is after only ever going to Joann's and other chain fabric/craft stores. Almost all of the fabric there is for apparel, not quilting, and so much of it is so beautiful. If I were a rich man...beautiful silks, gorgeous shirtings, the woolens, oh the woolens. They had a bolt of Ralph Lauren 100% camel hair. (I have been in love with camel hair forever. In high school, I had a hand-me-down camel hair blend coat, from an aunt, which I adored, even though it was falling apart, and then when I was in college, just after I had bought a somewhat expensive winter coat, I found a camel hair coat at Macy's that I lusted after for months. I would pet it every time I came in. I've got a minor camel hair obsession.) I've read online reviews saying Nancy's is expensive. So, this bolt of camel hair at Nancy's: $75/yard. Is that expensive? I don't know. All I know is that I really wish I knew how to sew a coat and that I had lots of money. (OK. Just looked around the internet and found 100% camel hair at B. Black & Sons for $40/yard, but I don't know how the weights etc compare.) I saw a million other things that I would have bought if I had the money and could justify spending it given my weak sewing skills, but it was very inspiring. It was an aspirational shopping trip. They have a famous Ribbon Room that I didn't even tgo into because I started to feel like a suspicious character, skulking around the store, fondling the fabrics I couldn't buy. The other nice thing about Nancy's is that it's in a super-cute neighborhood, atop one of Seattle's myriad hills, near a beautiful looking meat market and some nice restaurants and coffee places, surrounded by adorable houses. If I were not broke, I would have gone broke buying all the things I wanted in those few blocks.

So that was my field trip. All I ended up buying was thread for the skirt, thread and buttons for the shirt I'm doing next, an embroidery hoop and some DMC floss (I have done a little cross-stitching in my day, and am now finding myself longing to embroider things. I started a little bird, from this free pattern, and my boyfriend saw me and kind of freaked out that I was embroidering. His mom's a big embroiderer, apparently.) I'm planning on going to the other local nice fabric store, Stitches, sometime in the near-future. I will report on that as well.

I think I may by a few yards of this Ralph Lauren camel-colored wool/cashmere blend to do something to temporarily sate my desire for the camel hair. It's not the same, and it will be the most expensive fabric that I've ever bought, and coat weather is just about gone, but I'm jonesing. I don't think I can help myself.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Up Next and on Deck

These are 3 of the fabrics I got from way back in the beginning of February. I ordered them the day I traced the pattern for the shirtdress. I was so naive to think I would need so much fabric so soon. Well, it's now just about 2 months later and I'm finally ready for the next project.

I'm going to use the fabric on top, a tobacco brown linen/rayon blend to make the skirt from Sew U. I will add a self-belt and belt loops and patch pockets. The last time I had a sewing machine, about 6 or so years ago, I made several skirts, one of which I still have. It was the only one that was wearable, really. I made one with the seams on the outside (on purpose; it was deconstructed, you see), and I made one out of fleece, which was too bulky a material for the design. I'm not too afraid of the skirt, having used all the techniques required for the construction. It'll be nice to do a project I don't have to be afraid of.

With the plaid in the middle, a very lightweight 100% cotton shirting, I'm going to make View A of McCall's 6035. The pattern has different pieces for different cup sizes so I'll be able to put off learning how to do an FBA. It's cute, with princess seams, and a collar stand but no collar and short puff sleeves. I've never done princess seams or tried to match plaids. I'm sure nothing about those new challenges will make me want to quit sewing forever.

And then I will do pants with the gray 8-wale corduroy on the bottom of the pile. I suppose I'll do the Sew U ones, since I have the pattern already. I'm not really ready to think about all the difficulties nicely fitting pants are supposed to present.

So that's the plan. Go me!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Finished! The Stripey Blue Shirtdress

At last! I finally completed the McCall's 4769 shirtdress. Is it unwearable? I think so. I actually have it on as I type this, and it's quite comfortable, mostly because it's crazy big for me. It's also kind of wonky in several places. I fudged the collar a bit, the hem is all crooked, the bottom button is just a little too high, and I haven't done a final pressing. I think I stopped really caring at the end because I knew the dress wasn't going to leave the house. It's my new housedress, suitable for doing the laundry in. My boyfriend thinks it looks sort of diner waitressy ("Maybe you could just turn it into a skirt," he suggests) and I see what he's saying. The blue stripes and the stiffness of the material are definitely uniformesque.

It also feels a little Depression era, like a battered hand-me-down, or a dress that used to fit in my richer, fatter days that I can't be bothered to alter. It reminds me somehow of that one Dorothea Lange photo, though I guess that woman's dress actually does fit her.

However, even if it doesn't fit, I learned a lot from making this dress. I put on sleeves, I made a lapel collar, I did buttonholes (which were the easiest thing ever on my one-step buttonholing sewing machine). I learned that I will have to work much harder to make clothes fit well. I think I can do it. Onward I go, to not bigger, but better things!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Real Progress

Well, I made myself do the reinforcing, at last, which, obviously, was quite easy, but then came the horror of the set-in sleeves. Oh, man, those are not easy. I think if I had some person here to show me exactly how to do it, it would have been a lot easier. I didn't realize quite how difficult it was. And how slowly you have to go. I was okay at getting the sleeve pinned in and mostly the basting went well enough, but then, when I did my permanent stitching, I sort of sewed a fold of sleeve into the seam. It took me about an hour and a half to unpick the tiny tiny stitches. I didn't do anything with the dress again for a few days, and thought about making one of the skirts from Sew U with some fabric I got from, but that would have required a trip to sewing store for interfacing and a zipper and I didn't really have the time (There's lots of sewing stores nearby, chains and independents, but I don't drive so going anywhere farther than a mile or so takes hours.) I thought about practicing with muslin, which would have been really great but I didn't want to waste my frustration on something unwearable. Finally, I got a day off yesterday and put My So-Called Life on the tv and just did it. Slowly, carefully, imperfectly, but not so imperfectly that I couldn't move on to the next challenge. This tutorial from the Sew, Mama, Sew blog was the most helpful thing I found to explain the process. There are some videos on YouTube that were kind of useful, too, but I don't have time just now to find the links. Since I took the picture, I have also sewn on the front bands. The next thing was the collar, but it was late, so it's going to wait until the next time. Then there are buttonholes. I'm definitely going to practice those before I sew them onto this dress.

One problem with the dress (I mean, beside my shoddy workmanship): It's way too big! I cut an 18, having an 18-sized bust, but the shoulders and waist are so much wider than they should be. I was trying it on over jeans and a t-shirt and my boyfriend looked at it and said, "That makes you look huge." I told him he's the worst boyfriend ever, then went and took off the jeans and belted the dress together to see if it was any better. It was, but not much. So, I probably won't be wearing it too often, once I actually finish it. Now I know for sure that I have to learn how to do an FBA. That's to worry about for the next project.