Tag Archives: handmade

V2532: in which I inflict my unsightly legs on unsuspecting readers

“You don’t want big, tight, ropey muscles when you are in front of a camera,” says Grace Lazenby, who has taught Wright and a hose of other actresses in her Rockin Models class at Equinox in West Hollywood. … “You can love SoulCycle,” explains Lazenby. “But you can’t go to SoulCycle five times a week and do squats and lunges and expect to go on a camera, ever.” “Forever Young,” Alex Kuczynski, Vogue Magazine, August 2014, p. 134 *

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Me and my legs right where we belong: with the trash, which I will carry to the curb later this week.

Dear Readers, I must apologize in advance.

I have inflicted grevious harm on any viewing audience this blog has by putting my legs–which have seen bicycles, squats, and lunges, and plenty of them, not to mention step-ups, dead-lifts, jump squats, burpees, froggers, runs and jogs, and endless hikes, for years. Years! If I’d known what this would do to the camerability of my legs, I’m not sure I would have had the guts to put myself out there this way.

I'm sorry. I should have cropped out my legs.
I’m sorry. I should have cropped out my legs.

But here we are: I am reviewing a shorts pattern. Shorts mean that your legs are visible. I can’t show you the shorts without showing you my legs, and as you can see, all of those lower-body muscle-building exercises have left me with enormous, He-Man thighs. It’s a tragedy.
The shorts aren’t. A tragedy, I mean. I’m just lucky that they fit at all, I guess, given my entire lack of willowy-ness. I cut them out in a size 16 (16! Six! teen!) for the hips and a 14 (sobs) in the waist. They’re a smidge snug in the waist area, despite that I sewed them up with 3/8″ seams instead of 5/8″. It’s true, I guess. I’m too fat for public viewing.**

The fabric is a blue viscose/cotton blend I picked up at Fabricland for a song. Mock fly zip, side seam pockets. It was easy to put together and worked out well. Of course, now I learn from Vogue Magazine that I really should only wear these outside of the house if I know for a fact that there will be no cameras lurking anywhere.

I’ll bet her trainer warned her off of squats and lunges years ago

(In all seriousness, the side seam pockets were not my favourite. I prefer front pockets, both for comfort and because that bit of added bulk on the side seam is not my friend. I feel a bit like I’m wearing a Victorian corset with this silhouette. And you can see that the model on the pattern envelope in this length, with her hands in her pockets, has got some of the same thing going on.)

Cycling, lunges and squats can create bulky muscles, unless you’re six feet tall and weigh 120 lbs. Avoid heavy weights or risk looking like a quarterback. … “Nothing more than two or three pounds. Ever,” says De La Rue.

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Dear god, the shame! And also the sides of the shorts.

Oh my god! I’m only 5’8″! I weigh something like 145 lbs. (Honestly not entirely sure.) How did no one warn me before that unless you are taller than most men and thinner than most teenagers, heavy weights will make you look like a 20-year-old man on steroids?

It’s true. I lift heavy weights, sometimes. My god, what have I done to myself? I mean, sure, it’s good for your brain, your mood, your heart, your lungs, and your bones, but how could I have prioritized all that over shrinking myself into Flat Stanley so I could be mailed to Australia with a regular postage stamp? (Sigh.)

How many squats with 3 lbs each will it take to burn off my last 1,265 meals?
How many squats with 3 lbs each will it take to burn off my last 1,265 meals?

I’m so sorry, Dear Readers. I have let you down terribly, I know. Not only have I inflicted upon you the sight of legs on camera that have done an awful lot of heavy lifting, without even doing you the courtesy of photoshopping them, but I am so completely addicted to strength that I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to. God help me, I like opening my own jars and being able to run up the stairs. It feels really good. I could have decided to atrophy myself down to a level of photogenic weakness, but instead I chose to be a strong, capable, competent woman. It’s unforgivable, I know. And unphotographable, more to the point. And yet, here I am! Photographing myself! Putting the photographs in public!

No wait, I know what I'll do! I'll fix it just like Vogue magazine does: photoshop!
No wait, I know what I’ll do! I’ll fix it just like Vogue magazine does: photoshop!***

I was doomed, of course, the moment I had a child. I mean Frances was born quite small, but she definitely weighed more than three pounds. And then there’s the car-seat and the diaper bag …. Hell, even my work bag weighs more than 3 lbs fully loaded. I should have thought of this in advance. I should have avoided motherhood with all its unsightly lifting and carrying, or hired a nanny to do it for me, and I should have known better than to carry hardcovers with me on the train to work. I don’t know how I live with myself.

I do know that I will live with myself in more comfort if I make the waistband a smidge looser the next time with this pattern. If I were a real woman, I’d just lose five pounds, but alas. Maybe the serging on the inside to finish the seams and the careful pressing of the hems will make up, at least somewhat, for my many sins.

I can only hope that in time you will all find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Or at least be able to keep down your lunch when you see that I’ve chosen to put myself in front of a camera again.

~~~~~

* This one’s not online, maybe because they knew they’d get hate mail. So alas, no link.

** That it’s a Vogue pattern I’m reviewing along with a Vogue article is a coincidence. They’re separate entities, I imagine.

*** Wow, I was really surprised at how easy it was to erase sections of my body on the computer. It actually turned out to be harder to do a bad job of it than a good job. Still, how many obvious photoshop goofs can you see in this picture?

V8997: New Favourite Dress Pattern that I almost broke

Just look at this little bit of gorgeousness.

Wouldn’t you wear this if you could? You would. Unless you’re a boy, and maybe even then. It’s just fantastic, isn’t it? The bodice fit, the gored skirt with its lovely flares, the seam details on the front, the fact that it is adjustable for different cup sizes (aka no FBA required).

And yet after ordering it in the spring, it sat on my stash shelf, unloved.

Clearly this needed to be rectified while it was still warm enough to wear it.

This time I played with the saturation so that the yellow of the dress would stand out. It's not quite as interesting as I would have liked, but oh well.
This time I played with the saturation so that the yellow of the dress would stand out. It’s not quite as interesting as I would have liked, but oh well.

The yellow cotton fabric came from Downtown Fabric again, Queen W in Toronto ($8/m) and I lined it with yellow cotton batiste (more expensive than the dress fabric, alas, but I got it 50% off at Fabricland) because after making a nice cotton dress for the summer heat, I was not going to add a sticky acetate lining. The interfacing is cotton fusible. More on that below.

I absolutely freaking adore this pattern. I would marry it, if it weren’t illegal in all ten provinces. I would marry it and have little paper-human children. Paper dolls. I would have paper dolls with this pattern.

sleeves!
sleeves!

I’d already made a few Vogue shirt patterns with the cup-size adjustment things so I knew I could count on 14D fitting well, and so didn’t bother to muslin. And it was just fine! Really. I cut everything out in 14D and sewed it up, and once it was all together the only change I had to make was shortening the shoulder seams by 1/4″ because the bodice is so structured and my waist is a bit high so the whole thing was sitting a bit off my shoulders. It was an easy fix (and now I know for next time, only I’ll take it off the waist). All the seams lined up; the back is flat; the waist fits; the bodice is just right; the flared skirt is fantastic. It has pockets that sit at just the right place.

The gored circle skirt is by far my favourite part
The gored circle skirt is by far my favourite part. Because it’s gored, you could use a directional print on this dress and all parts of the print would be pointing the right way.

It took me all weekend, mind you. Saturday and Sunday. There are a ton of pieces (44, counting dress, lining and interfacing) so that’s a lot of seams and a lot of pressing. Still, for this, it is worth it.

I was within shooting distance of finishing the dress (hemming to go, and that was it) and had it on to test the fit, and I went outside to start the BBQ for dinner. Single mom, you know. And it spattered dark soot all over the front of my dress.

Bubbling all gone. Thank goodness.
Bubbling all gone. Thank goodness.

So the very first thing I had to do, once the hemming was done, was stain-treat and wash my new dress. Argh. All for a moment of carelessness. Which led me to wonder what the cotton fusible interfacing would do in the wash. Are you supposed to pre-shrink that stuff? I never pre-shrink interfacing but normally I haven’t fused it to the entire upper half of a dress. Crap. Is it going to wreck my dress when I wash it to remove the soot stains?

I pre-treated. I washed. I partially dried on the low-heat setting. And 95% of the dress was just fine, but the two side-back pieces on the bodice bubbled up horribly. Fortunately ironing on a very hot setting while the fabric was still damp (at almost midnight, Dear Readers, when I had my alarm set for six–but I had to fix it!) smoothed out almost all of it. Thank god it’s still wearable. If I had killed it before I even got a chance to wear it, I probably would have held a funeral for it in the backyard. I love it that much.

lingerie loop
lingerie loop

The shoulders are a bit wide, so I added lingerie loops into the seams to keep them over my bra straps. Just a hook-and-eye set, with the eye sewn to the shoulder seam below the sleeve, where it’s nicely hidden, and then the hook attached to a nice long cord. (Cord was handmade: knotted on to the hook with a good long tail, then stitched it on to the inner shoulder seam, small knot, and buttonhole stitches over the thread and tail all the way up to the hook, with another knot to tie it securely, and then partially threaded through the cord to hide the knot and tail. That probably doesn’t make any sense. I should have taken a picture of the process for a visual.)

I also fussed with the back closure, above the zipper, quite a bit. I added a hook-and-eye set facing both up and down, as the pattern recommends, but it was too visible from the outside (all the hook-and-eye sets I can find around here are black). I added a button with a handmade thread closure, and then moved the button over, but it still gaped too much and I couldn’t do it up easily. Then I added a hook to one side and a thread loop to the other. It’s not perfect but it’s the best of what I’ve tried so far. Anything snugger and I can’t get it done up by myself, which is kind of important.

And yes, I know the cords are rough. I’m not sure how other people get their buttonhole stitches on thread to lie so smoothly, but I haven’t yet mastered it. Fortunately, these are hidden, so who cares? And they’re tough and will last forever.

The only thing I’m not happy with is the zipper. I should have listened to my inner voice and gone with the invisible zipper–instead I used a regular one, which was hard to sew in properly with all the many layers of fabric at the waist. So it’s clunky. I’d also widen the inner shoulders a bit so that it doesn’t sit quite so far off.

Next: the sheath version with the colour-blocking in a nice, colourful, heavy-ish wool or wool-silk. I can’t wait.

it’s (practically) august!

So.

I swore off fabric purchases until August.

And we’ll just leave it there.

..

.

OK. I bought fabric.

But not very much. It might not have been a fast, but it was certainly a diet.

I bought lightweight denim and blue viscose (not yet blogged) for shorts. On sale, 50% off. I’ve got enough left over to make shorts for Frances, too.

I bought a few metres of a gorgeous white and an off-white floral silk-cotton blend that was soft and beautiful and 50% off.

I bought a metre of the brown-eyed susan print I was talking about before. Because it was almost sold out.

And I bought a fat quarter of a bright red print for a quilt I’m planning.

I’ve already used the first two. The white silk-cotton I think will be dandy as an embroidered blouse, and I have a test square all set up for embroidering to see what works. No idea what I will do with the brown-eyed susan print. But it’s the only stash fabric–and I sewed up almost everything I had in my to-sew pile, except for a lovely silk charmeuse that I really need to plan out and muslin the hell out of first, and a great bamboo jersey that was going to be a Moneta, but I am being indecisive and now maybe it will be an Emily t-shirt plus something else.

Now it is August. (Almost.)

I can go shopping! For fabric. Fall fabric. Is fall fabric in the stores yet?

I feel like I should be saying something meaningful about What I Have Learned from the fabric shopping ban(-lite). What I mostly learned is that I bought too much fabric in April, because it’s still not all sewed up and I’ve been working through projects at a pretty fair clip.

We’ll see if this is something I remember next time I am on Queen West, drooling over bolts of clothing-to-be: there will be something beautiful to buy later when you have a project in hand. It is not necessary to buy All The Fabric now because it’s there and you don’t know if you will see it again. They make more!

Probably Saturday, Dear Readers. On Saturday I will put my newfound wisdom to the test.

M6884–a dress for some seasons

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What else do you do in a dress like this, but vamp?

So here we go–my first attempt at blog ridiculousness. I hope you enjoy it. It was a lot of fun to do. Jesus Murphy, just my luck that this was the first make during my experiment…

Also, please note that this post assumes you are not squeamish about women’s underwear. Thank you for your understanding.

This dress really has no practical uses whatsoever.

Well, clothing, technically. I mean, it means the legal definition. I won’t be arrested wearing it.

Now what do you suppose they did in this photo to keep the model looking so modest? I suspect double-sided tape.

But I won’t be wearing it to work, either. Maybe out on a date with a guy I really, really like.

First off, a confession. I know that stripes are supposed to match. And I tried, for days, to make these stripes match.

Initially I put this fabric together with this pattern because I thought the stretch was just perfect for the faux-wrap style and the stripes would look fantastic with those gathers on the right. But I did not buy anywhere near enough to allow for proper pattern matching, given the irregular repeat on the zebra-style stripes and the narrow stripe repeat width. I truly did my best–included tracing and colouring in the stripes on the pattern pieces themselves to try to get them to line up properly. No luck.

silly-51-8
And now that I’m all gussied up, I guess I’d better do what us glamourous single moms do with all of our spare time…

I still think the fabric and stripe just scream dress, but I do wonder how a different sewist would have pulled off the stripe matching. Maybe a very, very slim woman would have found the repeat pattern enough width-wise to make the pieces match up all the way up the sides. The best I could do was get some key points at the waist and hips to line up approximately–and given the gathers, the top halves weren’t going to match up no matter what. The front pieces matched up beautifully, though.

Anyway. The sewing went together fairly easily. I used some stabilizer tape for knit hems on this one, and did it ever make a difference. All the seams and hems lie so nice and flat and they still stretch. It’s a miracle. I love that stuff.

The major stumbling block: McCalls didn’t put page 3 of the instructions in the envelope, and since I ordered it online I couldn’t take it back to a store and get a switch. It took me about two hours to get 80% of the dress done–and then I was stumped. I tried to guess it together but it didn’t look like it was going to work, so I instagrammed McCalls on Saturday and then emailed them on Monday looking for page 3 of the pattern, which I got from them on Tuesday. So props to them for prompt customer service, and if you ever need to follow up with them on a pattern problem, I’d recommend using the email form on the company page.

Like so. As modestly as possible.
Like so. As modestly as possible.

The instructions on that page are a little tricky. While views a and b are completely faux-wrap dresses, and both sides are sewn together, views c and d are a combination of faux-wrap and real-wrap. One side is sewn together, and the other side–with the gathers–is free. That part you actually tie up when you put it on.

The dress, when done, is super cute and fairly flattering and really, really comfortable–especially in this knit fabric, which is light and unbelievably soft, which it had better be for what I paid for it. It’s also (partially) a wrap dress, which = plunging V neckline. So I finished it up and then it sat in my closet, complete, while I struggled with underwear options. I mean I had no bras whatsoever that were both pale enough not to be visible through the fabric, and short enough in front not to be visible in the V.

~~~

Digression: Bliss Bras

Squeamish male readers, cover your eyes.

Bliss Bras on Upper James came through in spades. Not only did the saleslady scour the store looking for things that were jersey-friendly, not dark, and very low-cut in front–and in my size, which is a challenge at the best of times–but when she found one that had the right cup size and a band several sizes too large that otherwise was perfect, she whipped out her sewing machine and shortened the band for me while I waited at the counter, for free, for a bra that was on sale. Colour me super impressed. This is how you win lifelong loyalty.

We also had a lovely chat about sewing machines, sewing in general, and bra-making while she shortened the band. Did you know that Hamilton is a global centre for bra-making? No? Me neither. There’s apparently a globally-recognized store that teaches classes locally and all over the world and everything. Who knew? A new obsession may appear in this space shortly, Dear Readers. But not until I’ve worked through a bit more of my Someday Shelf.

End digression.

~~~

silly-61-12
This is what women did in the 1950s, right? They put on a dress, did their make-up, wore heels, and did housework?

Anyway, here is the final result.

Apparently, some folks had the brilliant idea of attaching t-shirt bands to the inner front of similar patterns in order to prevent themselves from inadvertently flashing passersby. Beautifully done, yes? I’ve decided to live on the wild side. On occasion. In carefully chosen company.

i’ve had a double-think

My aesthetic experiment is going to be tweaked before it’s even begun, Dear Readers.

Do you get the sense that the model and/or photographer give a fuck what you think about her?

Last night, while I was browsing fashion magazines at Chapters (and spent entirely too much money to bring them home), I realized that the aesthetics of sewing blogs doesn’t mimic fashion magazines. Not really.

~
Though I’ll grant that in my quick search, women definitely produced more sexy/pretty self-portraits than men, and I’m sure it’s no accident. Still, overall, there were very, very few friendly and approachable smiles on someone trying to be generically pretty.

Nor does it mimic self-portrait photography.

~
Yup. There’s your standard sewing blog aesthetic–courtesy of Sears.

It mimics catalogues.

Which is depressing as hell (to me, anyway). What does it say about us and our relationship to our creations that our immediate impulse is to present them as products for sale? Is it just that that’s the easiest kind of picture to take? Is it our default relationship with the clothes we wear and enjoy–posed on a friendly, unintimidating, quietly pretty model? What do you think about the implication–that we are essentially producing free advertising for fabric and patterns?

A more expensive catalogue (Anthropologie), same visual aesthetic. Yes, I’ve been told that I think too much before.

A very quick, lazy-Saturday-morning perusal of fashion photographs and self-portraits vs. catalogue images makes me wonder if the main difference isn’t that in fashion photography and self-portrait photography, it doesn’t matter if the model looks pretty or not. She (or he) might actually look tired, sick, angry, ridiculous, whatever, so long as the overall image is pleasing and interesting, and in fashion photography, it demonstrates something unusual or noteworthy about the clothing–construction, the way it moves, reflects light, what have you.

I’m not going to include photos from sewing blogs–I don’t want to criticize anyone, and I think this is the kind of thing that would be hard not to take personally. But it’s easy enough to find them on Google and then you can make up your own mind, or tell me I’m full of it.

I’m still going to be focusing on interesting over pretty, but I’ll be thinking about it differently. Anything goes, so long as I don’t look like a page from a Sears catalogue.

B5354: New favourite t-shirt

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Check out that tan, will ya?

A few years ago, I bought a yellow t-shirt that became my absolute favourite: interesting pleating and details on the neckline with just the right amount of drape made it flattering without being tight or revealing. I wore it to death. I still wear it, even though years of stains and stretch mean that it has been relegated to the not-leaving-the-house pile.

But I wanted to be able to wear it out or to work again, or something like it, so I bought a t-shirt pattern with interesting pleating at the neck and what looked like decent drape and hoped for the best.

I’m supposed to be a size 16 in this, but it is “very loose” according to the pattern description, so I went with the finished garment measurements instead and sewed up an 8/10. It’s a little snug across the shoulders but otherwise perfect. I can’t imagine this in a 16 on me. I’d have been swimming in it.

blog-3-2The yellow cotton knit came from Downtown Fabrics on Queen West during my April spree, and it is soft and a perfect light/medium weight.

Sewing up the pleats was a bit time consuming, but otherwise the pattern was simple and straightforward. I used knit seam stabilizer and a walking foot on the hems to make it nice and flat, and the other seams are serged. Easy peasy.

Wherein the pleats are actually somewhat visible. Love them.
Wherein the pleats are actually somewhat visible. Love them.

The only alteration to the basic pattern I made was with the facing: it would roll up. This is a problem I’ve noted with RTW knit tops with facings, too, so I don’t think it’s the pattern. I just tacked the facing to the pleats on the inside and serged the facing a bit narrower, and problem solved.

And yes, it’s the fancy shorts again. They are so comfortable. I’ve already worn this combo a bunch of times together. Love love love them.

Renfrew

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This is my tan.

I made up a Sewaholic Renfrew on my vacation as well.

It’s … ok.

I’m not thrilled with it. The v-neck turned out all right, as did the cuffs and hems. The peach rayon knit has an interesting finish with a flat side and a slightly ribbed side, so I used the flat for the shirt and the ribbed side for the cuffs, and I like what it adds. It’s a very light and comfortable shirt, except that the sleeves are a bit too snug–there were no notches to show where the sleeve pieces were meant to meet up with the shirt, so I couldn’t figure out where the ease was to go. And Sewaholic patterns run small up top if you get my drift, which I do not, and my alterations didn’t quite work to add the extra I’d need. So there are drag lines.

blog-7-6But, you know, it’s ok. I can wear it out of the house, better if it’s tucked in.

M6930: Fancy shorts!

blog-3-2I don’t really have any shorts.

Technically, I have three pairs of shorts I bought in my early twenties, which still–miraculously–button up, though two of them are just a bit snug; but all three are very short and very casual. I have a pair of peach shorts bought last summer at Joe Fresh, which taught me to never buy clothes without trying them on first even if it’s an $8 pair of shorts, because Joe Fresh excels at putting together very cute two-dimensional clothes that look good on hangers and have no space for a butt (or boobs). I have a pair of more professional shorts bought on sale three years ago that are just that little bit too tight to be wearable for eight hours seated at a computer.

In a summer version of the classic lament, I have a drawer full of shorts and no shorts to wear, at least not if I want to wear them to work.

So I decided this was the summer to sew some shorts, and I started with M6930, a simple pattern with darts and a back zipper (view A). I then immediately complicated it.

christie lake-9-6First was the back pockets–just the place for some colourful embroidery. There was a floral pattern in A Rainbow of Stitches that was just the size of the back pockets minus the seam allowances, so I traced it out (regular view and mirror view) onto freezer paper, backed the denim with cut-out stabilizer, and stitched it up with a bunch of fibres from DMC, Caron, Rainbow Gallery and a few mystery skeins–there’s cottons, silks, wools, and some kind of glittery synthetic on there, and I used stem stitches, split stitches, chain stitches, satin stitches, french knots, fly stitches, leaf stitches and pistil stitches. This easily took longer than sewing the actual shorts.

christie lake-13-9I also changed the fabrics an itty bit: for the inner waist band and the pocket bag, I used leftover pink cotton from my shirt last fall rather than the same denim used for the shorts proper. This kept the bulk down and the softness up–the cotton is so much nicer against the skin. I also used some of the cotton to line the back pockets so the reverse of the stitching wouldn’t snag when the pockets were used.

And then there was the stitching.

~~~

Brief Digression Through Stitches Used in RTW Denim

Denim is a super stiff and bulky fabric, and if you sewed it up using the same techniques as for cotton or wool pants, it would be unwearable: the seams would be stiff and hard and rub your legs all the time. In order to make denim comfortable, special stitches are used, the most traditional being the flat-fell seam. For these, the fabric is sewn wrong-sides together, one of the pieces is trimmed down, the other wrapped around it, and then this is flattened and sewn to the outside of the garment. Like so:

Inside of a denim flat-fell stitch
Inside of a denim flat-fell seam
Outside of a flat-fell seam
Outside of a flat-fell seam

The inside and the outside look the same because of how the fabric is wrapped around itself and then sewn flat to the garment, which makes it much more comfortable to wear. However, this is time consuming, so you’ll often see some shortcuts in rtw denim as well, like this:

Inside of a simple denim seam
Inside of a simple denim seam
Outside of a simple denim seam.
Outside of a simple denim seam.

Instead of a full flat-fell seam, it’s serged right sides together, and then the serged seam is stitched down to the inside of the garment. Still flat, still very strong, no tedious seam-wrapping and so much faster.

End digression.

~~~

Yay for tidy shorts seams!
Yay for tidy shorts seams! (The one on the left has been stitched flat.)

The shorts pattern contained instructions for neither, so I just added the simpler version–serged the main seams and then stitched the serged seam flat against the inside of the shorts. I cheated and used the overlock foot to get the stitching as straight and as close to the seam as possible; but I wasn’t quite as confident in the edge-stitching, so I didn’t use a contrasting thread. Maybe next time. But the seams are strong and flat and comfortable and the inside of the shorts is really, really neat.

A pretty, flat, top-stitched serged seam.
A pretty, flat, top-stitched serged seam.

I also top-stitched the waist-band both top and bottom to keep the pink cotton on the inside, rather than rolling up into a little pink border on top of the shorts.

Most often with denim, you’ll see shaped front and back yokes rather than darts, but this denim was light enough that the darts worked. And it fit perfectly. I cut out a straight size 16 based on my hip measurements with no alterations and it’s just right.

I also had some fun with adding bar-tack stitches to the pockets for added strength (check your jeans–they have bar-tack stitches on the pockets, and likely rivets as well). Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Janome? It has a bar-tack stitch!

blog-6-5tl; dr: I made some shorts! Here they are.

congratulations graduate!

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Yes, it’s a headless Frances photo.

(itty-bitty Mommyblog aside)

Holy crap, my child is done with elementary school. I am not ready. I just brought her home from the hospital last week. How did it go this quickly?

(back to sewing)

Frances started talking up her mom-made grad dress at school months ago, to both classmates and teachers. So sweet, yes? I’m going to enjoy her being proud of wearing home-made clothing for as long as it lasts.

Also, this dress had better be as close to flawless as possible, or I am screwed.

The rayon ($8/m) came from Downtown Fabrics on Queen West in Toronto. Lining was just regular acetate this time–it’s a grade 5 grad dress. I want her to look special but an heirloom garment this is not. Frances helped me pick out the pattern (McCalls 6020, $4 on sale) and the zipper and trim, and then contributed on a weekly basis by asking me if her dress was finished yet.

Umm, no, sweetheart. Not started. Not quite. Patience.

Step 1: Altering the pattern

Frances has some unique sizing issues that make it a challenge to sew straight from the pattern, so first up was taking  detailed and up-to-date measurements, comparing them to the pattern pieces, and altering as required. The back, sleeves, and skirt pieces were cut out in straight-up size 8 (except for skirt length, which I made quite a bit longer as she wanted it as close to ankle-length as possible). The front bodice and waistband both needed altering: waistband an inch or two beyond the size 14 on either side; and the front bodice piece was a size 8 around the neck and sleeves, then widened down to a size 14 at the waist, and deepened by about two inches at centre front based on her front shoulder-to-waist measurement.

She’s not a size 8 in height or limb length yet, but we both wanted this to have some growing room so she could potentially wear it again.

I tested it by basting up the bodice lining pieces and getting her to try it on. While the back was a bit loose, the front and waistband were just perfect: the waistband sat straight at her waist and didn’t pull, and there was no excess fabric on the bodice front. Huzzah!

I even got to use my french curve to redraw the armhole and waist seams on the front bodice piece. It worked out all right–there’s a bit of bubbling on the torso I’m unhappy with, but I think taking it apart to fix it would only move the bubbling to the centre, so we left it. You can see that little bit of puckering in the top photo.

So many failed garments behind that relatively simple accomplishment, Dear Readers.

She didn’t want the sash or the bow, so I just made everything up in the same fabric; and we added on the sparkly neckline trim just for fun.

Step 2: Sewing the bodice and sleeves

This pattern is rated easy, which means there are some construction shortcuts. I am all for construction shortcuts when sewing on a deadline.

graduation-9-5One was the sleeve gathering: the skirt gathering was standard and enclosed within the bodice, but the gathering on the shoulder is quite visible. It’s cute but I’m not sure how much I like the stitching being visible if you get close enough. I might prefer if the pieces were split, gathered on the edge and then sewn together–but there’s no question that this method was a time saver.

Also, the sleeves and sleeve linings were sewn together as a single piece, then gathered. It made a nice edge and was certainly faster to do than adding and hemming them separately.

The bodice and bodice lining were also treated as a single piece for setting in the sleeves, which again made it faster, but also means that the sleeve seam is visible on the inside of the garment. Not a big deal; no one’s going to be looking in there, but it won’t be as smooth for wearing.

Step 3: The Skirt

The rectangles. Sew together. Gather. Attach to bodice, but not bodice lining.

The only alteration was making the front skirt rectangle a few inches wider to match the increased length of the waistband piece. Moving right along…

Step 4: Zipper

graduation-12-6
the trim at the top was neatened after I took this photo of the zipper.

I changed the zipper to an invisible zipper per special Frances Request, so didn’t seam up the back until after the zipper was installed. And voila. Then the trim, which Frances picked out to add a little special sparkle to her special dress, stitched on by hand between the shell and the lining, and catch-stitching the bodice lining over the skirt piece, and hemming. It is a blind hem but the fabric is so light and floaty that it’s quite visible. Not a huge deal under the circumstances but I’ll have to figure out a way to do a proper blind hem on this fabric for the next project.

All in all, very little hand-sewing was required for the dress, which was great. It looks lovely and Frances loves it. When she tried it on after it was all finished, her eyes bugged out, she clapped her hands, and then jumped up and down. Just what she wanted.

Today was graduation day. We pampered her good and proper–nice long bath last night with fancy conditioner, shiny fingernails and toenails, a braided hairstyle–and she wore her mom-made grad dress to many, many compliments.  And there was skipping, jumping, hugging, grinning and laughing to be had.

I can’t believe she’s done with grade school.

on expertise

Sewing 1850 style: Probably two gifted women sewing late into the night for fun, no?

Two hundred years ago, any woman alive would been able to produce a hand-stitched garment that fit anyone in her family. It might have included smocking, monograms, top- and edge-stitching, and other decorative and fitting details as a matter of course. While a woman who could sew exceptionally well might have been admired within her local community, every woman was expected to have enough facility with a thread and needle to be able to produce wearable garments. Not to mention linens, bedspreads, etc.

The reference escapes me at the moment, but until relatively recently in historical terms, it was considered a good investment for a middle-class family to spend a small fortune on a complete set of silk embroidery flosses for their daughters, to learn how to embroider well with quality products.*

Nowadays, if you sew yourself a skirt composed of two gathered rectangles and a waistband and the hem turns out even, you are considered talented.

If those little fingers can manage it, I’m sure ours can (19th cent.)

People tell me this fairly often: “You’re so talented, Andrea!” And I think it’s kind of funny. I’m not. I’m moderately good because I’ve invested a lot of time in a learnable skill. Anything that every woman alive did as a matter of course just 200 years ago has not suddenly become a mysterious and rare Gift visited on a chosen few, particularly not with the advent of sewing machines with specialized feet, zippers, automatic buttonholes, printed patterns, sergers and the like.

Sewing is like cooking. At first, you burn the pasta. Eventually, if you put in the time and attention, you learn to make a bolognese from scratch, when to use the buffalo mozzarella and when to use the pizza mozzarella, why it’s better to use full-fat milk in the bechemel sauce but that 1% will do in a pinch, and that, my god, margarine is not a food. (Sorry for the snobbish moment there.) Maybe because most of us do still spend some time feeding ourselves, we recognize cooking for what it is: a skill.

We no longer clothe ourselves, so we no longer think of sewing as a skill. But even your factory-made clothing was almost certainly assembled by women sitting at sewing machines. Are they gifted? Probably not. Most likely they were poor and desperate and this was the best job on offer, and now having sewn those seams approximately 3,000 times, they’re pretty good at it.

The other thing is that I recognize that I’m actually not that good.

I’m ok at it. You know, I can wear something I’ve made out of the house and not be totally embarrassed. I can make things that fit me better than what I can find in a store. I can make things for Frances that fit her pretty well, and that are comfortable and she will wear. Hurray! Yes?

…or maybe this is just an excuse to post some adorable pictures. (19th cent.). Hey, do you suppose mom is charging for that tutorial?

There’s a lot I can’t do, though.

My handmade buttonholes are a joke (thank god for the automatic buttonholes on the machine). My blind hems are not as blind as they should be. I still have no real clue how to fit raglan sleeves properly. Sometimes my darts are uneven, and I still struggle with adjusting patterns to fit my high waist. Belt loops are a work in progress.

But that’s all ok, because one of the things I love about sewing is how much there still is for me to learn. It’s fantastic! I could sew for the rest of my life and still have new skills and techniques to master.

This year, I have finally mastered how to make Frances a shirt and dress bodice that fits. Thanks to her health issues, this is not a simple task, but I did it. Go me! When I made her Princess Frances dress a few years back for a cousin’s wedding, I learned how to orient pattern pieces on ombre fabric to ensure a consistent gradation to the entire garment. But the back placket was poor, the sashes weren’t flat, the front bodice was tight, and the tulle was uneven under the skirt hem. I knew this, even though everyone raved about the dress. (It’s a nice dress, but it’s not perfect.) Her grad dress won’t have the ombre trickery, but I can already tell that the dress as a whole will be a better garment: the sleeves are even, the neckline lies flat and is symmetrical, and the waistband lies straight and goes directly across her stomach. And it will fit her. (And it is also the softest rayon ever woven–I keep petting it.)

I enjoy participating (peripherally) in the sewing community because it is fun. People make stuff, sometimes it’s crap, they post pictures of what they made, get some congratulations. My take is that no one really cares if you’re making stuff well, so long as you are making stuff. Glorious mistakes, and all.**

Thank goodness, because if there were a quality barrier to entry, I’m not sure I’d qualify.

But as much as I enjoy this “let’s all make crap together” spirit, I admit to giving the side-eye to the “and since I make marginally better crap than you do, let me tell you how it’s done” corollary. A well-timed “this is how I did it” is always nice, even when how you did it isn’t all that great. A tutorial on How To Do It when you’re not doing it right rubs me the wrong way, particularly when there’s a monetary charge for the tutorial or an associated pattern attached.

Particularly when you are publicly advertising yourself as an expert.

People are entitled to make and sell tutorials and patterns all day and night, if that’s what they want to do, and other people are entitled to buy and use them, regardless of whether or not it’s any good. And then the people who don’t like them are also entitled to say that they don’t like them. This is how it goes.

Like movies. People can make good movies, and bad movies. People can get paid for the movies they make, regardless, and other people can pay to see them. And then they can talk about which movies they love and which movies they hate. Publicly, even. If you’re going to make movies, you’re going to get panned.

The minute money is introduced, the relationship changes from social to commercial. Yes, sometimes people have social and commercial relationships simultaneously, but no commercial entity has social relationships with all of its customers. It’s the difference between your grandmother teaching you how to make pancakes (criticism=tacky), and buying a cookbook with a crappy pancake recipe that doesn’t rise properly (tell the world about it via Amazon).

(This extended diatribe brought to you via a controversy in the sewosphere whereby an accomplished seamstress took issue with a number of self-identified sewing experts online and the advice that they offer, and some of the said self-identified sewing experts themselves took issue with being taken issue with, and kaboom.)

To sum up:

  • I like to sew
  • Sometimes I don’t sew so well
  • I still talk about it publicly
  • But this is ok, because I’m neither calling myself an expert nor charging for it
  • I love sewing blogs, even the ones where people don’t sew so well, because it’s great to see people challenge themselves and learn
  • And let’s face it, many of us don’t have a local in-the-flesh sewing community to sew with
  • Hurray internet!
  • But if you’re going to ask me for my money in exchange for your expertise, whether it’s pattern-making or technique-related, you’d better be sure that you have some to sell
  • And if you don’t, I consider myself and other people perfectly within their right to say so

In related news, the bodice and sleeves of Frances’s grad dress are all done. I need to do the skirt and zipper, and then embellish. I can’t wait!

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* Not advocating a return to the days where all women were required to sew, but the historical context does make it pretty apparent how far this particular skill set has declined in the developed world. Also, given the human rights abuses and rampant consumerism associated with today’s industrialized fashion landscape, we might all be better off if all of us–men and women both–took more personal responsibility for and active participation in the production of our own clothing. /soapbox

** Personally, I want to keep making new mistakes. Making mistakes is fine, it’s how we learn and progress; but getting stuck in the same mistakes means you’re not learning. Not making mistakes means you’re not taking risks or doing anything new. Mistakes are great! But I wouldn’t want anyone emulating my mistakes.

~~~~~

Am I going to regret having posted this? Oh, hell…