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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

She's lump

I can't seem to get myself started. I spent the last two weeks mostly working and watching the Olympics and playing Plants vs Zombies. I cut out all the pieces for my dress, attached the interfacings, then got completely stumped by the instruction "reinforce to small circles." I didn't know what it meant. The illustration was no help. I could see where the small circle was, but I didn't actually know where to start reinforcing. I tried the internet, but couldn't find the right combination of search terms. My biggest fault as a seamster and as a human is that even the smallest frustration can make me feel like giving up. I just want everything to be easy all the time. And obviously it's not, especially when one is sewing a dress that is not meant for my skill set. After a couple of days of not doing anything about it, I tried Google again and hit upon the correct combination of words ("reinforcing sewing bodice") to find this post which is a tutorial for sewing the lapel onto the exact same dress I am making. The second picture is of the reinforcing. Hooray! But that was more than a week ago and I still haven't done it. I guess I feel pretty sure that once I reinforce to small circles, I'm just going to run into some new proof that I don't know what I'm doing. Lame, right? So.



Maybe. I told the internet yesterday that I would work on the dress this week. I'm saying it again here. The excuses are piling up in my head (I only got 4 hours of sleep, I work 6 days a week, I'm so hungry, I have to clean the kitchen). I didn't call my old blog The Malingerer for nothing.

We'll see what happens.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My first muslin

I have one less tooth than I did when I wrote my last post and one more muslin. I made it, and it seems all right, I guess. The bust seems to be in more or less the right place, and it doesn't seem to be unwearably large or small. I don't actually really know what exactly I'm supposed to be looking at. The most useful thing about making the muslin is that I've had practice making darts, and I needed some. Also, I somehow managed to sew one of the side seams inside out. That's a good mistake to have gotten out of the way. I think it would be nice if the part between the waist and the bust were a little more fitted, but that's beyond my skill level.

I saw my friend Victoria at work today, and she told me that she was sewing a dress for some theatrical production of Beauty and the Beast, so I told her all the above. She told me to check the back waist measurement and she also pointed out that I have rounded forward shoulders and that my left shoulder was higher than my right one. I felt kind of like Quasimodo. But she said she would help me out some. So now I have a sewing coach. Hooray! Victoria was surprised that I was starting with a dress with a collar and set in sleeves and darts and buttonholes. "You're just going to learn everything right off!" she said. I was feeling a little frustrated when I was having a little trouble with the darts and everything, but now that I have someone around to ask questions, I feel a little better about the whole project.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I have a horrible toothache. It feels better when I'm not just sitting around, but I feel so sorry for myself, I can't force myself to go make a muslin of my McCall's dress. I've got a dentist appointment on Wednesday, though, and until then, plenty of Advil, Orajel and cold compresses, and I'll be on the lookout for these:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A goal

Inspired by this post on Casey's Elegant Musings, I found the film The Women on the internet so I could begin my quest to recreate one of the oddest shirts in the history of fashion:

That's Rosalind Russell in her first scene in the movie. The shirt has three eyes on it, which seem to be shiny and raised. They seem almost like ceramic to me, though ceramic would probably be too heavy for the shirt to support. Did they make eye-shaped decorations out of acrylic in 1939? My mom thinks they're painted on, but that doesn't account for the raised-ness of them. It might be a combination of paint and something like trapunto quilting. The eyebrows, at any rate, do seem to be painted onto the silk of the shirt.

I've always imagined the shirt was yellow, for no good reason. It buttons up the back and there's a gathered detail on the sleeves. Then there's the chiffon(?) cummerbund. The shirt is worn with a gorgeous wool skirt. And that hat!

Rosalind Russell looks quite glamorous in this still (the movie would be PG-13 these days for the cigarette), but in the movie she's not particularly. She wears great clothes, but flops around gracelessly in them, and her character, Sylvia Fowler, is just rotten. But, she's Rosalind Russell, and therefore funny (the scene when she's doing exercises is great), and therefore not entirely hate-able. And she gets her comeuppance (I think; I didn't get quite to the end of the movie last night) so it's all good, as the kids said a few years ago.

It's actually kind of a terrible movie, from a feminist standpoint. The moral seems to be that men are cheaters, so women have to be wily schemers in order to keep their husbands, especially when (other than the inevitable cheating) they're good (rich, handsome, etc.) men. The main character, played by Norma Shearer, is determined that nowadays, when men and women are equals, she shouldn't have to allow her love to be sullied. Poor woman. She learns her lesson.

But, there are some hilarious lines, great performances, a Technicolor fashion show and a cat fight between Paulette Godard and Rosalind Russell. What else does one need from a movie?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sara the Helper Cat

Who needs pattern weights?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

People who sew

are called what? Sewers? Bad heteronym. Seamstresses? Not if they're boys. Sewing enthusiasts? A little clunky, that is.

My vote is for seamsters. It's a gender-neutral seamstress (as in actor/actress). It's like teamsters (hardworking laborers) mixed with scenesters (really into clothing). Perfect, right? So jump on the seamster bandwagon today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Decision made

Sew U arrived. I really like it. Lots of great ideas, clear information, realistic about being a new seamster with a limited budget for fancy equipment, fun tone, comes with 3 patterns for basic skirt, pants and buttoned shirt. The only problem is that my enormous bosom won't fit into the largest shirt size the pattern comes in (which is called a 12). I was worried about this, having read several reviews that complained about the issue. I'm not terribly big. My measurements: bust 40" waist 30 1/2" hips 41 1/2". I'm a touch over 5'6". I'm not tiny or anything, but based on most of what I've read lately about the size of the American Woman, I'm maybe smaller than average (for American women), so it is a little irritating to be told I'm larger than large (especially by an American woman; I'm not trying to make clothes from Mrs. Stylebook), but no big deal I suppose. Poor me. I'm an hourglass instead of a pear.

I read a web tutorial on doing a Full Bust Adjustment which says to use your high bust measurement rather than the full bust to pick a size, and that number is firmly in the large category. It seems like a pretty complicated operation, however, requiring skills I'm not sure I have yet. So, I'm just going to make my stripey McCall's dress and see how that goes (and see if I really need an FBA) and get some material for a shirt for my boyfriend and maybe something for one of the skirts in Sew U. I am in line at the library to get Fit for Real People, which I've read is great for, well, the fitting problems of real people. I'm a real person. My problems are real. I can't wait to solve them.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joann is not good-for-nothing


Joann is having a sale this weekend on patterns. McCall's are $1.99 and Vogues are $3.99. Apparently in a few weeks, they will have Simplicity patterns for $1, which is pretty cheap. They're kind of sneaky about making you feel like you've gotten A REALLY GOOD DEAL on the receipt, because they print the retail price (the patterns I got are between $12.95 and $20) even though they always sell McCall's and Vogue patterns for 40% off retail (my patterns would have been between $7.77 and $12 most of the time) so it still is a REALLY GREAT DEAL, but not quite as great as you have proof of it being. I wonder if they do that so wives can show their bread-winning husbands that it would have been downright wasteful to have not bought patterns at this sale. My mom used to do, as a sort of entertaining I Love Lucyesque skit, some fuzzy math of this sort for my dad when it came to sales.

Anyway, here is what I bought. I hope to make some of these some day.

McCall's 2094

"8 great looks, 1 easy pattern" A fairly basic looking shirt pattern.

McCall's 6035.

This one only has 4 great looks, and is also a shirt pattern, but with princess seams and different sleeve variations.

I'm not sure how princess seams will work on my body. I'm very hourglassy. One of the things I find most difficult about buying clothes is finding a button-down shirt that accommodates my bust while at the same time showing off my waist. Usually if it fits at my waist, my bust is busting out. So, one of the most exciting things about sewing my own clothes is being able to tweak things to fit me. It seems like quite a challenge though, so I got this:

McCall's 6044

A men's shirt to make for my boyfriend, so I can try making sleeves and collars and things without having to worry about darts and princess seams. I don't know how thrilled my boyfriend is about getting measured though. He's probably also not excited about faking enthusiasm. We'll see.

I also got some dress patterns.

McCall's 4769

A nice shirtdress.

Vogue 8443

A nice dress with a v-neck that I fear may be too low for my comfort and for my foundation garments.

Vogue 8379

A nice wrap dress (universally flattering! "very easy"!) which turns out to be the 2nd best pattern of 2008 according to Pattern Review. I had thoroughly researched the McCall's patterns before I went to Joann, just in case it was a madhouse, thinking I would refrain from spending the exorbitant $3.99 on the Vogue patterns, but it was not at all mad and I thought, what the heck, what's $3.99? and started browsing he Vogue catalog and was clever or lucky enough to pick up what seems to be an awesome pattern. Good work, me!

I also bought some material for the McCall's dress:

It's 100% cotton, but it has a weirdish texture which makes it seem a little cheap. It was inexpensive ($4.49/yard) and I will feel less bad about screwing it up than if it weren't so uncostly. I only fear it will look cheap when I sew it up. But I'm doing my best to keep in mind that Mistakes Will Be Made.

I also bought a bunch of muslin to make muslins with, and a wrist pincushion, and stuff to transfer pattern markings accurately onto fabric, and thread for the dress, and some orange Tic-Tacs. I always buy candy at Joann for some reason.

I'm not sure what to do next. I ordered Wendy Mullin's Sew U, and I thought I would do a mini Julie and Julia/Gertie and Vogue with that book, but I have the dress pattern and the material...Maybe I'll wait for the book to come before I decide.

My boyfriend just told me to stop blogging and start sewing. I can't, having made this unbreakable decision to wait, but I'll be good and wash my stripey dress fabric now. And then I'll just sit and admire my slowly growing stash.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

blah blah blog

Here's what happened:

I have another blog which I started when I moved to Mexico. I stayed in Mexico for far less time than I expected to and then I didn't do much for four years. After a while, I was just writing posts every year around my birthday. I missed last year. I guess that blog is dead now.

I don't know that I have so much to write now, but I got a sewing machine from my boyfriend for Christmas and I started reading a bunch of sewing blogs for inspiration and advice. This afternoon, I was bored and all out of new posts to read, so, as a silly sort of game, I was thinking of punny sewing blog names (change the word "so" in a phrase to "sew") and checking to see if they existed yet on blogger. Most of the obvious ones are already taken. My boyfriend said, "So long and thanks for all the fish," which is the title of a Douglas Adams novel and which makes absolutely no sense if you change "so" to "sew" which is probably why it's still available and also why I decided it was perfect for the sewing blog I previously only had the vaguest notion of creating. (The Foggiest Notion would be a good blog name for a sewingperson in San Fransisco.)

I have small hopes for this blog. Mostly I hope it will be a catalyst for getting projects done. I have lots of ideas right now. I have less money than is ideal. I do have a seam ripper, so I feel okay about making mistakes. I do like the idea of a blog by someone who is just starting out, because many of the blogs I follow are by women (and one man) who are already quite accomplished and are doing things I can't imagine trying. Like sleeves. I've already finished two projects, but I will save them for a future post so this isn't one of those sad blogs gathering virtual cobwebs in some dusty corner of the internet. Wish me luck.