All posts by Andrea McDowell

I made a Cambie, but I had a good reason

I loved La La Land. Yes it was silly and frivolous and presented a LA that doesn’t really exist particularly racially and hired actors who are neither professional singers nor dancers for roles that required a lot of singing and dancing and basically was another Hollywood-loves-to-make-movies-glorifying-Hollywood movie. You know what? I don’t care. Or I care, a little bit, but not enough not to love La La Land.

Partly it was just so much fun. I loved the dancing. No surprise. I also loved the dresses. La La Land had my platonic ideal of dancing dresses. Just look at the colours!

Now. Emma Stone is lovely but in build we are nothing alike. I could probably fit two of her in me and have room to spare, for one thing; for another, there is a conspicuous absence of space for bra straps in these lovely dresses, and that is a distinct dancing dress no-no for me. So while I loved the dresses I knew that most of them would be best loved from a “they look fantastic! … on you” vantage point.

But the yellow dress.

The yellow La La Land dress I have to try to make.

(For the rest, I will be content with stealing the colour scheme.)

I could not find any pattern with all the features:

1. Square neckline front and back
2. Sleeves join to neckline front and back; slight cut-on cap/flutter shape
3. Gathers into waistband
4. Waistband (as opposed to skirt and bodice directly joining)
5. 3/4 or full circle skirt

There were a ton of posts a few months back about how to make the La La Land dresses, but none of the patterns were really a good match. The skirt’s not a challenge–I can draft that; a pattern’s not needed–but the bodice is, and the Cambie looked like it would provide the best starting point, with the front sleeve construction and the waistband. Once I got the bodice to fit, altering the sleeves and changing the sweetheart to a square neckline would be no big deal.

Cambie Dress by Sewaholic Patterns, Line Drawings of View A & B

But getting a bodice meant for pear shapes to fit me is itself not a no-big-deal. So I am, slightly, eating my words on giving up on Sewaholic patterns. It was the Cambie or start from scratch, really.

So step one–look at that Dear Readers, an excessive prologue to a post about a dress that is itself a prologue–was to just make a straight-up Cambie with known alterations to the bodice, and tweak the fit.

This is a cotton voile floral from Fabricland, bought on sale, lined with a white cotton voile from Fabricland, also bought on sale. Altogether the dress probably weighs about 3 oz, the fabric is so light; it’s going to be perfect on those summer days when it’s scorching and muggy and anything feels like it’s too heavy to wear.

The Back

Alterations and tweaks:

1. 3″ FBA to the size 8, traced to a new sheet so I wouldn’t butcher the original
2. 1/4″ removed from the shoulder seam, front and back
3. Front neckline raised about 1/4″ at the join with the sleeve
4. Sleeve shortened about 1/2″ inch at the join with the bodice
5. Added about 1″ to and changed the shape of the top of the pocket pattern piece so I could sew it to the waistband and provide better support on the inside. It helped, but it’s not super relevant to the eventual La La Land dress.
6. Originally nervous about the waist measurement of the size 8 so cut a size 10 in the back to give me fudge space. Took out the fudge space, and an additional 1″ on either side of the zipper near the neckline.

The Side

And then once the dress was assembled, moved the front waist dart on the bodice pattern piece about 1″ closer to the centre.

I love it. I think the main alteration for the La La Land dress is really just going to be the back. I’ll use the sleeve lining piece for the sleeves, extend it a bit, double it up for the back, and then lower the back neckline and square it off. Straighten off the sweetheart neckline in the front and–voila. La Land Dress bodice ready to go.

Embroidery is Cool Again

But only if it’s on clothes. I think? Are my wall hangings and cushions cool yet? I didn’t think so.

This is a brain dump for those of you who might want to try hand embroidery on your handmade (or storebought, I suppose) clothes: a few tips, some ideas, and resources for inspiration and instructions.

Tl/dr–because oh my god Dear Readers I may have said I have a “few tips” but this is a really long post–if you don’t have time to read the whole thing now, and I don’t blame you, but you are interested in embroidered clothes, scroll all the way down to the bottom, read the last paragraph, and let me know what you think.

START SMALL

I mean, it’s not a requirement, no. But just as you probably would not start sewing your own clothes with a wedding dress or a tailored suit, you are best off to start embroidering a simple project. That doesn’t mean that the embroidery has to be simple necessarily (more on that below) but that the overall project doesn’t require a lot of assembly time. It’s awful to spend 15 hours assembling a dress and 40 hours embellishing it and then have it all go to waste because the embellishment didn’t turn out well enough. So, some ideas of small ways to incorporate embroidered embellishments into wearables that are low-effort and often reversible:

1. Buttons. Self-covered buttons are perfect for embroidery. Keep the thickness of the fabric in mind and for a thin or delicate textile, you will still need to stabilize (see below).

pretty cross stitch rose buttons:
Pedagogical note: Those stitches are perfectly square and even. The threads completely cover the canvas. All the stitches are formed in the same direction. This is your goal with cross-stitch.

2. Wearable hoops (wood or metal). Turn them into necklaces. I prefer the look of the metal ones but both are super cute.

3. Perforated goods. Perforated iphone cases for embroidery; perforated wooden charms for jewelry; perforated paper or plastic for bookmarks or decorations. And of course with paper or cardstock, you can just perforate it yourself and stitch away.

Rilke bookmark. Involved some small motifs taken from books, traced to book page, pattern pre-perforated along with the text, then stitched with mostly straight stitches and a few french knots.

If a needle can go through it, you can embroider it: even wood or metal if you have a drill with a small bit and a very steady hand. People have embroidered chicken wire and window screening, but unless it’s going to be inside that seems a lot of effort for something that will fall apart quickly.

4. Pouches. Make a small zippered pouch and embroider a piece of it. Small, quick, and if you don’t like it, chances are it’s being carried inside something else anyway.

Mexican Embroidered Pouch Lapicero by EricaMaree on Etsy:
Not mine. But super super cute.

5. Purses. You can have a lot of fun trying large, colourful, experimental embroidery techniques on a project that doesn’t take long to put together, is super practical, very pretty, and unlike embroidered clothes is rarely ever going to be completely out of style. The embroidered project I get the most use out of is still the shoulder bag I made years and years ago. And it still gets compliments.

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6. Small non-wearables: bookmarks. Eyemasks. Pictures for framing. Cushions. Holiday decorations. Pincushions. Needlebooks. Wallets.

HOW TO

1. Stabilize. Stabilize stabilize stabilize. (Stabilizers are interfacings applied to the back of non-embroidery fabrics to make them suitable for embroidery.) Your garment fabrics are not stiff enough or strong enough to support hand stitching. If you stitch directly on the garment fabric without stabilizing, it will warp and ripple. You can use a permanent, tear-away or soluble stabilizer, depending on how the finished garment will hang, but for the love of god: stabilize. (If you look inside storebought embroidered clothes you will often still see the stabilizer in place.)

Also: the design should work in concert with both the weight and the density of the textile being embroidered. Something light or gauzy or with a loose weave should have light, loose stitches. A densely packed or highly detailed pattern will work best on a densely woven fabric with some body: dense linen, muslin, poplin, crepe, and so on. Stabilizers can only do so much and they won’t transform a lightweight material into something suitable for a very heavy stitch. Whitework can be an exception to this, but it’s a lot more delicate than it looks and is hard to execute on a lightweight fabric.

2. Fibres: The most common type of embroidery floss is stranded cotton. Cotton is great; but cotton can shrink. Don’t pull your stitches too tight. Sometimes, the colours bleed. I recommend doing a test swatch with your garment fabric, a stabilizer, and a few stitches of the kind you are planning, thrown in the wash and then dried on hot to see if the floss bleeds or the stitches contract. Also applies to wool and silk fibres (wool won’t come in strandable flosses, but silk does).

There are synthetic fibres that won’t shrink, but they are shinier and/or sparklier than the natural fibres, so it will make for a different look. Most machine embroidery threads, both to buy and on embroidered storebought clothes, will be poly or rayon.

A standard craft store will typically carry only cotton stranded floss, and maybe perle cotton. If you want to branch out, go online or find a specialty embroidery or cross stitch store. There’s one in Port Credit I love for anyone in the GTA. If you google embroidery store, you will probably find businesses that provide machine embroidery services, so try “cross stitch store,” “needlework store,” or “petit point store.”

One last note of warning is that the chemicals used to treat leather and suede will degrade natural fibres, so if you’re going to embroider on hides, use synthetics.

3. Weights: Embroidery threads can be super super fine or very heavy. Also, there’s no need to restrict yourself to threads sold in the embroidery aisle. On a heavy fabric, try knitting yarn (I used yarn on that shoulder bag) or crochet thread. Do a woven rose with lace trim, or use a narrow lace in a running stitch or french knot. Thread painting is often done with sewing thread. Ribbons make gorgeous flowers, but you don’t have to use them for that. Use whatever you have that you can hook through a needle and pull through a textile.

4. Embellishments: Beads, sequins, goldwork–all good. Stabilizers will be even more important because embellishments are heavy. They will also alter the weight, and therefore the drape or line, of the finished garment. Just something to keep in mind.

18th century goldwork embroidery from south Germany. There are a variety of forms of metal here - sequins, plate, silver gilt thread and purl.:
From a post about 18th century goldwork on dresses. I don’t even want to think about how much that dress would have weighed. Pedagogical note: Perfectly symmetrical. Beautiful shading and blending between colours. Also expensive–a lot of this would be actual gold.

5. Knots: Knots should never be visible from the front side of a garment. This includes a knot that presses or pushes through to form a visible lump on the right side. Make Pretty Knots. Waste knots are a good way to start. If you want to tie regular knots, make them small, as close to the fabric as possible, and positioned well within the design area.

6. HOOPS: Just as important as stabilizers. If you don’t have a good firm tension on the textile surface, it will ripple and warp and you will have puckers and dents in your finished garment. You can use a standard embroidery hoop (the cheapest and easiest to find) or a scroll frame (harder to find but easier to use, and no hoop rings when you’re done).

IF YOU ARE EMBROIDERING PALE FABRIC: Your hands will leave stains on the fabric. Doesn’t matter how often you wash them. Put a strip of a very lightweight fabric or tissue paper between the fabric and the hoop/frame so that only the area to be embroidered is visible. Keep the fabric covered between embroidering sessions.

Your goal with a hoop is to have the entire embroidered area visible as you work. You can move the hoop, of course, but it will warp the fabric and any stitches you’ve already done, so try to avoid that if you can.

If you are embroidering a piece too small to be held properly in a hoop and that is going to be attached to a garment (pocket, yoke, collar, etc.), you have two options:

a) embroider it before you cut out the pattern piece, so that you have a large piece of fabric to securely attach in the hoop/frame
b) cut out the pattern piece, MARK THE SEAMLINES IN ADVANCE, baste it nice and taut to a larger piece of fabric that can fit in the hoop/frame securely. In this case the fabric it has been basted to will be the stabilizer and will remain a part of the fabric, so be careful in case your main fabric is sheer or light and the stabilizing fabric shows through.

7. Stitches: There are thousands of different kinds of embroidery stitches. You are limited only by what you yourself can produce with consistent size and tension on the fabric and project you’re working on. A beautifully consistent running stitch or cross stitch will be a thousand times prettier and more professional than the fanciest needlelace produced with inconsistent spacing and tension.

Stitches will leave permanent marks if removed, particularly on a good dense fabric (or hide), so consider from the outset if you are likely to get tired of the design and want to tear it out. Simpler larger stitches will leave fewer marks and be easier to remove if in the future you want to.

8. Use more than just thread: Multimedia works beautifully with embroidery. Some things to consider include fabric paints, dyes, screen printing, markers, pencil crayons, regular crayons (test first for running but usually it’s fine), and needle felting (yes on clothes–this will work best on wools and other feltable fabrics).

This gorgeous painting/embroidery combo isn’t on a piece of clothing–but it could be. And Missoni in 2011 did some beautiful multimedia embellishments on their collection:

9. Designs and transferring them:

You can buy an iron-on transfer or other design. (Sublime Stitching, Aimee Ray/Doodle Stitching, Mary Corbet (free), Trish Burr, Berlin Embroidery, Polka & Bloom — just to get you all started.)

poetry month-3-1
I made a needlebook out of a Sublime Stitching Pattern with a Sara Teasdale poem–another thing that gets a lot of use, and didn’t take too long. Pedagogical note: this uses heavy chain stitches, stem stitches, straight stitches, back stitches, and french knots on the border.

You can copy or trace one from a book or magazine. Sublime Stitching sells some nice pens and markers for making or tracing iron-on transfer patterns.

You can draw your own.

You can use simple designs that don’t need transfers, like a running stitch. In which case marking the stitch length and/or separation distance on a finger is the easiest way to produce consistent results.

You can trace the pattern or design directly to the fabric using a pencil, vanishing pen or a fine-tip sharpie/marker. Whatever you choose should be a fine enough line to be completely covered by your chosen thread.

You can use freezer paper or tracing paper, adhered or basted to the fabric, and sewn directly through.

IDEAS & INSPIRATION

A lot of the couture houses still do hand-embroidery as a staple part of their collections. To my mind Dolce and Gabbana and Chanel do it best, and I have stacks and stacks of pictures of their clothes torn from magazines for inspiration. But Google is your friend, too, if you just want to wander around and fall into a rabbit hole of pretty hand embroidered clothes. What they do–be warned–is not easy or quick. You’re probably talking a minimum of 40 hours just on the embroidery for any one of their garments, which is why they charge $10k for a dress.

Impressive collection of Dolce and gabbana dresses (4)

D&G is my favourite. It would take me a year just to make one of their dresses–but holy cow. Those flowers are thread-paintings–and enormous, so probably a hundred hours or so each.

Vogue and Elle (and sometimes Bazaar) are the best sources for embroidered clothing pictures. In the meantime, some Ways You Can Use Embroidery on Clothing Textiles:

1. Create a design on a solid fabric. This is the one people tend to think of first. Think placement. If you look at the fancy-pants embroidered clothes, you’ll notice the designs are hardly ever centred, and they usually are on the bodice, near the neckline and/or waist. Embroidery draws attention, so think of embellishment as you would a necklace, belt, etc.

Here’s an example from a pair of denim shorts I made a few years ago:

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I can’t remember where I pulled the pattern from, but this has french knots, chain stitches, satin stitches, fern stitches and stem stitches, worked in crewel wool, glittery synthetic floss, and perle cotton.

christie lake-9-6

I guess in this case I was thinking less “necklace or belt” and more “look at my butt.” But the embroidery is cute.

2. Complement or extend a design on a printed fabric. Outline a motif; add shading; fill something in; extend a flower with a bud. Put a bead or sequin in a flower centre. Thread paint over an existing printed element using the same colours for added texture.

Embroidery over print:
This one is not mine. Vogue Magazine is as close as I can get to its origins. Pedagogical note: The spacing between the stitches and beads is perfectly consistent. Look how smooth and even the fabric is around the beads–there is no pulling or warping at all.

3. Subvert a printed fabric. Put a spider or a fly near the flowers. Add a conversation bubble to a print with people on it, or change their clothes. Or give them little horns, or wings.

4. Completely overlay a printed fabric. Add words. Make a completely different kind of motif and just treat the existing pattern as a background: tattoo motif on a pretty floral. Pretty floral on an abstract or geometric print. Slogan on something retro or fussy.

5. Use blackwork stitches to provide a textured filling for an existing shape.

If it was good enough for Queen Elizabeth, it’s good enough for you

6. Use a running stitch for edge or top stitching. (Or another simple repeated stitch.) I did this on a shirt.

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7. Whitework to add tone-on-tone texture to a solid or muted print

Just like Jane Austen. Pedagogical moment: No visible knots. No pulling or warping–the fabric hangs perfectly straight despite the stitches. There are no borders or outlines, and yet the edges of the shapes are perfectly straight and even. You can’t see any knots; they will all be hidden within the stitching on the back, which I’d bet good money looks as good on the reverse as on the front. And check out that hem.

(Neither whitework nor blackwork need to be done with white or black threads; use a colour that suits the textile and project.)

8. Stitch a cross-stitch design on a gingham or other regular check pattern

Vintage 1950s Dress / 50s Pink Gingham Dress / 50s Pink Gingham Dress With Blue Embroidered Cross Stitch Star Design - S, M
On Etsy. Pedagogical moment: It is even more important to be perfectly even and consistent with a cross stitch on a non-evenweave/aida fabric. Look how even and straight the borders of the embroidered sections are. 

9. A fancy line-stitch along a seamline, like a fly stitch. Or along a pin-tuck or pleat. One caveat: if you have a lot of pin-tucks or pleats, take extra care to keep your stitches the same so they all start and end the same, and at the same points.

Top-left corner. Pictures from Inspirations Magazine, discussed below

10. Use waste canvas for any canvas stitching. Most common is cross-stitch but there’s lots of other options.

11. Insertion stitches to join two pieces together instead of a regular seam. Just remember that the insertion stitch is see-through. I did this with the borner on a Deer and Doe Chardon skirt last year.

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Please ignore the wrinkles: it’s linen, and it’s photo processing.

12. Pulled-thread embroidery to add texture and emphasis; again, it will be partially see-through.

13. Smocking instead of shirring.

14. Stumpwork for raised elements.

This is from a doll’s dress, and thank goodness, but you can see how it would work

RESOURCES

Books

Mastering the Art of Embroidery: eye candy and lots of different kinds of embroidery covered

Embroidery Stitch Bible: good visual resource of lots of different kinds of stitches with good descriptions and step-by-step photos

18th Century Embroidery Techniques: So many beautiful examples of embroidered clothing, along with pattern sketches and how they were done

Bags in Bloom: Great, simple purse patterns with nice and fairly easy to execute embroidery patterns for them. I’ve made a few and I still love and use them. If you like the embroidery patterns but would prefer a more complex bag, it’s easy enough to put the embroidery on any bag pattern you like.

Anything put out by the Royal School of Needlework

You can see my embroidery shelf on GoodReads here.

Magazines

Inspirations: Best embroidery magazine anywhere. Not a lot of clothing projects, but most of the ideas are transferable. They do have a lot of small projects like pincushions, pouches, needlebooks, and so on, that are a good way to practice stitching skills and make something practical, and a few times a year will carry a beautiful purse pattern.

Cross Stitcher: British cross-stitch magazine with lots of cute and modern project and pattern ideas. Of course, it’s all cross stitch, but they do it well.

There are no good embroidery magazines in North America. I don’t know why. South Africa, Australia and the UK seem to be where most of the really good publications and artists are based.

Websites and Blogs:

Mary Corbet (a bit of everything, and all done well)

Trish Burr (Thread painting. I love her birds.)

Feeling Stitchy (every Friday they feature an embroidery artist on instagram, which is how I found most of the ones I follow)

The Rebellious Needlewoman/Hazel Blomkamp

Instagram:

Jenny Hart & Sublime Stitching (first for her own art embroidery & second related to her store. She uses very few stitch types but shows just how effective that kind of simplicity can be.)

Sam Owen Hull (Fantastic, colourful and original mixed media)

Stray From the Line

Baobap (She makes the best buttons)

Heart of the Heart Embroidery

Forest Chorus (Her stitches are just perfect)

Marg Dier(I am so envious of her jewelry findings)

Victoria Matthewson (She bases her thread paintings on her nature photos and they are unbelievable)

Royal School of Needlework


So hey. This was an enormous pile of information. I hope it was of some use to those of you who are thinking about adding decorative hand stitching to clothes.

There’s a similar learning curve to embroidery as there is to garment sewing, and you’ll likely find as you go that projects that look amazing to you now look pretty handmade in a year or two.  Just like with handmade clothes, that’s not necessarily a problem, and no one who doesn’t sew or embroider is likely to notice.

The big difference is this: embroidery takes a lot more time than sewing.

Like an order of magnitude more time.

It’s a good idea to consider the time investment relative to your skill level when thinking about embroidering a piece of clothing. When you make a dress that took fifteen hours and in two years you realize that the seams are wonky and the hem’s crooked, it kind of sucks, but it only took fifteen hours. When you make a dress that takes fifteen hours to put together and then embroider it with a fancy design that takes forty hours, that’s now a total of 55 hours for a dress, and if you decide in two years that the dress is fine but the embroidery is amateurish–that lost time investment is going to smart more. It’ll be easier to swallow if the embroidery only took three hours because you kept it simple, or if the garment was fairly basic and didn’t take long to assemble.

That said, you should totally do it. Embroidered clothing is still better. Just recognize that you’re at the begging of a learning process similar to but much more complicated than the learning process involved in sewing your own clothes.

If I have the time and attention span, I might write a few posts in the next little while looking at an embroidered garment (couture or historical or whatever) and talking about what kind of embroidery it is, what you can figure out by looking at it, how it was done, and so on. What do you think? Is that something you’d like to read?

Burda 11/2016 Skirt 102: Identity Crisis Version

You’d never know from reading here, but I’ve never had an extravagant wardrobe.

Ok, enough, pick yourselves off the floor and stop laughing already. I’m serious.

All four seasons of clothes have always fit in one small closet and a dresser. I bought my first-ever raincoat and pair of rain boots in my thirties. I bought my wedding dress for $200 off the rack at a mall–it was blue. (It’s amazing how cheap nice dresses can be when they’re not white.) There was nothing in my earlier life to predict that this blog subject would ever be something I would consider, even blind drunk and high on cocaine.

(Note: I’ve never been drunk or done any drugs harder than caffeine. Just in case you thought I spoke from any personal experience.)

So it is with some chagrin, served up with a side of identity crisis, that I report that as of finishing this skirt … I need to buy a new skirt hanger. Because otherwise I can’t hang it.

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Worse: I made another one just like it. Well, except in a different colour.

What have I become?

This is a silk/wool plaid end I bought years and years ago at the Creativ Festival, 2m for something like $20. I made the meringue skirt from the Colette sewing book and regretted it: it was too big, wouldn’t stay in place, and the scallops didn’t look right with the fabric. Eventually I gave it away. But I kept looking at the scraps and thinking, I bet there’s enough to make a skirt here.

I was right!

Of course, it’s short. I was able to cut everything out on grain but there wasn’t enough to ensure pattern matching; three of the four main seams worked but the big piece on the front could not be cut out any way other than what it was, so:

The Side that doesn't match
The Side that doesn’t match

The flounces are curvy pieces so while the centre is on-grain, the sides are on the bias, and there’s no sense even trying to pattern match those. But the back and the right side worked out:

Pattern matching across the zipper: not too bad!
Pattern matching across the zipper: not too bad!
The Other Side, Which Matches
The Other Side, Which Matches

The flounce is super cute. I just serged the bottom edge with matching threads and it worked fine.

The skirt is lined inside to just above the flounce.

It’s a cute pattern that works well and goes together fairly easily, even with the flounce. The flounce gives it a bit of an a-line-with-edge vibe.

…so of course I had to make it again.

The Front/Side/Flounce

It’s a new thing I’m trying. I have this habit of seeing a pattern I like and telling myself, “It’s cute. I’ll make it up out of these scraps and see what I think.” And then never getting around to making a ‘good’ version out of not-scraps. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with having clothes made out of scraps, if they turn out well; they’re essentially free clothes if you discount the time value. But it would be nice to take those patterns I worked to fit so nicely and use them on not-scraps more often. Which is how I ended up with two keyhole dresses, two winged skirts, and now two flounce skirts.

This one in a royal blue/purple wool crepe.

The Back

It was distinctly not free. The wool was about $30/yard. The lining, though, was the remainders from the lining for the leather and suede skirts, so free. And I already had the zipper. So about $45 for a wool skirt that fits. Plus that colour makes me happy.

My father’s wife always had a fantastic style sense. She spent a lot of money on her clothes, which took up the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, the closet in the guest room, and a couple of racks in the basement. More power to her, but when my winter boots got holes in the bottom or the lining fell out of my winter coat, she’d refuse to replace or even repair them. Sometimes for Christmas or my birthday I’d get some really nice clothes, and there was usually a back-to-school shopping trip, and that would be it. This meant I could, most years, dress ok for fall through spring assuming everything held up, but for summer I had to be creative. And then she seemed to decide that I was her physical clone and started buying me clothes and shoes–in her size. We are not the same size. I’d have skirts that hung off my hips, shirts that fell off my shoulders. It was all very, very odd. In any case, I got used to having an eccentric wardrobe that didn’t take up a lot of space.

The Side

And now I am in the position of having to buy a second skirt hanger for the first time actually in my entire life. Or I suppose I could ship off an old skirt to a happier home.

I guess I’m still doing the eccentric part all right, though.

I have no idea where this came from. But here it is. If I ever start talking about buying racks for the basement for extra clothes, please someone shake sense into me.

(Brace yourself: there’s a dress pattern based off the skirt pattern and of course I have to make that up too.) (HELP)

Burda 10/2016 Dress 104: Thanks, it has pockets!

I’m trying to remember when sewing changed from being a way to make myself and Frances clothes that were practical, comfortable and fit properly, and became a way instead for me to figure out how a dress like this gets put together.

104b-102016-b_large

PEPLUM POCKETS! Genius. Functional and decorative at the same time. No seamlines to break up a cool print.

Pockets! No face though.
Pockets! No face though.

You know–or if you’re on FaceBook at any rate you should know–what a very big deal pockets are in skirts and dresses.

pgt4bmg

This is a mid-weight rayon with a herringbone weave that is only visible if you get really really close.  It came from Marina’s fabrics on Ottawa Street and was, I think, about $8/m. So plus the lining (bemberg) and the zipper, this might be a $25 or $30 dress. It’s very soft and super ravelly. The bodice is lined, but the skirt is not, so those edges were overlocked.

"Oh, right. I should look at the camera."
“Oh, right. I should look at the camera.”

Of course, it was the print I couldn’t say no to. And in a rare burst of thematic inspiration, given the colour scheme, I even finished it up early February so I could wear it on Valentine’s Day. This will probably never happen again.

The Back. Remarkably dress-like
The Back. Remarkably dress-like

First crack at the bodice was quite loose so I snugged it in by about 1 1/2″ at the waist, and of course the sleeves had to be shortened as always. Then once it was sewn up, the bodice was still too loose to be smooth, so I unstitched, re-pinned and restitched. I can’t even tell you how many times I have sewn the bodice lining to the waist seam at this point. It’s still not as smooth as shown in the magazine photo, but I’m happy with it now. I think part of the problem is just the weight of all the folds at the front pulling down the front waistband seam.

Close-up of the waistband, pleats on the skirt, and those wonderful pockets.
Close-up of the waistband, pleats on the skirt, and those wonderful pockets.

Other than that, this is the dress as the pattern has it; it works and sews up perfectly, and the pockets make me positively giddy. They’re perfectly functional for anything you might think of putting in a skirt pocket–small wallet, lipstick, keys, phone, would all fit and not alter the line of the dress. It’s great for an office environment and yet manages to have some personality. There was no universe in which I actually needed this dress, but I’m pretty happy to have it.

 

Burda 12/2016 Dress 118: Hi-Low (or is that low-hi?)

I decided to make this one in the midst of Fabricland’s annual December members’ sale, but wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t find a jersey that seemed meant for this dress: too patterned, too poly, too thick, too sheer, too whatever. I ended up settling on this bright pink poly/rayon jersey. It is unbelievably soft; it is as comfortable as a t-shirt; it  is probably not meant for a dress. But who cares. It cost $6/metre and bought three, so plus the zipper this is about a $20 dress. I made it up just in time to wear to Christmas dinner with a friend and her lovely parents, and have worn it several times since, because it meets that cardinal rule of dresses in wintertime: snuggliness.

 

The pattern itself is awesome:

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Keyhole slit, slanted waistline, gores in the skirt, pleats in the bodice, and fancy bell sleeves to capitalize on our current Sleeves Moment.

Before making it up I shortened that keyhole slit: bizarrely short upper torso necessitates these kinds of machinations unless I want to put my underwear on display which, despite the Accidentally Underdressed posts, I really don’t. Even so I need to be careful with my underwear choices in this one.

The Back. It doesn't *look* like pajamas.
The Back. It doesn’t *look* like pajamas.

After making it up I realized that I need to take some height and width out of the centre back and back neckline seams, which is pretty standard for me. But long hair=No One Can Tell, or so I say to myself. I also hemmed the sleeves more than the pattern said to so it would hit at my elbows, thanks to bizarrely short arms.

It’s almost entirely serged. The bodice is lined; for this version, I self-lined. I wouldn’t do that again, since the pleats x 2 make for a thick join at the front waistline.

The Side. Plus invisi-pleats at the shoulder.
The Side. Plus invisi-pleats at the shoulder. Can you see them?

The sleeve cap is pleated too, which is hard to see in these pictures or in the line drawing. Take my word for it: it’s cute.

You’re supposed to do a button-and-loop closure at the top of the keyhole slit but I just sewed it shut. The dress has a zipper up the back, for goodness’ sake; a functional button closure is not required.

Having liked the first one so much, I had to make it again.

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Hush. That’s how it works.

I altered the pattern to take out the excess width in the back, and lowered the back neckline by about an inch and a half. And then I went shopping.

Not intentionally, actually. I had to bring my coverstitch machine into the shop (… yes it did take me that long) and saw that the fabric shop across the street from the sewing machine store had a “CLOSING BY JANUARY 31!” sign along with “70% off lowest marked price for everything in the store!” This was the one shop on Ottawa Street where they sold really, really, really nice stuff. The kind of stuff that can cost over $100/yard so you go in, pet it reverently, and then leave quietly so as not to mark or damage anything.

The Back.
The Back.

I went in. It had been pretty picked over, but in addition to six yards of silk picked up for $35 including taxes (!!!!!), I found a plum poly jersey with a super sparkly gold lurex weave, marked down to about $3.50/yard. Two yards of fabric plus one metre of cheap polyester lining plus a zipper comes to a grand total of about $13 for the whole dress. And yes, this was the first of the Lurex Trend to be completed. It’s very sparkly. In some lights it’s more gold than purple.

The Side
The Side

Sewing your own clothes doesn’t always save you money, but holy hell that’s less than the price of a trade paperback.

Anyway. It’s a very, very light jersey–so light I took it home and discovered it’s almost transparent with the light behind it–and I used wisperlite (their spelling, not mine) lining which, incidentally, is both very very light and sheer and woven so tightly my regular machine needles did not want to puncture it for love or money. This increased the frustration factor, but also made it much easier to pleat the bodice as both together were about the thickness of a regular jersey. Because the fabric was so sheer I had to draft a lining for the skirt. Because it’s jersey and so light, and because I didn’t want to have a topstitch or even a blind stitch hem to break that lovely sparkle, I just left the hems raw. And again the keyhole was sewn shut.

The one bit of advice I have for anyone making this up at home is to baste the front bodice pieces to the skirt before serging. Both times now the machine has struggled to gain purchase on all those layers at the middle front and so one piece has ended up skewed, necessitating fancy hand sewing after the fact to make it line up properly. Can’t tell now but it was a bit annoying at the time.

So now I have two versions of the same dress: one soft, snuggly, and work-appropriate, and the other sparkly and suitable for dancing. Both dirt cheap.

It’s International Women’s Day, and I don’t feel like celebrating

I did wear red.

Moreover, it’s handmade red. Coming soon to a blog post near you.

I made some small donations  (Oxfam Canada, for their recent report card, and the Canadian Women’s Foundation). I wrote a few emails to politicians. I shopped at women-owned local businesses.

But otherwise:

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Not so much.

If I’m going to feed my daughter, I need to work. And there are no men in my life who can pick up the slack if I drop out of unpaid work for the day. I like to eat dinner–and my daughter also likes to eat dinner–every day, ideally; if that’s going to happen, I’m going to make it.

I considered asking the dog, as the only male in the house. He wagged his tail and barked. Was that a “yes”?

There was Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau’s inspiring call to social media inaction, in which I dutifully participated. It’s awfully selfish of us women to want to centre International Women’s Day on women, after all; and of course we all have a male ally to gaze at adoringly while holding hands.

This cruelly neglects all the male allies who so thoughtfully remind me that women in the middle east have real problems, and that, since I can vote and drive, I have nothing to complain about. I keep forgetting, somehow, that women–and only women–are supposed to be so fucking grateful for basic fucking suffrage that we don’t see, notice, point out, discuss, or try to change, anything else ever, especially if it makes men uncomfortable. The important thing, I try to remind myself, is that men don’t think we’re going too far or asking for too much or asking for it in the wrong tone of voice.

(Please don’t make me #notallmen this. It would be too depressing.)

Our main ally to the south seems determined to erase any progress that’s been made in women’s rights since 1923 and, as often happens with our main ally to the south, many American women have decided this translates to a new and global threat against all women. Outside of the global gag rule, though, not so much. The condition of women globally has not changed since January 2017. I get that you’re an empire and empires do tend to assume that they are the world, and that differences really only amount to local flavour, but actually: nope. Also, I hate to break it to you, but the idea that women globally pine for the rights and freedoms enjoyed by American women specifically and will take this new setback in their rights to heart because American women have reached a pinnacle of freedom we need to aspire to in order to motivate our own local struggles: also nope. We kind of feel sorry for you and have for a long time. The abortion thing, the health care thing, the maternity leave thing, the child care thing, the bible belt thing. Canada’s got lots of work to do and we’re going to do that work here, for ourselves. Thanks for understanding.

I feel for you. I’ll help you wherever I can. But I am not you.


I am angry.

I’m angry about the pay gap and rape culture and how long it’s taken for our country to take the plight of indigenous women seriously and I’m angry that the government has been dragging its heels on the abortion pill forever and that women in rural areas particularly on the east coast still have no access to abortion and I’m angry that at nearly 42 I’m still being harassed on the street by assholes who think women are public property. I’m angry that the feminine is still considered so inferior to the masculine that it is still, for kids at my daughter’s school in her generation, an insult for a boy to be called girly and a compliment for a girl to be called a tomboy. I’m angry that we are so incapable of seeing women as aggressors that abusive women can and do get away with abuse for decades and no one calls them on it; I’m angry that we still have to debate whether men are or are not more often the abusers; I’m angry that when men abuse women we still question why women didn’t leave instead of why men felt free to punch their partners in the face; I’m angry that almost every woman I know has been assaulted or sexually assaulted and only one of their assailants has faced any jail time and he was acquitted at trial; I’m angry that when an ex-boyfriend bragged to me that he bugged his ex-wife’s apartment so he could keep track of who she was fucking and I called the police they told me they couldn’t take a report because “no crime had taken place.”

And I’m angrier because my anger is considered the problem.

Listen: if you can read all that, and all the mountains of bullshit beside it, and not be angry–there is something wrong with you. If you find the anger off-putting, well, there’s the door.

Today, I’m mostly depressed that we as Canadians have become a shining beacon of human rights and equality, not because we’ve accomplished anything in the last 20 years, but because we’ve managed not to regress.

I have to believe that we are capable, as a society, of recognizing that women are people and acting accordingly. Not almost-people. Not people-here-but-not-people-there. Not people-if-they-do-what-I-prefer. Not people-if-they-wear-what-I-respect. Not people-who-are-responsible-for-my-feelings. No conditions. No caveats. Not people-with-a-preference-for-unpaid-emotional-labour-that-I-am-entitled-to. Not people-who-inexplicably-choose-to-be-paid-less-for-reasons-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-sexism. Not people-deserving-of-my-respect-but-only-if-they-smile. Definitely not walking-sex-puppets-who-shouldn’t-leave-home-if-they-don’t-want-my-unsolicited-opinion-on-their-boobs. Or people-who-should-feel-grateful-we-let-them-get-drivers’-licenses. Not people-if-they-act-a-bit-masculine-but-not-too-masculine-god-forbid.

Just people. Complicated, flawed, people–horrible, wonderful, angry, happy, smart, stupid, girly, manly, strong, weak, successful, struggling, maternal, childless, ambivalent, ambitious, contented, resentful, single, coupled, tripled, promiscuous, virginal, slovenly, controlling, relaxed, energetic, tired, depressed, joyous–all of it. The full range of human experience, without any bits chopped off to fit in someone’s frilly pink box. Actual full human people who are here on this earth to live their own lives whether or not it serves someone’s else’s agenda or expectations. People who are, and can, and are supported in, living for themselves.

I have to believe we’re capable of it. We’re not there yet. It’s hard to feel celebratory today–but I celebrate each and every woman, today, who refuses to be less than she is.

Winter Dancing Dress: At The Ball

I might go on at length here–this dress was complicated and challenging but it worked out really well. She said humbly.

I was not sure I wanted to go to this particular dance party, as I’d heard Idiot Harasser might be there. There is little that is less enjoyable than buying a ticket, spending weekends making a dress, and devoting an evening to being harassed by an asshole who won’t take no for an answer.  I ended up going with someone else though, and spent most of the night well across the room; so it was a fun evening. And here, months later, is the dress.

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The sequins were bought as practice sequins. I actually meant to make a velvet dress for this occasion, and bought that fabric at the same time, but then I was flipping through a magazine when I came across this Dolce & Gabbana dress:

Except for the collar. Let's just pretend it's not there.
Except for the collar. Let’s just pretend it’s not there.

Which apparently retails for something close to five thousand pounds.

I liked the combination of the very ladylike sleeves and flounce with the sequins, and I thought … why don’t I try to knock it off? I mean, what is this? A sheath dress with puffed sleeves and a flounce. How hard can it be?

I had no intention of making this the masquerade dress, but I didn’t fully understand how time consuming this would be, and didn’t have the time to muslin and sew up another dress pattern, so the practice dress became The Dress.

I based the pattern off of this basic Vogue pattern:

Using the sheath dress variation.

It’s meant to be cut on the bias, but as the sequins were sewn to a stretchy (and transparent) mesh, I cut it out on the straight grain and converted the front pieces to a single piece. I adjusted the pieces to have negative ease, drafted a basic pattern piece for the puffed sleeves, and altered the neckline to a V after I’d sewn it together and tried it on. (I am not a fan of high neck anything.)

The Back
The Back

I then added a lining out of bamboo jersey from the stash, to add some opacity and comfort to the inside. (Sequins=scratchy) Same pattern pieces as the dress, with the shoulders extended slightly to cover the shoulder seams. The dress was then pegged quite a bit and the hem shortened to account for the addition of the flounce, and two flounce pieces drafted and added–complete with sparkly tulle. The original doesn’t look like there was a whole lot of gathering so I went with a 1.5 ratio and it seemed to work.

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I used bias strips of silk charmeuse scraps on the seamlines to prevent the dress from stretching or bagging out, and also used elastic at the top of the flounce to support the weight and keep it gathered in.

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And added clear elastic at the waist on the lining, between it and the dress, to keep the waist from stretch or bagging out from dancing. You know how knits are.

The Side.
The Side.

On this fabric, the sequins were small and thin enough that I just sewed right through them. It cost me three needles but saved me hours of time, so that’s a win in my books.

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I’m not under any illusions that this is as nice as the D&G original, but as a knock-off put together for under $100, it’s not bad.

Burda 8/2016 Skirt 123: An Anti-Winter Project

Winter is a tough season for skirts.

One thinks, on the one hand, “I want to be warm” (or maybe more accurately “I am so fucking sick of being so fucking cold goddammit why is it only February?”). On the other hand, one thinks, “If I wear the same pants again I may set them on fire.” Or, less melodramatically, “Ugh, again.”

But I think this skirt can manage some deep-winter wear without risking frostbite.

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Hey look! It’s one of the Renfrews I made up and didn’t blog. Mini blog-aside: seafoam bamboo jersey I tried to make into a pleated drapey top a few years back and never wore because it didn’t work, so I hacked it apart and made it into something else.

It’s to the knees, meant for a fabric with a bit of thickness and body, and fully lined. This one is made from a thick wool twill. The centre is a double pleat:

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Which is what makes the hem stand out so nicely.

Side-ish.
Side-ish.

The lining is a grass-green bemberg because that’s what I had on hand. I just serged that hem a few inches shorter than the skirt and otherwise left it.

The Back
The Back

The inside of the skirt waistband is made of the rayon twill I used for the drapey skirt; I didn’t want the wool against my skin in case I should ever wear a shirt untucked with this, so I split the waistband into two and added a seam allowance.  Otherwise I made it up as directed in the pattern with no alterations, using standard sizes, and it fits well and looks like it’s supposed to, and is even fairly warm (but no promises that I’ll wear it when it’s not at least near freezing). Overall it’s super simple and you could easily hack pockets into it if you wanted, without affecting the overall fit or line of the skirt.

This pattern is one that I am toying with for the black felted/embroidered fabric I posted about recently.  I need to play around with it a bit and see how it handles pleating before I make up my mind, but would love to hear any thoughts any of you might have.

Burda skirt 11/2015 #105: One Day I’ll Fly Away

I actually ordered a back issue of the magazine just to get this skirt pattern and it still took me a year to make it.

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I love the seam lines on this. I love the way the darts have been rotated into those seams. And I love the way the seamlines work with the godet to shape the skirt.

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I still love all of those things; but I wish I’d chosen a fabric that was a better match for them.

This is a fairly heavy fabric of unknown contents: Is it wool? Is it poly? Who knows? I don’t. It was free and I thought it would make something suitable for a funeral, when I thought I would have a funeral to go to. It is also a bit stiff. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it does make the shape of the skirt far more dramatic. And it makes it look like culottes from the front.

Side note: I do not like culottes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a pattern over the last few years and thought, “What a cute skirt pattern! Wait … never mind … culottes. Bah.”

And from the back, you get a snazzy tail fin:

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However: there was no chance that I was going to special order a magazine for a particular pattern and then only make it once, even if it had been a spectacular success, which it wasn’t.  So I tried again in a different colour of the same rayon twill I made the It’s Fine dress in:

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Lord it’s dark in that photo. But hey! It’s a much drapier teal version of the same skirt. Rayon twill is about as unlike denim (also a twill, for those of you who don’t sew) as you can imagine: it is soft, drapey, clingy as hell. Just slightly thicker than challis. There’s maybe not much you can see here, but hopefully you can see that it does not look like culottes from the front. Nor does it have a snazzy tail fin from the rear:

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Instead, it drapes, just as it did in the pattern photo.

All around better, except for the fact that the rayon, no matter how low the temperature I used to press, insisted on going shiny at the seams. So frustrating.

At any rate: it’s a great pattern. Easy to put together, fun shape if you get the fabric right. The seam around the zipper is a bit too rounded and I had to take about half an inch off, and sewing around the peak of the x-cross seam is a smidge tricky and doesn’t make quite as obvious an angle as it does in the pictures.

Something you can’t see here is that the gores make nearly a circle skirt at the hem, meaning that if you were to twirl in this you’d get a nice round swish below the knees. I did try for you Dear Readers, but I nearly gave myself a concussion trying to turn a fast circle on the stairs. Not that the photo wouldn’t have been entertaining for non-sewing-related reasons, right?

And just to round out the Holy Trinity of Sewing Blog Photos:

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The side of the first one, complete with full wings.

V1389: Accidentally Underdressed Part II

It took me so long to make up the shirt from this set that not only is this pattern out of print, it’s not even listed on the website anymore. Oops. Also this means that if any of you like and want to make this … you’re out of luck. Sorry.

I actually originally bought the set for the skirt, which has some very cool seam lines on it, but this winter I found myself in need of long-sleeved shirts. Now, if you are like me, the word “need” comes to have a very ambiguous definition for sewing projects. Like: “I ‘need’ to find a jacket pattern to make up the felted black wool I picked up downtown on a whim,” or “I ‘need’ to find a lightweight jersey with a bit of body so I can try that jersey dress from this month’s Burda.” Or, more recently, “I ‘need’ to find some brightly coloured wool crepes so I can make up some skirts like Mia wore in La La Land.” None of these would pass the global-issues sniff test, and I wince a little every time I catch myself thinking anything like them.

However.

All of my previous year’s long-sleeved shirts were loose and drapey. And then last year went and did it’s I’m-2016-I’m-going-to-make-you-cry-uncle that we’ve all enjoyed so much. And I lost my appetite and a bit of weight. So last year’s “drapey” and “loose” became “looks like a five-year-old dressing up in mom’s clothes.” (Along with a few of last year’s pairs of pants, necessitating a new pair of Style Arc Jasmine‘s, but you don’t want to see another one of those, do you? Suffice it to say that it’s grey and it fits.) On a “need” scale this isn’t “I haven’t eaten in three days” but at least in a first world context it is somewhat legitimate.

So, after my recent sequin adventures and a black skirt that is in the blogging queue, and a long-sleeved shirt for my daughter who also has an unaccountable need to put on clothing that fits and is appropriate for school every day, it was time to do something about this. Shirt #1 was Yet Another Renfrew, and again, you don’t need to see another one of those. It is a purpley blue, long-sleeved, and I’ve finally altered the front pattern piece so that it fits properly, which just goes to show that buying a pattern from a company that specializes in patterns for pear shapes is not the smartest thing to do when you are not a pear shape, no matter how nice the pattern is.

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It’s pure coincidence that the colour matches the pattern envelope.

This is basically a raglan-sleeve t-shirt with a very wide neck band and a wide neckline. In terms of construction it is completely uninteresting, except for the neckband which has to be stretched out to its fullest extent while attaching to the shirt in order to lie (mostly) flat when worn. I made this a bit easier on myself by first basting and then serging.

When on the hanger, there are gathers along that seam that largely smooth out when it is stretched out on the body. However I do find that that neckband really wants to contract and it won’t stay as wide as it is supposed to according to the pattern drawing. I also find that some of the gathers remain on the back of the neck, but I don’t much care as that’s covered by hair anyway.

The Back. Gathers not visible, but everything else is.
The Back. Gathers not visible, but everything else is.

Overall it’s a fun pattern with some interesting details that make it a bit different–I mean, check out that side seam:

What looks like a seam on the back is actually the side seam
What looks like a seam on the back is actually the side seam

Such a small thing but a nice touch.

Dear god.
Dear god.

But I somehow doubt people are going to be paying much attention to the side seam because holy hell is it snug. There is nothing left to the imagination. This was supposed to be a shirt for work–and it probably still can be, if worn with a roomy skirt and a cardigan or blazer. Or I could go for broke and wear it with that front-split burda skirt I made in the summer and get myself sent down to HR.

It is a cool pattern, though. I’ll probably make it again, and maybe give myself just a smidge more ease.