Monthly Archives: March 2021

Testing the Pattern – Summer Dress and Cardigan

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Now that I have a master pattern (well, at least the bodice) I felt it was time to test it. I decided to make a simple sleeveless dress with circle skirt. I also had a small amount of yarn and tested my luck by making a short cardigan so I could feel comfortable wearing it to work.

Let’s look at how it went.

The Cardigan

I started out with the cardigan. I had the idea of doing it waist length (cropped) with short, gathered sleeves. I wanted to do a lace pattern as I felt that was a bit more summery and chose a simple eyelet pattern. Halfway into it I thought a little bead between the eyelets would have been a nice touch but I was doubling the yarn and wasn’t sure if I even had enough, so I filed that idea away for a future pattern. The yarn was unraveled from a man’s sweater I got thrifting. I think the fiber content is wool.

There weren’t any surprises knitting this cardigan. Everything went according to plan, except the gathered sleeves. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough yarn so I made the a simple set-in cap sleeve. Turns out I could have probably done the gathers but I still like it.

The finishing touch was a handmade Dorset button.

The Dress

Let me just say, this dress fit me like a glove. Yes, there are some slight modifications I will need to make to the pattern, but overall, I am incredibly happy with the final product. Even though I drafted a circle skirt pattern, I did not have enough fabric for it (circle skirts eat up fabric) so I decided on an 8-gore skirt. I measured the waist on my bodice and used that to draft the skirt pattern. Gored, circle and A-line skirts are very easy to draft and would recommend them if you are just starting out in patternmaking. The fabric is a quilting cotton that’s been in my stash for awhile. I think it was given to me.

What worked:

  • Incredibly my side seams and dart lines of the bodice and gored skirt matched up perfectly even though I didn’t plan it that way. Unfortunately you can’t see it because of the dark print.
  • I skipped facing my armholes and used bias binding instead which resulted in a nice, clean finish.
  • Thanks to The Closet Historian I was able to – for the FIRST TIME EVER – put in a zipper that looked good.
  • Also thanks to The Closet Historian’s suggestion, I cut bias tape from my dress fabric and used it to hem my dress. She uses it on circle skirts but it worked just as well on the gores also. If you are making a straight skirt you can hem it the normal way by turning it up but once you are working with any sort of curve, bias tape makes the job so much easier.

What I would do better:

  • While my gores lined up perfectly with my side seams and darts, somehow the gores for the back seam (where I inserted my zipper and which were the same size as all the others) were about 5/8 -3/4″ too wide. This is because my back bodice is not as wide as my front. To fix this, I measured in at the waist 3/4″ in and then took a yardstick and connected that point down to the hem, creating a long, narrow wedge shape piece that was cut out. While just taking 3/4″ off the entire seam would have probably worked just fine, I wanted to keep in as much width as possible because I like flowy skirts.
  • For some reason I decided to face my neckline instead of using bias tape like I did on the armholes. I had to cut my facings out twice because the first time I didn’t account for turning under my edges to finish off where the zipper was. Once I got that all straightened out, I felt the facing was too wide so I cut off an inch.
  • Speaking of facings, when I was sewing them in, I didn’t bother to pay attention if they lined up at the zipper. They don’t and it was a detail I could have easily fixed if I had caught it soon enough.
  • Although I got my zipper in nicely, I wasn’t sure how much space to leave at the top. I think in the future I’ll put the start of the zipper 1/2″ down from the top, which once the neckline finishing is put in, the zipper will be right a the top.
  • I need to add about 1-1/4″ to the side seam so it sits at my natural waist. I’m short waisted, just not that short waisted.
  • I also noticed some fabric pulling at my armhole so I’m going to try dropping it about a half inch. In it’s current state I still have total mobility but the extra half inch I think will just let it sit better, especially if I decide to add sleeves.

Overall, this is a comfortable, well-fitting dress and cardigan. The organization I work for announced we will be returning to the office in April. It will be on a rotation basis so no more than ten people will be in the office at a time, which means I’ll be there about once a week. It will be nice to have some cute clothes to wear, because let’s face it, we’ve all been in our pajamas the past year, haven’t we?

Creating Master Patterns – the Bodice

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I finally finished a project I started about 15, maybe even 20, years ago.

I was up in Dallas and signed up for a class in patternmaking at El Centro College. We got photocopied instructions, paired together with another student to help us take measurements and then drafted a bodice sloper – front and back. All sewing patterns start with a sloper, which is a master pattern. It is the building block of most patterns.

The photocopied instructions I was given for drafting our bodice sloper. If anyone knows which book this came from, please let me know so I can cite it.

I’ve wanted a personal set of slopers for a long time but always ran into trouble (or excuses) and never completed one, until now. Incredibly, I still had the original first draft from that class all those years ago. After yet another disappointing fit using a commercial pattern and fueled on by endless YouTube videos of young and fearless sewers (there is some incredible talent out there!) I decided to finally buckle down and make mine. I have so many ideas and my lack of patternmaking skills was seriously hindering my ability to bring them to life.

I spent two days and went through at least SIX iterations until I was satisfied with the results. I wish I had done a better job of documenting each step but I didn’t think about that until I was done.

On a side note – fittings are better if done with two people. I didn’t have that luxury so I ended up putting a 16″ zipper on the side to get in and out of. You can’t really tell the fit if you don’t close all the seams. This was a big help.

The first mockup had the biggest changes. I ended up taking out an inch both horizontally and vertically from the back pattern which helped get rid of a gaping back neck and armholes. I also reshaped the shoulder seam, again to address gaping at the front armhole and had to create a dart at the front of the neck (to get rid of a gaping neckband – do you see a pattern here?) and move it to the waist dart. The inch I took off the center back wasn’t enough and ended up curving the back seam to get rid of it. Or so I thought.

Here was my first mock up using my original pattern. You can see where I took in fabric on the center back and across the back at the armholes to get rid of gaping at the neck and armholes. You can also see how I curved the center back seam because the back neck was still gaping.

I copied my pattern (didn’t want to destroy the original, just in case…) and transferred the changes that I made to my muslin to the paper pattern. I was feeling pretty good that these issues were resolved and I could move on. My optimism soon wore off.

The back neck, armhole and front of the neck still had obvious gaps. With each iteration, I cut out a new pattern in muslin to test the fit. For the second one, I put the zipper in the back as you would for a dress. I was better off leaving it at the side. I could zip it up but I’m not flexible enough to unzip it and looked like a contortionist trying to get it off. I ended up ripping out the side seam.

For the third attempt I attached a long strand of yarn to the zipper pull so I had something to grip when zipping it. Problem solved. Except I still had a gap at the neck, both front and back as well as at the back armhole. Again, I added a dart at the neck and then pivoted it to the waist dart, which was getting wider and wider. It seems counterintuitive to me because I barely have boobs but I do have a small rib cage. I took another half inch out vertically and horizontally from the back to deal with those gaps.

I took a break for dinner and contemplated saving the rest for another day. But I was so close I felt I couldn’t give up so in fear of losing momentum, made changes to the pattern and cut out my fourth muslin. Gratefully I was rewarded with a bodice that fit me like a glove. Or maybe I just didn’t want to deal with the damn thing anymore, it was all a blur at that point.

Little known fact about me. If I question something or think it’s a mistake, I have to fix it or it will just bug the shit out of me. And while I thought I was done with the bodice, after sleeping on it, I just didn’t feel right having a curved back seam, especially if I’d be adding a zipper. So I decided to redraft the back and instead of curving the back (which essentially was a dart) I would make a shoulder dart and then move it to the waist. (To understand what I mean, I suggest getting a good pattern drafting book such as Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong, which is usually the text used by design schools).

This worked out well but I still had a gap at the neckline. I also noticed that my shoulder seams weren’t sitting on my shoulders, they were back about a half inch. To fix this I shorted the front at the shoulder seam and lengthened the back. But my back neck still was gaping more than I liked so I created another shoulder dart and pivoted it to the waist dart. This made my back shoulder seam shorter than my front. To fix this I traced out the front shoulder seam, getting the extra length from the back neck. This worked perfectly. The only other adjustment I made was to drop the front neck by 3/4″ so it was at neck (that little dip you have at the front of your neck, I think where your collar bones meet?).

The original pattern with the final pattern on top. I will transfer these to poster board and they will be the starting point for all of my bodice patterns.
Where failed mock-ups go to die…

I am extremely proud of myself for finally finishing this project. This exercise helped demystify the patternmaking process and understand more about fit and how to achieve it. I now feel confident to address a series I’ve been playing around with so stay tuned for more!

Cable Rib Sweater is Finally Done!

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After procrastinating on this for five months, I have finally finished the cable rib knit sweater. When I was drafting it, I wanted an easy to wear sweater with classic lines. I am enormously pleased with the way it turned out and how it fits. The neckline isn’t too wide, the length is just right and the sleeve length is sheer perfection.

The yarn is cotton and I got it by unravelling a man’s sweater I got from the thrift store. I prefer to use men’s sweaters because they are usually knit in natural fibers AND you get more yarn for your money. I decided to wet block it which was the right decision as it helped set and define the stitch pattern.

When everything was blocked, I sewed the body and sleeve side seams using a mattress stitch and then pinned the sleeve cap into the armhole and crocheted it in. I always try to leave an end stitch (a knit stitch on the right side) as it makes seaming so much easier and neater.

It’s nice to see another part of my stash come to life and I know I will wear this often because it’s so effortless. Probably not anytime soon though, as spring has sprung in Austin and temperatures are in the 70’s.

Link down below to learn more about the jeans.

As for the jeans, you can learn more about them here.

Embroidered Jeans

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A new video is up and you can view it here.

I’m venturing outside of my comfort zone into new territory. I filmed all of this on my ancient point and shoot camera. I then edited on my not-quite-as-ancient laptop. I’ll be upgrading both in the near future. The actual editing software (Filmora 10) is not difficult to use but I did get a lesson in aspect ratios (16:9 vs 4:3) and will be adjusting my camera to the 16:9 ratio for the next video (though I’m not sure how big those files will be and if I’ll have to break my videos down into shorter segments.) I may also try my phone and see if that works better. There is still a lot to learn but I need these tools in order to produce the content I want so I’ll keep plugging along.

Travel Inspiration

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One of my goals for 2020 was to travel more. We all know how well that worked out. So until the borders open up and I can safely venture back out in the world, I thought I’d remind myself of all the beauty and inspiration of my previous travels.

Ireland/Paris 2010

We took a trip to Ireland in 2010 to visit a college friend. We went during my son’s spring break and while we were at it, decided since it was just a hop, skip and a jump away, we’d go to Paris.

It was a fun trip as we were actually in Ireland for St. Patty’s Day. I think it also was a defining moment for my son, who got the the travel bug. Inspiration was all over the place, from the floats in the parade in Dublin to advertising signs in the Guinness tour to just about everything in Paris (I love Paris!)

San Antonio 2010

We took a weekend trip with some friends to San Antonio where my son got served a cinnamon roll the size of his head. My main inspiration from this trip was the textiles. I’ve been working on projects to bring more color and pattern into my life – both in home decor and my clothing and what better place to look than Mexican design.

Chicago 2010

2010 was a year of travel. We went back home for my son’s grandparents 40th anniversary, I think (or that may have been a different trip. Oh well.) They actually live in Wisconsin but flew into Chicago because, well, it’s Chicago and a pretty cool town. It was fun to see the house I grew up in but the biggest thrill of the trip was to go downtown and visit the museums. One of my favorite’s is the Museum of Science and Industry. They have an exhibit there I always visit – Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle – which is basically a dollhouse for the rich. I’ve been wanting to make a dollhouse now for years and this is always inspiring. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of it.

Italy 2011

My son’s art history class was planning a trip to Italy during spring break of his junior year of high school. I thought I’d chaperone him until I saw the prices (tour guides are expensive, y’all). I asked him if he wanted to go with his class or just wanted to go. He didn’t mind if it wasn’t with his class and I booked us a room in the heart of Rome at half the price. It had been about 20 years since I had been to Italy and it was fun sharing this trip with my son.

Paris 2018

The last real trip I took was in 2018 when my son took me to Paris. What can I say, I have a great son. When we were in France in 2010 it was a quick couple of days but this time we got to spend a whole week in the city. My son is an excellent travel companion as he found all the cool places to go. Sadly, most of the yarn shops (and the fashion museum) were closed for the holidays but we went to some fabulous exhibits. One of the things I was on the lookout for was flowers and even though the real ones weren’t in bloom, Paris didn’t disappoint.

Not being able to travel the past year has helped me define how I want to travel once bans are lifted, I’m using this downtime to dream of my next adventure. I know it will be grand.

Free Messenger Bag Pattern

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A decade ago I took my son to Rome, Italy during his spring break. I wanted to have a purse that would hold everything I needed yet would be unobtrusive since we would be walking everywhere. I decided to create this messenger bag. It’s big enough for a passport, phone, credit card, keys, yet small enough to not get in the way as it can be worn over your shoulder or across your chest. It has a zippered pocket on the inside and one on the back to keep valuables secure.

For these, I used thrift store skirts – woolens for the body and leather for the base and the closure strap. And because I love to mix color and pattern, I included plaids and checks with florals. Of course the lining was also an opportunity to put in a pop of color.

Funny story about that trip. The whole reason we went was my son’s Art History class had a trip to Italy. I figured I go as a chaperone but once I looked into the cost, I was less than thrilled. I did some research and found out I could plan a trip to Rome for both of us for half of what it would cost if we went with my son’s class (this includes the unanticipated $400 hotel room in Heathrow because I couldn’t get a flight out till the next day). I asked him how important it was that he go with his class and he said it wasn’t. So I booked our holiday, getting us an apartment right in the heart of Rome. It was perfect as we were literally within walking distance of everything – the Vatican, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, etc. On our last evening we had finished our meal and was strolling around a piazza when I asked my son “I wonder where your classmates are?” To which he replied, “They’re over in that souvenir shop!” It was a lovely way to end our trip.

Here is the pattern and directions, enjoy!