Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Multiple Variations, Infinite Possibilities

I thought I would share a few more bits of the construction of my latest Britex project – thank you for all the lovely feedback on the dress, by the way!

Many patterns include multiple views that whet the creative appetite by showing one or two variations on a theme.  But there are so many more possibilities!  Add or substitute a piece from another existing pattern or draft your own, and things get even more interesting.

This gorgeous red wool was initially intended for a different dress, but when I had the opportunity to work with By Hand London’s new pattern, I jumped at the chance.  The only problem was that I knew a sleeveless wool dress was going to get buried under cardigans and sweaters in most situations – my fix was to add sleeves.

However, there is no armscye to work with. 

With any substantive change to a pattern I like to test things out in muslin.  I rarely make more than one muslin because it is not the most interesting process in the world, but I will admit to stitching and ripping four different sleeve options before I was pleased with the end result (which is so much better to do with cheap and replaceable fabric).  I will often leave off one of the sleeves to speed up this process, but in this case, the fit of the sleeve cap was extra important and I wanted to make sure it would be possible to get in and out of the dress with the side zipper. 

To attach the left sleeve, it was necessary to stitch the left side opening closed at the top edge for one inch.  I thought about moving the zipper opening to the center back, but that would have changed the lines of the dress and I wanted to avoid that.  Thankfully, getting in and out of the dress was not an issue.

The top of the sleeve was finished with a bias strip of wool with a piece of elastic inserted along the head of the sleeve to help keep them in place.  The lower underarm portion of the sleeve was then stitched to the upper edge of the side bodice. 

The fact that I had removed the straps created a problem.   In essence, the bodice and skirt pieces needed to stay up on their own with my sleeve choice.  My first thought was to add boning channels to a lining, as I would do with a strapless dress.  But after working with the wool fabric, I changed my mind.  I even ended up foregoing seam binding as a finish for the raw edges and instead went with a pinked seam because everything shows through this fabric and I did not want any added bulk or lines of stitching to be obvious.  So the boning was out.

But I still did want to add a full lining to the dress, partly because of my chosen seam finish and because it would make a wool dress more comfortable to wear (a lining also adds years to the life of a garment).  There are multiple ways to insert a dress lining, but my choice was to make a duplicate version in bemberg rayon. 

Once the sleeves were basted in place, the sleeves were pushed down and away from the upper bodice edge.  

The lining was then dropped over the wool dress, right sides together, and stitched along the top edge (the wool edge was previously stay-stitched and reinforced with a piece of seam binding - that step is shown here).  

The lining was then pulled to the inside and under-stitched, leaving a clean edge with all of the raw bits concealed.  No facing required! 

Using a small back-stitch, I tacked the lining to the dress along the underbust seam to keep it in place.

With far set sleeves, wearing a standard bra was going to be an issue, so I decided to solve two problems.  Instead of boning, I added a pair of bra cups which I basted between the fabric and lining layers.

To add even more stability, a grosgrain stay was added under the bust.  

This also relieves pressure on the invisible zipper – since they are not always the sturdiest of notions, I like to give them any extra help I can!  (More kvetching on that subject will come later . . . my Ceil Chapman dress project has hit an unfortunate snag.)

And to keep the sleeves from stretching out of shape, two ribbon hangers were added to take the weight off the shoulders while the dress is stored in the closet.

A classic silhouette in a beautiful red wool - thank you Britex and By Hand London!


My obsession with red continues.  Years ago I was more drawn to burgundy, rose, merlot, and maroon.  These days, however, I seem to gravitate more towards a true red.

This was certainly true of my latest Britex project.  I am embarrassed to admit that its first outing was February 14th – that’s right, Valentine’s day.  How utterly clichéd can you get, right?!

I get very cranky with holidays such as Valentine’s Day and do my best to avoid pink and red on the dreaded day.  This year, however, a combination of schedules and weather made it the only viable day for photos before my deadline.  So with a reluctant heart, I joined the sea of red on Friday the 14th.

Putting all of that aside, I should talk about the fabric.  The more I work with wool, the more I love it.  This scarlet red deliciousness proved to be just as lovely as I hoped.  It does fray a bit, but so do a lot of lovely fabrics.  And while some wool can be rather itchy, this one did not rub me the wrong way.

I find that I often avoid solid colored fabrics.  A print or texture can often disguise a less than stellar quality fabric, but there really is nothing to hide behind with a plain solid.  So being spoiled with gorgeous pieces of wool from Britex may just help me get over my fear of solids.  This navy dress was worn a lot this season, and I expect this new dress will become another favorite.

Thanks, Britex and By Hand London!

Dress:  Made by me, By Hand London’s “Georgia
Shoes:  Colin Stuart
Earrings:  Judith Jack

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dots and Dashes

I finally have some finished garment photos to share!

My second Knit for Victory sweater has been completed - buttons and all!  And I love it so much I thought it deserved its very own skirt.

There was just enough leftover yardage from my Ceil Chapman project to whip up Vogue 1296.  And after quite a few involved projects I needed something quick and easy that did not require a muslin, or masses of time and energy.  This skirt was just the ticket!

And what happens when you try something without a test run?  Something unexpected.  I was hoping the skirt would turn out to be mid-knee length.  The model on the pattern envelope looks to be extremely tall so I suppose that the skirt is sitting at her hips instead of the waistline in the photos, or maybe she just looks tall - my bad.  The end result works in wool, since I am likely to always wear stockings or tights with the skirt, but if/when I make a summer version it will probably get lengthened by one or two inches.

The project went extremely quickly since I had everything I needed on hand (except for a black invisible zipper – how the heck does that happen!?!).

And I cannot decide if this wool is dotted or dashed.  Since the red contrast is woven through the wool, looking at both the right and wrong sides reminds me of Morse code.  But dots and dashes are just as good as polka dots, right?

Now back to that dress!

Sweater:  Made by me, Sirdar 1741
Skirt:  Made by me, Vogue 1296
Shoes:  Nine West

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How many red buttons are hiding in my apartment?

It turns out that I have more red buttons stashed away than I thought.  And it would seem that I have become obsessed with the color red.  Four of the six projects started in 2014 involve the color.  This was certainly not my intention, but having a theme is a lovely surprise!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Decoding the Mystery of the Pleats

I knew going in that this project was not going to be the easiest dress I have ever worked on.  And that is fabulous – I love challenging patterns - I wish that contemporary offerings were this involved and creative. 

But I am never prepared for the difficulties that arise from drafting mistakes.  Why do I always assume that pattern markings are correct?  As I have mentioned before, I expect instruction errors, but drafting errors make me feel like I am a complete newbie with no sewing skills whatsoever.

My first Ceil Chapman for Spadea design experience was somewhat similar.  The sleeve would not set-in properly.  I made it work, but still wondered what the heck I was missing.  Months later, I received an email from someone working with the same pattern who was having the very same issue.  Oh my goodness . . . it wasn’t me!  I am not a nincompoop!

But fast forward a couple of years, and I once again think that Spadea walks on water.  Not only that, Deirdre generously sent me this pattern to test and I was failing miserably.

The blue lines are the original markings on the Skirt Front.

So here is what happens if I follow the instructions:  crease on the solid line and bring fold to the dotted line to create a pleat.  What a mess.  Attempting to manipulate the fabric this way meant fighting the grainline, not to mention the jagged edge that was created would never match back to the bodice.  Aargh!!

Okay, let’s ignore that piece for the moment because I am feeling a wave of crankiness come upon me.

The Waist Front gets pleated and then basted to the Bodice Lining (which looks very much like a standard bodice).  Sounds easy.

The bottom pleat comes up, and the top pleat folds down.  

Crease the bottom solid line, bring it up to the dotted and suddenly all the jogs and curves disappear into the lower curve of an armhole and the side line of a bodice.  

Beautiful!  I’m on a roll now . . .

The top solid line is creased and pulled down to the . . . hold everything . . . this is not working at all.  What the &*%$!?!

Deep breaths . . .

In a perfect world, this piece is going to match back to a standard bodice, and I need at least a seam allowance worth of armhole to attach the sleeve.  (From reading ahead in the instructions, I know this is a standard set-in sleeve.)    

When I try to make it look like the diagrams, this is what I come up with – that looks a whole lot better!

Out of curiosity, I take a Sharpie and draw lines along the folded edges.  Remove the pins, open the piece, and what do I discover?  The original lines on the pattern pieces have only one point in common with the new fold lines, and this happens at the 5/8” seam allowance mark.  

Interesting . . . but rather confusing.

Time to get back to the skirt.

Obviously, the waist seam needs to match back to the bodice waist seam, which is basically a straight line.

If I ignore the lines except at the 5/8" mark and follow the upper edge, things start to improve.  The remaining portion that sticks up is folded downward until both raw edges match.  The newly created fold line is pushed back towards the remaining dotted line at the 5/8" mark.

Now I have an upper skirt edge that I can work with!

But I am not looking to decode one of Da Vinci’s diagrams when I work with a pattern – I want clarity!  I like to think that if I was given a vintage perforated pattern without any instructions, most days I could piece together a reasonable facsimile of the original.  If I was handed these particular pieces, I would have absolutely no clue on how to proceed.  But that is what diagrams and illustrations are for!

I cannot claim that this was the original intent of the design, but after studying the shading on the illustration, I think I came pretty close!

So while this part of the construction was extremely challenging, and a bit frustrating, I can honestly say it is the most fun I have had in quite some time now that I have cracked the code!  And the design is so worth the effort!

*P.S.  I have had a few questions recently about why I make muslins.  This is an excellent example of why they can be so essential to a project.  If I had cut into my wool and had to repeatedly manipulate the upper edge of the skirt to try to figure out what was happening, it would have made an awful mess and I might even have ruined the piece.  With a mock-up, I can make all sorts of marks, use contrasting thread that is easy to remove if a mistake is made, and I can always cut another piece at minimal cost if things really go sideways - not to mention the ability to fix errors that may be hiding within the pattern itself - because they just might exist!*