Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sew Weekly: On Trend

Not a Member of the Wedding Dress: they are the we of me?

If trends are about the latest and greatest, what does it mean that I'm busting out my trendy piece two months late? To be fair, I actually finished sewing this dress when that particular challenge was on, but never took pictures or wore it until this past weekend. My husband and I had a packed weekend in LA for two weddings in the same day, along with lots of hanging out with friends, so this dress got to make its rounds. Thankfully, nobody thought it was too Becky Home-Ecky. I always get a little apprehensive when I wear me-mades around people who know I sew; are they asking if I made xyz because it looks home-made, or because they just want to know if I really am capable of making something so fabulous?

It is kind of fun to have that mullet hem flowing behind me in the wind.

Sheer back for a bit of a surprise! Sort of helps to offset the granny-ish length of the back of the dress.

When not being lifted by the breeze (which was lovely on such a hot, sticky day),
the back hem hangs down to right below the bulge of my burly gastrocnemius.

Side view! You can really see the dramatic slope of the hem here.
I think I was pretty successful with this dress, not only because one of my husband's friend's wives, whose sartorial opinion I value, thought my dress was amazing. I'm pretty sure she wasn't just being artificially effusive. But the RTW-look was definitely enhanced by all its trendy elements -- the sheer/lace yoke, the sweetheart cut of the bodice, the pastel mint with florals, the mullet hem, and the thin, drape-y rayon that is so similar to the flimsy pieces one finds at Forever 21 and H&M. Similar to those trendy pieces, there's also pretty much no shaping on this dress. It's essentially an A-line muumuu that relies on my tiny apple dumpling shop and my favorite gold belt to pass the Mena Zipper Test while still looking not totally shapeless.

I felt slightly bad sewing this up because the "pattern" is so simple. To counter my feelings of Regressing Seamstressing, I focused on making my seams as nice as possible...unfortunately, I couldn't figure out what to do with the curved front yoke that wouldn't add unnecessary bulk to the seam. I ended up grading the seam and then topstitching the non-fraying netting seam allowance to enclose the fray-happy rayon inside. Sometimes I really, really, really wish I had a serger. Will some serger-owner please tell me that a serger wouldn't have miraculously solved this problem for me?

See that raw edge on the net there on the left? It bothers me. Even though I know it will be just fine in the wash, it still irks me.

Fabric: 1.5 yards of this lovely pink and mint floral rayon from SAS, my favorite place place for rayons, and about a quarter yard of white dotted netting from Michael Levine Loft.
Notions: Just a bit of white double-fold bias tape to finish the armholes and neck, and seam binding for the back seam.
Pattern: Self-drafted...if you can even call it drafting, the design is so simple.
Badly drawn in Paint. Seriously, this was it. Four pattern pieces, no darts or closures of any kind.

Techniques: A baby hem around the bottom of the skirt, and French seams at the sides
Hours: This was so long ago, I don't really remember...five? Including the planning, cutting, and very careful hemming. Seriously, this is the probably the nicest hem I've ever done.
Will you make this again? many rayon mullet dresses does one really need?
Total cost: less than $5, especially since the bias tape and seam binding were already in my stash and the amount used was negligible.
Final thoughts: I'm not convinced that a mullet hem is the most flattering frame for my legs, but I love pretty much everything else about the dress -- the colors, the sheer yoke, and how light and airy it is. It was 90-something in Pasadena and I felt a tinge of schadenfreude looking at the groomsmen in their multiple layers of shirt/vest/tie/jacket, while I got to swan about in next to nothing (this thin/hole-y rayon/netting combo hardly counts as wearing clothing; I felt like I was wearing a slip, except that I was also wearing a half slip underneath). I am not a fan of how easily rayon wrinkles, though; I had to sit very carefully during the ceremony so that I could get non-wrinkly pictures afterward.

Unfortunately, we had to take these pictures in the shade of this large tree with the cheapy digital camera, since the sun was too blindingly hot everywhere else and the DSLR was too big to lug with us, so the quality of these pictures isn't the greatest. Which means that it didn't really matter that I sat so carefully, since you wouldn't be able to see the wrinkles anyway.

It's funny how when I'm making a dress for a specific public event, like a wedding, I have a very different mindset than when I'm just sewing for my own pleasure. Obviously, it's still enjoyable to sew attending-a-wedding dresses, or else I wouldn't do it, but when that's the goal, I try to make dresses that err more on the RTW-looking side. Which means choosing fabrics (and patterns) that look like something one might possibly buy. They're usually still unique, but more...subdued...than my usual fabric choices. When I'm sewing purely for fun, I make dresses from crazy prints. Granted, it would be wrong to wear red or advertise superheroes at somebody else's wedding, but still. I think what I'm trying to say is, when I'm dressing for myself (and not dressing to keep from embarrassing my husband), I don't mind looking like I'm wearing a home-made dress. If someone realizes that there's no way I could have bought a Clone Wars dress, and deduces that I made it myself, that's fine. Now, if someone guesses a dress is home-made because it is ill-fitting, frumpy, made from lining fabric/stiff quilting cotton/some other poor fabric choice, the hem is terrible, or there are threads coming out of all the seams, that's another story.

When you sew your own clothes, do you aim to have them look as RTW as possible? Or do you let your own style show through, even when it might brand your garment as me-made?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Exchanging One Gray City for Another

Actually, Seattle's weather forecast says that it will be nicer than it will be in the city for the next several days. That's pretty sad, San Francisco. Better step up your game -- I mean, we're talking about the rainy city here! 

So yeah, in case you couldn't figure it out, I'm going to Seattle tonight, staying until Monday. Elaine and I are flying up to visit Nikki, who is the third person in our original high school trio, the Collective Idiot (so named because on our own, we are intelligent women with witty things to say, but when we get together, things descend into ridiculousness very quickly). The three of us met the first day of freshmen year of high school, we went to prom together instead of with dates, and this August we are celebrating our fifteenth friendship anniversary! Sometimes I can't believe that these ladies have known me for such a long's such a precious thing to have really old friends with whom you can just be yourself with no fear of judgment or contempt, because they've lived with you through all the awkward years of being boy crazy, ridiculous, sophomoric teens.

This was at our eighth anniversary celebration, when we were finally old enough to have mimosas...good gracious, we look so young!

Anyway, this is my first "real" visit to Seattle (the first time was just a quick drive through on the way to Vancouver, so it doesn't count), so we'll do some normal touristy things, as well as eat lots of good food* (and hope to catch the Top Chef crew as they film there!). But being me, I would of course love to squeeze in some fabric/sewing-related stops if I can...does anyone have any absolutely-can't-miss recommendations?

*This trip would be the perfect setting for my formal shorts, except that I need to figure out something to wear on top, since I can't exactly make off with my sister's sweater for a week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Leonora Shorts

This is the face of someone you would inherently trust, a kindly grandma-type who probably knows all about sewing, someone you would never expect to lead you astray. Well, the previously-maligned Leonora is not to blame for all of my fit issues, but I can't help but think she could've at least warned me that I would be coming up with my own waistband and dart placement. That, and she should probably have drafted a less pointy back crotch piece. Anyway, in all likelihood it's probably my fault for not reading her 22-page booklet more carefully, so I'll stop blaming my problems on her and get back to my shorts. Here they are!

There are still some minor issues, like how it's a tapered leg and I didn't think to redraft the pattern to allow for turning up at the hem, so I had to do some creative maneuvering in order to get the hem to sit right. Even so, there are some minor puckers. If you see them, please don't point them out to me; I don't think I could bear it. There's also the ridiculously long and wide front fly, which has an extra flap of cloth haphazardly cut open and bound, because I managed to sew the facing to the zipper at first, thereby rendering it unusable. But it's pretty hard to argue with how ridiculously comfortable these shorts are, so I'm willing to forgive them their faults. Forgive it its faults? Are shorts singular or plural? I mean, they're/it's referred to as a pair of shorts, but as far as I'm concerned there's only one article of clothing being discussed...

I just checked...and it's still just one finished garment I'm wearing.

Back view. Ignore the weeds at my feet.

I'll wrap up by saying that I wasn't sure how to style these once I was done -- they're a bit long for the shorts+tights+boots look, and the material looks quite formal. Thankfully, Shayna came to the rescue and suggested that a white button-down (which I don't have, but could ostensibly make) might go nicely, or something pink. Well, I don't have pink either, but fortunately I was able to steal this sweater from my sister for makes me think of River Tam. Time to make me a shirt like this gorgeous one.

I love when blind-stitching actually turns out invisible!
I also love how the seam binding looks against the suiting.
Fabric: 1 yard remnant of very nice, buttery-soft suiting of unknown material, at $4.39 from Fabrix. There were four tears in the material and the stripes mean I couldn't place my pattern pieces any which way, so I had a hard time squeezing out these shorts.
Notions: Two hooks and eyes, a tiny metal snap, a 7" zipper, and seam binding. The waistband badly wanted some interfacing, but I don't have any here in SF and I keep forgetting to buy some.
Techniques: My very first zipper fly, as well as blind-catchstitching the hem.
Hours: A lot. Please don't make me go back and count. Okay fine, if you insist: probably close to 20. Yikes.
Will you make this again? You look so sweet, Leonora, but no, I will not be making your pants again. Does anyone want this pattern and the accompanying instruction booklet? I traced it so it's still intact! I reserve the right to keep the pattern envelope, though, as I want to frame it eventually.
Total cost: $7
Final thoughts: Not bad, for my second pair of shorts ever, but still not great. The quest for a good basic pants pattern continues. In the meantime, this pair will be good for those times when one needs to be vaguely formal, but still cool (temperature-wise, not socially speaking). Only thing is, I'm not really sure what such a situation might look like.

As the sun went down, we had to keep moving further down the hill to keep catching the light.
Good thing there are so many garage doors and fences for more or less neutral backgrounds around here!

And can I just say that I hate working with cheap lining? This prom dress is giving me the fits. What can I say, I was bewitched by a sale at Discount Fabrics.

This is happening all over my dress. At every seam. Hhhhnnnnhhgh.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Doings

I've been having a busy time this week, what with preparing for next year's job, rediscovering old thrifting grounds, and sewing up a storm in preparation for Promaballoona. I did finish my Leonora shorts, and many thanks to all of you for your lovely, kind, encouraging comments. I feel so much better about them now! Pictures to come tomorrow. In the meantime, a couple of random iPhone snaps to tide you over:

I didn't bring this one home with me from Thrift Town, but I just had to take a picture -- this apparently belonged to a very disgruntled lady, judging by the comments written on the pattern envelope. "Neck opening way too large; armholes too deep; sides too wide, etc. etc. etc." And above the "large" designation, one more "VERY" in all caps. I love seeing these glimpses of the personalities/lives of the former owners of vintage patterns! This lady also apparently had a husband with a 42" chest, as there were at least ten men's shirt patterns from the 70s bundled with this one.

I used to go to Thrift Town all the time when I was teaching in San Leandro; whether I needed to spice up my teacher wardrobe or find costumes for the school's theater production, it never failed me. Well, that was before I started sewing, and now that I've discovered the wonders of vintage patterns, it's still good to me.

Butterick 5927 shirtdress, Simplicity 8098 mod skort-dress, Simplicity 4483 activewear set, Vogue 5462 skirt suit, Advance 8502 coatdress (my very first Advance pattern ever!), Simplicity 6149 girls' jumper and blouse (not my size, but just too cute not to get), and a turquoise-green stretch bottomweight fabric of mysterious fiber content, obviously perfect for the pants in Simplicity 4483!

And because this was just too ridiculous not to share, and on the chance that there might be some former Sanrio-addicts out there, have a not-very-indicative shot of my muslin of my prom dress!

Not very indicative of the actual dress because, you know, Pochacco sheets.
My actual dress is obviously going to be made out of curtains.

It's actually the Simplicity 4257 that Jane sent me for our swap, and it is turning out beautifully! My actual prom dress won't have sleeves, but I thought I should test out the sleeves while I was at it. I ended up taking out all the ease because I couldn't figure out how to insert it otherwise, and honestly, it's no better or worse than with the 2" of ease drafted into the sleeve cap...could it be that sleeve cap ease really is bogus?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guest Posting at Sew Country Chick!


I'm guest posting today (for the first time ever!) over at Sew Country Chick while Justine is on vacation. If you ever wanted to know more about my signature yardage, go check out my tips on how to find, care for, and sew with thrift store sheets!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Leonora's Perfect Pants, My Eye.

Sorry about the silence here, friends. I've been busy struggling with Leonora and her idea of a perfect pants pattern. At the suggestion of many of my readers, I decided to go ahead and try out this vintage pants pattern (can it really be called vintage if it's from the 80s?) in order to make the envelope illustration cat work for its keep, so to speak. I had some lovely soft suiting that I figured would be perfect for testing out the pattern (because doesn't everyone use expensive suiting to make muslins with?); I hoped that I would also end up with some wearable shorts out of the deal.

My inspiration was something along the lines of these "formal shorts," but without edging into these 80s horrors. Well, after wrestling with darts and crotch curves and non-existent waistband patterns and under-butt bagginess, I think I would've been happy to end up with the latter. Right now, I just want to crumple up these shorts and start a San Francisco UFO pile.

This was my traced pants pattern. The extra-long dart actually goes on the front pattern piece...I was just a doofus when I drew it in. I've never seen such a pointy back crotch area on a pants pattern. It was kind of difficult to sew, honestly.

Leonora's "perfect" pants pattern is intended to yield couturier pants, and maybe it's just that she's assuming a lot more sewing experience than I have, or maybe this is just a bad pattern, but I experienced quite a bit of frustration during the construction process. First of all, the pattern doesn't include a waistband (I sketchily drafted a curved one), nor does it have darts marked (you're supposed to just pin and figure it out for yourself). The directions are confusing and poorly illustrated (or maybe I'm just really bad at reading them?). In fact, I'm still not exactly sure what took 22 pages to say in the instruction book. But enough griping -- let's talk about the actual garment.

I'm cringing at the thought of putting this picture up, but I think it's important to show the sewing fails, too.

Ugh. This back. Some of the bagginess can be alleviated depending on
my posture, but good pants shouldn't only look good in one position, right?
I will start by saying that these shorts are extremely comfortable. The suiting is deliciously soft and silky, and there's plenty of ease in the cut. That ease, though, is also what causes the excessive bagginess in the back and the weird poofing in front, right above the dip where my thigh meets my pelvis. I tried to take in some of that excess fabric by extending the front dart like crazy, but there's only so much I can do before I start getting smile lines. The fly front was actually not very difficult to figure out, thanks to this helpful tutorial from Coats and Clark. However, since it was my first time ever doing one, I placed my zipper way too far over and had to make a huge fly front. That might also contribute to the weird hang of the front. I feel like my waistband could be tighter, but maybe that's what belt loops (and a belt) are for...I also think my idea of ease in a waistband might be skewed; what's a normal number of fingers to be able to insert in between your body and the waistband?

Since I was having so many issues with the fit, I didn't really bother finishing my seams until the end. As a result, there are some quite awkward intersections where I couldn't get the seam binding to reach, but they should hold up in the wash, I hope. Another problem with treating these as a muslin, and then suddenly wanting to be able to wear them for real, is that I didn't bother interfacing the waistband at all. It'll do, but I miss the structure and crispness. Also, it didn't occur to me to put pockets in, but now I miss them.

The side seams are mostly straight, at least.
Phew. That's a long list of issues with these poor shorts. I'm sure that most of these issues are actually my fault, not poor maligned Leonora's, but it's so much more fun to blame her! I guess this is a lesson in you-get-out-what-you-put-in: I was so slapdash with my dart pinning, waistband drafting, etc., that I'm pretty sure that calling these my slapdash shorts is an insult to Trena, whose work is actually very well done. Anyway, I'm still hoping to be able to wear these shorts out into the world, though. I mean, the fit isn't perfect by any means, but it's still within the realm of acceptable, right? Especially if I wear a shirt over it to cover the waistband? At least it's no worse than RTW shorts I might pick up at H&M or something. Actually, they're probably better because they're longer.

Which brings me to my final dilemma -- how short should I make these? I tried bobby-pinning up one leg to what seemed an appropriate compromise between not-a-grandma and not-exposing-my-cellulite. I figure I could always turn up the bottom into a cuff if I want to go for a tights+shorts look like Tasia's Thurlows, but this length is still okay for me if I want to forgo tights underneath.

What do you think of the whole formal shorts look? Shorts with tights? Or is that kind of ridiculous because it defeats the purpose of wearing shorts in the first place? And are these shorts worth finishing, or are they forever doomed?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Sewing Swap with Handmade Jane

Sponsored by Kestrel Finds and Makes!

I was really excited to see the "Royal Mail" package in my postman's arms yesterday, as it has always been my dream to be sent an invitation to the ball. Except it wasn't an invitation to the ball, but rather my swap package from the lovely Handmade Jane! Which is totally fine, because honestly, to arrive at a ball is exciting and all; once you're there, though, it's scary. And it's fun to deceive when you know you can leave, but you have to be wary...


How adorable is that card with the sewn on dress in real fabric! Also, I managed to photograph all the hearts upside-down.

Devolving into quoting musicals aside, I was indeed happy to open my charming (but not tall...okay I couldn't resist one more!) package from Jane. Isn't it so sweet of her to wrap each present individually for greater enjoyment at each reveal? I was tempted to save one for each day this week, but couldn't resist. My impulse control is poor when it comes to sewing-related goods. Can you blame me?

Friends, I think Jane nailed it with her assortment! There's a red cat print, a fun turquoise print (seriously, white on bluish backgrounds is one of my favorite types of print ever; I've been in love with Tilly's Loire Valley Skirt for ages), buttons from the 1930's (officially the oldest thing in my sewing stash!), cute trim, a DIY magazine, and my favorite type of pattern -- a fitted bodice with a full skirt -- in the form of Simplicity 4257. I am so excited to sew with these goodies, and I can only hope that Jane likes what I sent her. Getting her package together was a bit of a challenge, since my stash is in TCOCC and I don't know the thrift stores in this area just yet, but I think I managed to hit the right notes...we'll see in a week or so!

Totally not related at all, but the other night I dreamed that I found Rainbow Brite sheets at the thrift store. When I woke up and realized I didn't actually have them, I was so bummed. Even better, when I told my sister, she was like, that's pretty sad. Only she meant it was sad that I was dreaming about thrifting sheets and wasting time being sad about it, not that the RB sheets didn't exist. And now you all know what a huge dork I am!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Spiderman Dress Throwdown with Tanit-Isis

Once upon a time, there was a nerdy girl in glasses who was unpopular at school. She spent her summers working in her dad's lab, wishing that her classmates would understand why science was cool, until one day...

Old lab coat from my dad's lab, since mine is in TCOCC.

Her dad did not mysteriously disappear, nor did she have an Uncle Ben, and she was bitten not by a radioactive spider, but rather by the sewing bug. Her love for superheroes and nerdfighteria led her to transform into the amazing Cationess, fighting sartorial monotony and throwaway culture by making unlikely dresses out of thrifted sheets. 

My superhero pose is kind of spoiled by the fact that I'm holding onto this pole for dear life.
I couldn't bring myself to walk any farther out on the the ledge.

Sitting is okay, though. The Cationess keeps watch on the city....

Oh my goodness, is that a thrift store sheet in need of recycling? I will save it by making it up into an unlikely dress!

She was privileged to learn from a much greater seamstress, Tanit-Isis, but unlikely circumstances (aka fortuitous thrift store finds on both their parts) led to a showdown between the n00b and l33t. 

Gearing up for take-off...apparently taking off involves spinning around, not unlike the Sailor Moon transformation.
Taking off to fly to Canada! Where I would promptly freeze to death, of course. Can you tell how cold I am in all these shots?

Okay, I can't stand writing this artificially dramatic third person narrative about myself anymore. So yeah, in case you couldn't tell, Tanit-Isis and I decided to both sew up some Spiderman dresses in anticipation of the new Amazing Spiderman movie (although, can it really be called "in anticipation" if it's after the movie's already come out?). I'm so excited to be able to do this sewalong of sorts with her -- she's seriously one of my sewing heroes. Her blog was actually the second sewing blog I ever discovered (the first was the Selfish Seamstress, and it was her account of Tanit-Isis' awesomeness that pulled me in), and I could just gush forever about her jeans, coats, and retro dresses. I won't, though, for fear of sounding like one of those creepy groupies who know their victim's idol's blood type or some such nonsense. I'll just leave it at this: when she first started commenting on my blog, I was *almost* as excited as when Ryan North tweeted my Superman dress. Anyway, to call this a throwdown seems laughable. It's like if Aquaman was in a fight with oh, any other superhero.

It's a showdown like the back of my midriff panel -- evil Spidey vs. good Spidey!

The wind caught the skirt and my husband snapped a picture at
just the right time to show off its fullness.
Anyway, for those of you who care (not Shayna, although she was the one who graciously gifted me these sheets), I made my dress from the OOP Vogue 7521. I used the View C back strap pattern with the View A length, replacing the straps with black soutache cord in order to mimic Spiderman's signature webbing. Unfortunately, trying to get the correct tension on all six cords was extremely difficult; it's still not quite right, but I don't know if I have the mental energy to try fiddling around with it anymore. All of my insides are finished so nicely, I can't bear to think about ripping it open to fix that one cord. I'm also not a fan of how much excess fabric there is at the top of the bodice pieces (they're too thick to really count as straps, but not thick enough to count as reasonable coverage), but otherwise this dress turned out as I hoped.

Fabric: Cotton-poly blend thrifted twin sheets (despite having both a flat and a fitted sheet to work with, there was still some tricky cutting to avoid...questionable spots).
Notions: A black zipper, seam binding, and thrifted vintage black soutache cording (my husband pointed out that black elastic cords might have worked better, but I was trying to avoid purchasing anything new)
Hours: Nine or so. I spent at least an hour adjusting and readjusting and basting and ripping the cords, and then slipstitching the lining down by hand was another hour. I keep feeling like I should be making these up faster, but I find that I'm really enjoying taking the time to finish all my seams properly, even if that means I'm sewing up each seam multiple times.
Will you make this again? I like the idea of this dress, especially the back shoulder drapes in View C, but as a full-length evening gown. However, 1) I don't need any evening gowns, and 2) the triangle bust pieces leave something to be desired in terms of amount of excess the answer is maybe, but only if there's a specific occasion and I have time to redraft the bust pieces.
Total cost: Shayna gave me these sheets as a gift, so it only cost me $2 for the zipper and cording, but if I factor in the cost of the sheets, it rises to all of $5.
Final thoughts: Spiderman isn't my favorite superhero, and this dress is a little too exposing for regular wear (especially in foggy San Francisco summers!), but it was fun to see this idea turn into reality. I do like the fullness of the skirt, but if I plan to wear it again I'm going to need to invest in some bike shorts or tap pants -- the wind has entirely too much fun with it -- as my husband had to work hard to not get scandalous shots. I really, really wish I was going to Comic-Con this year so that I could have a good reason to wear this, but alas, one of the downsides to being in my favorite city is that it does not host Comic-Con. Also, I don't think we're going to be seeing the new Spiderman movie in theaters, as he's not my husband's favorite, either...would it be terribly wrong to wear this for the Batman movie?

Not especially confident superhero face for an idea of dubious quality?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Settling into Sewing at Home

I've been at home in SF for a few weeks now, but am still having a hard time settling into any sort of routine, at least when it comes to sewing. Part of it is that this is the home I grew up in, and because of that sewing is not an established pastime for me here. Every time I've been in this house in the past, reading has been the mode of recreation. So the plus side is, I've been reading* a lot more (my husband has experienced a little of this, too, as normally he watches TV or plays Call of Duty at our apartment in TCOCC; here, there's been no TV-watching to speak of, and Skyrim has replaced CoD). It feels odd to be in a place that is so strongly home for me, and yet not. This is the home I grew up in with my parents as the authorities, where I had a curfew and had to be accountable to them for my time. Now, as an adult with a husband and a cat (who is having his own issues adjusting**), it's strange navigating between being technically autonomous, but still wanting to respect and honor them.

Anyway, the result of all that is my sewing time has been erratic. If my parents don't have errands they want me to run that day, I can get in lots of sewing time, but only as long as it's not too cold downstairs. In case you didn't know, San Francisco, especially the Sunset District, is notoriously wintry even in the summer. Foggy and overcast outside = cold and gloomy in the office where the sewing machine is set up. Those sunny days when I took pictures? Flukes. And coming from SoCal, where I'm seriously spoiled by sun, I have a hard time sewing when it's not brightly lit in my sewing room. I know, I know, this is nothing compared to people in the UK (like Jane and her seasonal sewing lamentations!), but my sundress plans seem a little silly right now. I've got my Spiderman dress for the throwdown with Tanit-Isis cut out, but that's about it. Even then, the cutting was ridiculous as all three cats wanted to get in on the new fabric.

Adding onto the weather is the actual sewing situation -- I've come to terms with most aspects of my mom's old Kenmore, with the exception of how long it takes to switch out the bobbin thread. It's funny, I can forgive its rattling and occasionally erratic feed dogs, the lack of needle position adjustment, and even its temperamental thread snapping, but the non-drop-in bobbin really bothers me. Funny, what things get to you, isn't it? There's also the fact that the seam ripper here has a perfectly round handle, so whenever I set it down it rolls away, off the edge of the desk, and into the trashcan, as if it was trying to shirk its job. Okay, I know, now I'm just being a drama queen. Also, I have the sewing machine set up on part of my dad's desk in his office, which is much less space than I'm used to, and if he needs to use his desk that gets precedence, of course. Sigh.

I think the solution is a quick and easy project, just to get my sewing mojo back, but I only brought relatively complicated projects with me. Or at least more complicated than I feel like dealing with now. Maybe it's time to return all the books to the library so that I have to sew something. The silly thing is I even miss sewing! I just can't bring myself to go downstairs and brave the cold, cramped office.

Wow, that was a lot of whining. I'm pretty sure I should have just titled this post #firstworldsewistproblems, especially in light of my mom's griping about hobby sewing vs. making a living.  

Have any of you ever had similar issues? Tell me about your most difficult sewing situation to make me feel better! Alternately, you could just tell me to shut up and stop egoizing.

*World War Z and The Dispossessed and several short story anthologies.
**Walnut's uncle Gummy has turned out to be a bully. He's always jumping out at him from behind corners and trying to bite him. This has made Walnut very nervous about being upstairs, but we spend most of our time upstairs since it's cold downstairs...looks like we're going to have to just suck it up and wear sweaters in July.

Right after this picture was taken, Gummy jumped at Walnut, who went racing across the house and back downstairs to his safe zone. There's been quite a bit of yowling going on as well.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Conquering My Fears Shirtdress

Celebrating the 70s with my vintage pattern and my dad's wood-paneled office.
Oh Walnut, why doesn't my dad understand?

If you thought my mom was blunt about my sewing hobby, my dad is even more honest. When I came upstairs in this shirtdress, he looked at me, started laughing, and said that I looked like "a hospital nurse...or maybe a hotel maid." Oh, Dad. And to think I was even going for a (belated) Father's Day tribute dress!

See, this dress started when Father's Day came and went, but the Sew Weekly challenge didn't even mention dads at all...why is it that we can sew up garments in tribute to our mothers, but not our fathers? I suspect it might be because fathers are not usually known for their fashion choices, and mine is no exception. You know those dads who wear tube socks with sandals and shorts? Yup, that's my dad. Factor in that the sandals were less than $5 at Walgreen's fifteen years ago, and yeah... I will say, though, that my dad definitely fits a lot of the things on Dads Are the Original Hipsters. He was totally rocking the huge nerd glasses, Beatles haircut, and playing "How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down" on the guitar when he was in college. Anyway, I decided to go ahead with my own dadwear-inspired challenge, which somehow crystallized as:
  1. A button-down shirt(dress). That's pretty much all my dad ever wears, even with sweatpants.
  2. No girly colors. My dad, who's a poster child (adult?) for old-fashioned ideas about gender roles, doesn't believe in guys wearing pink or purple (or getting ear piercings, for that matter). This dress is all about the brown and blue, albeit in more pastel, washed-out shades.
  3. DIY: whenever my dad could do something himself, he did. From building our treehouse to changing the oil in all our cars, from putting in new carpets or tiles to repaving our backyard, it was all about making a learning experience out of a task. So I frankensteined my own pattern for this dress instead of buying a shirtdress pattern. I think it worked?
  4. Conquering my fears: I'm petrified of setting in sleeves, multiple buttonholes that all have to line up, and matching prints. This dress involved all of the above. I didn't do a perfect job on any of them, but I'll say I did a pretty good job. A solid B+ effort. And this is because my dad is all about doing things that make you face your fears, whether it be just taking off the training wheels and going (I was petrified of falling off my bike onto my face), talking to strangers (have I mentioned before that I'm painfully shy? Teaching helped a bit with that, but my first decade of life was spent dreading the after-church social hour when I would have to make small talk with all the aunties and uncles), or driving on the freeway (I had a whole roundabout way that I would take to get to Costco without ever getting on the freeway, until my dad made me drive to the East Bay four times in one week before I started my first teaching job...yup, I didn't conquer my fear of driving over 35 mph until after college). Anyway, now I feel much better about sleeves, buttonholes, and prints, but I think I'll need to practice a bit more before I feel confident.   
  5. As a bonus: a vaguely geometric/mathematical-looking print. See, my dad, a scientist, also doesn't believe in majors outside of the STEM subjects. If I got less than an A in math in school, that was a cause for concern, but a C+ on an English paper? Meh. Summers growing up were spent doing math workbooks specially sent from Hong Kong (teaching algebra to a fourth grader? sure, that's a good idea!), and culminated in taking the SAT in 7th grade. So this thrifted bedsheet, with a print reminiscent of tesselating cubes, was pretty much perfect. Also, I'm pretty sure it's from the 70s, which is when my dad was living it up as a young adult.
I used a combination of my trusty McCall's 5845 and Simplicity 7331, a 70s shirt pattern, as a basis for the bodice. I used the dart placement and size of the former and the shape of the collar, sleeves, and button-front facing from the latter. I did add a little ease to the bust and waist of my McCall's block in order to be able to raise my arms, but I'm not sure how much ease or pulling is normal. I tried windmilling my arms just to see, but that hikes up the whole dress. However, that's pretty par for the course even in my RTW dresses, so I don't know. My only real issues with my frankensteined pattern were that the sleeves turned out way too wide and long, so I had to roll them up to prevent Frump-ville, and I couldn't figure out how to make the notched collar. The instructions and diagram were pretty confusing, despite this being advertised as a "How to Sew" pattern. For the skirt portion, I used the A-line piece that came with the Simplicity pattern. In order to make it button in front, I added a couple inches of facing allowance in the center front of the skirt pieces.

Arms down.
And arms up...attempting to test the mobility of the sleeves/bodice ease.

After figuring out the free-motion sewing of my darts/lowered feed dog issue, the Kenmore behaved admirably, even managing to pound out ten lovely, lovely buttonholes. Seriously, I was afraid to do buttoned anything with my Brother, since its buttonholer was so mercurial, but now I'm kind of hooked on buttons! I want to put buttons in everything now; I'd even go so far as to say that it's less of a headache than inserting a zipper. I'm sure part of my button love is at least partly due to how perfect and softly luminescent my buttons are, though.
Close-up of my buttons, buttonholes, insides, and hem. Gosh, I love seam binding.

Back pleased with how I lined up the blue bits!
Fabric: Thrifted poly-cotton blend twin flat sheet...I was so excited when I found this one!
Notions: Ten 3/4" buttons, seam binding for the insides and the hem.
Techniques used: Buttonhole foot and Sunni's guide for preventing gaping in a button-down shirt...although frankly I don't have many worries on that front, despite not being a guy.
Hours: Ummmm...a lot. Let's just leave it at that. From figuring out the pattern, to procrastinating to avoid setting in the sleeves, to the many practice buttonholes, I'm scared to count. Okay fine, it's probably close to twenty.
Will you make this again? Yes! I really want to make another shirtdress; this is so comfortable and feels casual but put together and yet not too girly, even if it does make me look like I'm in the service industry, according to my dad. I'd love to make one in gray chambray with yellow buttons.
Total cost: $5. The buttons were 2/3 of the cost of the fabric. Doesn't that sound like the beginning of a math problem? "If Walnut the cat paid $5 for new dress materials, and ten buttons cost 2/3 as much as the fabric, how much is one button?"
Final thoughts: Okay, I know this is not really an epiphany for most people, but I'm going to say it anyway because I think you all should know how dense I can be sometimes: when a dress has ease built into it, it's more comfortable than a skin-tight bodice. In the past I've always fitted my dress bodices within an inch of their lives, and ended up, dare I say, overfitting them. While I love that look, it's not as comfortable as this looser bodice. And you know what? It doesn't look as sloppy and old-ladyish as I was afraid it might be! So yeah. There's my facepalm moment of the week. Anyway, I really like this dress, partly because it was a challenge to figure out and I'm pleased that I conquered it in the end, but mostly because it's comfortable and the print reminds me of an M.C. Escher piece of art. I know that's a stretch, but still!

Running to and jumping on the windowsill and trying to balance on the narrow ledge while keeping a normal expression, all before the self-timer went off, was quite a challenge.

Okay, just standing here is much easier. And all those little rows of blue cube-y things make me so happy!

Incidentally, if you're wondering what my mom said about my dress, her pronouncement was that it was pretty good, but the bust darts were too high. Darn, to think that I thought I could get away without someone noticing.