Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Failure and Victory

I can not believe it's been two weeks since I hopped a plane and headed to Toronto!  Never enough time in the day, eh?  (see?  I speak Canadian now!)  I had such a fantastic time there that taking so long to write about it is just a big, fat FAIL! 

Pure laziness, I assure you, and nothing to do with the trip itself.  Like Gillian (who I met - yay!!), I'm having a bit of low blogging mojo.  I'm finding that I either have time, energy and motivation to make stuff, or write about making stuff - not both.  So I'm choosing to make stuff!

Anyway, back to the trip - or actually just a part of it in this post.

Andrea is a fabulous hostess; not only did she make me feel right at home and like one of the family rather than a guest, she also organized several events for me with other bloggers.  A good portion of our time was spent hanging out on the couch, drinking coffee (or wine, depending on the hour), talking away and knitting.  Like this:

Just lovely!  Something I don't get to do often in "real" life.

The first of the outings that Andrea organized was a visit to Kristiann of Victory Patterns.  I was so excited about this - I've been a big fan of Kristiann's work from the beginning, even if my own lack of fitting knowledge has kept me from being 100% successful with the patterns.  I own ALL the patterns except for the Ava dress (which I didn't buy because I already had the very similar Colette Macaron pattern); I purchased them all immediately upon release and am slowly working my way through them.

Andrea already knew Kristiann, having taken some classes from her.  I got to meet Sara on my first evening in Toronto, after having corresponded with her for several months, and she joined us for the visit to the Victory Patterns studio. 

I really expected nothing more than to have a quick meeting and say, "I'm a big fan!"  But Kristiann was so generous with her time - I think the four of us spent a good three hours together!  Kristiann is just a lovely person - so friendly and enthusiastic.  She took us on a tour of the building where she has her studio; many other artists also rent space there, including some clothing designers and production seamstresses.  It was so interesting to talk to her about her process in designing and releasing a pattern.  I especially loved seeing the original version of the Nicola dress - the gorgeous border-print one from the pattern envelope!

I made my Nicola expressly for this meeting, and Andrea decided to whip up a Roxanne blouse to wear.  Here we are, all four of us, in a cute little coffee shop in Kensington Market:

L - R:  Sara, Andrea, Kristiann & me;  photo courtesy of Andrea

Kristiann is wearing the Madeleine skirt!  And Sara is wearing her gorgeous Kara cardigan.

One of the things Andrea and I tend to do when we're together is try on each other's makes.  We have similar taste in patterns and we're about the same size, so it's great to be able to try on a pattern you're thinking about making!  I've been wanting to make the Roxanne blouse since just about forever, and when Andrea visited me in December, I found a beautiful piece of silk on the sale rack at my local fabric shop that I  knew would be just perfect.  It was on my list for spring, but after trying on Andrea's beautiful blue silk Roxanne, I had to bump it up in the queue.

So last week I traced the pattern and did a tissue fitting, then got going.  Because my fabric is very busy, I made the tie-neck version, but I'll definitely be making another one with that amazing folded collar.

This version is so quick to make.  I realized on Friday that I didn't have any silk thread in the right color, so on Saturday morning I headed over to JoAnn's to pick some up.  I didn't start sewing until after lunch, and I was done by 4:00!



pleat detail

tie detail

My big concern with this pattern was the back and sleeve fitting.  I had Andrea measure me, and my back fell into a size 12, while my bust puts me in a size 2!  I settled on a size 4.  When I did my tissue fitting, the back and armhole felt OK as drafted, so the only changes I made were to take a 3/8" forward shoulder adjustment and to remove 1" from the length at the lengthen/shorten line.

Once the top was finished though, I wished I'd done a broad back adjustment and scooped out the armhole a bit.  It's a teeny bit tight, but not so bad that I won't wear it.  For future versions, I'll make those adjustments.

Here's how it looks on, front and back:

One of the things I love about this design is how the back swishes out when you walk.  It's a blouse with a train!  I tried to get a pic of the swishiness in action, but wasn't too successful!

And I tried to get a good shot of the high/low hem, but once again I'm pressed for time.  So this silly one will have to do!

"Hmmm, what should I sew next?"

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thing One

I've been slowly working on a Robson coat, but yesterday I was seized by a desire to make up a pattern I've been wanting to make for the last 2.5 years:  the Burda Striped Top.

This pattern was in the September 2011 issue of Burda magazine, which I bought in Turkey (and thus, in Turkish) during Self-Stitched September of that year!  I've wanted to make this top and the maxi dress which uses this bodice ever since.

My fabric came from Morgan in my first Stash Diet Swap back in January.  I knew when I asked her for this fabric that I'd use it to make this top for spring.  I didn't get right to it because it didn't seem like spring would ever arrive.  But all of a sudden it's here, and it's time to get busy on all those spring sewing plans in my mind!

It took me almost exactly two hours yesterday to trace, cut and sew this top - pretty darn quick!  I traced a straight size 38, and effectively took 1" off the length of the sleeve by not adding a hem allowance, and 4" off the bottom.  The given length would have hit me mid-thigh!

This top is a slimmer fit than I was expecting, but that's not a bad thing - it makes it better for tucking into skirts, but it still looks good over pants.

I tried my best to match the stripes, and mostly succeeded.

But the way the top is drafted meant that I had to choose whether to match the stripes done the sleeve at the top or the bottom.  Of course I chose the top - so the underneath doesn't match up.  I'm OK with that.

I did my hems and around the neck with the coverstitch machine; everything else was done on the serger.  Here you can see the slightly denim-y quality of this French terry fabric.

I had a coffee date with Alicia this morning, and since it is lovely spring weather today, I wore this top with a floral skirt.  Believe it or not, I felt kind of hot!  Good thing I got this made up before it turns into summer!  (Skirt is old, from Anthropologie.)

So this is the first of the eight pieces I need to make to atone for all those fabric purchases I made.  Hehehe!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Well hello there!  I've been back from my trip for a few days, and slowly getting back into my routine and catching up with things that need to be done.  I'm hoping to write a proper post about my SUPER fun time in Toronto with a whole bunch of very lovely ladies, but today I want to talk about something that's weighing on me.  Consider this "True Confessions, Sewist Style."

So you know how you'll be on a diet and everything's going great.  You're controlling your urges and trimming down.  And then all of a sudden, you have a week-long cookie, ice cream and candy binge.  And then you have to spend the next month eating nothing but celery.

Well, whatever the fabric equivalent of celery is, that's what I will be consuming for the foreseeable future.  I now "owe" myself 2 fabric purchases, for which I'll have to create 8 garments from stash.  Ouch!

It all started pretty innocently.  I had one purchase credit available. (I've got a little tally in the right sidebar to keep myself honest.)  I decided that aside from a Robson Trench, which I've already started, the one thing I must have this spring is a floral bomber like all the cool girls.  And to up the coolness ante, I decided it must be silk charmeuse.  So I spent some time browsing all the websites I could think of, trying to find something that fit with the idea in my head.

I didn't find anything bomber-worthy, but I did stumble across this beautiful silk georgette, and I fell hard.

After a few days, I couldn't stop thinking how it would make such a great Nicola dress.  So I decided to table the bomber idea for a while and use my available purchase to buy this.

Of course, the next day, when I went to JoAnn's to pick up the notions for my Robson, my eye fell upon a fabric that was exactly what I had in mind for the bomber!

Even though it's polyester charmeuse instead of silk, the colors and style are exactly what I wanted.   At $6 a yard, it's a lot more economical too, and I won't have to worry so much about messing it up.  So I went ahead and broke my diet.  Not even sorry!

Of course, the following day, I found out that a fabric I'd been wanting from Hawthorne Threads had come back in stock.  This is the Robert Kaufmann small herringbone chambray, and it tends to sell out quickly.  Since I'd missed out on it last time they had it, I figured - in for a penny, in for a pound - and I broke my diet again!  I've been planning a denim or chambray dress for spring, and this is the fabric I wanted to use.  So, still not sorry!

And then there are the Roaming Charges (Andrea - that's a little joke for you!  For the rest of you:  I got totally freaked out by the idea of incurring massive roaming charges in Canada because I forgot I was in a foreign country!)

Incredibly, although Andrea took me around to all the fabric stores in the garment district in Toronto, I only purchased one piece of fabric.   This is a 60" piece of 60" wide silky soft polyester georgette, which I bought to use as a huge scarf - so really it wouldn't even qualify as a fabric purchase, right?  But it doesn't count anyway, because I gave myself a travel allowance of 4 pieces of fabric per trip.  Sadly, I also made that allowance non-transferable, so it doesn't help me out of my sticky situation! 

How cool is that?!

And then there's the very generous and lovely gift Andrea gave me.  Look:

 Gah!  I can't even believe it!  It's the one with the jewels!  So, so beautiful!  Thanks again, Andrea!

So, I'm five pieces of fabric heavier than I was a week ago, but I'm going to try very hard to be good from now on.  For some reason, I always feel compelled to tattle on myself.  No one would have known if I'd kept my mouth shut, and then you guys would all think I'm a great role model.  But that's just not how I roll!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Swap Results

Here's a quick one for those who expressed interest in some of my swap items.  The only piece that had more than one request was the printed denim.  I put the following names into the hat:  Barbara J., Becky and Dottie.  The name I drew was Becky!

The grey linen will be going to Morgan.

The pink pique will be going to Kathryn.

And the quilting cottons will be going to Sam. 

You've all been contacted by email, so look out for my note and send me your mailing addresses.  I'll get these out to you next week.

The remaining items will go into the swap page in the flickr group, so if anybody wants any of those items, you still have a chance to let me know.

Thanks to all who took part in the swap!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Scrap Management

Guys, I am SO excited about this post!

A few days ago, my good friend Alicia sent me a link she'd found on Facebook for an organization called ZeroLandfill.   Here's how they describe themselves:

"ZeroLandfill™ is an award winning upcycling program held seasonally that supports the supply needs of local artists and arts educators while reducing pressure on local landfill capacity."

The link Alicia sent me was about a collection drive put on by the Chicago branch, coming up in April.   We've both been working on de-cluttering, so she thought I'd be interested.

And was I ever!  Although I'm getting ready to leave town, I wanted to make sure I had things ready to take to the drive when I get back.  So I spent all of yesterday morning going through my two huge fabric scrap tubs and pulling out everything acceptable in the drive - pieces as small as 2" x 2" are taken, of all kinds of non-hazardous materials.  I filled four large shopping bags with fabric scraps and managed to totally free up one of my tubs!

With my shoes for scale!  These are the BIG bags!

The reason this is so exciting for me is that fabric scraps make up a large part of my fabric "stash."  That's because I only throw away the smallest, unusable pieces.  And that's because I don't want to clutter up landfills with this stuff.  I tried to find some recycling options for fabric scraps about a year ago, but came up empty-handed.  So I've just been holding on to this stuff, hoping that some day I'd figure out a way to use it, pass it on to someone who would or find an eco-friendly way of disposing of it. 

I know that there are a lot of scrap fabric project ideas out there, but honestly, I don't find it fun to make those things for the most part.  So this organization is a perfect solution for me - and so much the better that the materials are used by artists and in education.   When I was a teacher (back in the day) I used to take all my leftovers to my classroom for the kids to use.  But since moving here, I don't really have a relationship with any school so I haven't pursued that.

I spent a fair amount of time looking around on the website.  It looks like there are branches in many cities across the US, and even in Toronto!  This link has a map of chapters in existence already, and a contact for starting new chapters.  The link for the Chicago chapter I gave above goes to their Facebook page rather than to a website, so if you want to find the post about the upcoming drive, scroll down to the Feb. 26 post. 

Have any of you ever heard of this organization?  Do you have other resources for disposing of fabric or yarn scraps in a responsible way?  I was really excited to share this with all of you, because I think I may not be the only one with this problem!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nicola: Construction

Before I get into the details of construction on this dress, I thought I'd tell you a cute little story about the fabric.

Almost exactly two years ago, my friend Erika out in New Jersey made a lovely top from this same fabric.  When she posted it on her blog, I left a comment telling her I'd been looking at this print for months at my local fabric store here in Chicago, but hadn't let myself buy it.  She had only been able to buy one yard, and said she'd love to have more, so I offered to go pick some up and send it to her - and got myself the last 2 5/8 yards from the bolt as well!

OK - now on to the construction :-)

Fitting this pattern was one hurdle I had to get over to make this dress.  Getting over my apprehension about sewing with silk was the other!  It's funny - when I first got back into sewing about 3 years ago, I made lots of things out of the inexpensive silks I found at my local shop - successfully too!  And then I read on several blogs how "sewing silk is so hard" and "it's too easy to mess it up" and I kind of choked.  I thought maybe I wasn't doing it right, so I quit sewing with silk altogether.

But I love silk, and one of my unstated goals this year was to get over that fear and use some of the lovely pieces I've acquired over the last few years.  So I enrolled in the Sewing with Silks Craftsy class and started watching.

It's a good class and I'm glad I watched it.  There are lots of great tips given to help make sewing with silk a successful enterprise.  As I got ready to make this dress, I went back over my notes, and decided that these points were the most important:

1.  Cut all pieces single layer.
2.  Make sure the fabric is perfectly square and true, and then measure to ensure that the pattern piece grainline is exactly matched to the selvedge. 
3.  Use a smaller gauge needle for lighter weight silks.
4.  Use silk thread if you can get it, and mercerized cotton thread if you can't.
5.  Use a short stitch length.

dress front - flat

For me, here's how those 5 points played out.

1.  In order to make cutting single layer easier, I made full-sized pattern pieces for all the pieces meant to be cut on the fold.

2.  I was lucky that this fabric tears cleanly across the grain, and I had started out with a torn edge.  For each piece I cut, I placed my fabric on my gridded cutting mat and held down the edges along two perpendicular lines with pattern weights.  Then I placed my pattern piece on the fabric and measured to make sure the grainline was parallel to the selvedge, and cut the piece out with my rotary cutter.  Before cutting the next piece, I tore the edge again to make a new straight angle, and re-trued the fabric on my cutting mat.  So it took me almost 3 hours to cut out and mark my pieces for this dress (including the lining and facings) - but it was worth it because having all the pieces perfectly on grain not only makes the dress hang well, but it was easier to sew.

3 & 4.  I was able to pick up Gutermann silk thread and universal needles in sizes 60, 65 and 70 at JoAnn's.  I use size 70 needles all the time for sewing cotton voile, so I thought I might want to use the 60 for this fabric.  But I couldn't get the silk thread through the eye!  So I used the size 65, and it worked just fine.  Also:  silk thread - mmmmmmm!  I wish it were appropriate to use it for everything!  It's so silky!

5.  I used a 2.2 stitch length throughout on this project, except for basting.

dress back - flat

This pattern is rated as beginner, and if you don't have to do any fitting adjustments or use a finicky fabric, it is quite easy to sew.  Of course, I changed a few things which made it more difficult for me. 

The pattern includes a piece for bias binding the sleeve hem, but for this fabric I felt I wanted a narrow rolled hem.  Now, I'm not great at doing these on straight hems.  Having to sew a narrow rolled hem on a curved edge like this sleeve meant that I spent a fair bit of time practicing before I moved on to the real sleeves!  They're still not perfect, but good enough in this busy print.

narrow rolled sleeve hem

As written, only the skirt of this dress is lined - and in quite an ingenious way, so that you don't have to sew the hem!  You sew the lining and outer skirts together at the side seams, and then sew the two pieces together all along the hem edge, right sides together.  Turn it out and understitch the lining to the seam allowance and you're done!

understitched hem

Once I had my bodice and lined skirt made, I started to feel that the weight of the skirt would be too much for the unlined bodice to bear.  The pattern only includes facings for the bodice, which I'd cut out in black.  I put the question out on instagram, and everyone who commented said "line the bodice."  I knew they were right, but I also knew that I couldn't get to the fabric store to buy more black silk for another 3 days, and I wanted to finish my dress!

But after I thought about it for a while, I remembered that I had some of the outer fabric left - I'd used quite a bit less than the recommended 3 yards, less even than the 2 5/8 yards I had.  I checked and realized that minus the facings, I had enough of my outer fabric to make up the lining.  So I used my facing and bodice pieces to draft linings - the bodice pieces minus the facings plus 1/2" for seam allowances of 1/4".  And I was back in business!

I constructed my bodice lining in the same way as the outer bodice, then sewed the facings to the neck edge all the way around as instructed in the pattern.  The pattern does not say to understitch the facing down, but of course I did because I didn't want the black to peek out at all.  Once I had the bodice attached to the skirt, I sewed the lining's sleeve openings and waist to their respective seam allowances by hand for a clean finish.

The pattern recommends using a buttonhole and button as closures at either side, but I decided that since there's a fair chance I'd be wearing this dress with a belt, I didn't want any buttons to be in the way.  Instead, I chose to use plain old metal snaps, sewing them on with this couture technique presented by Susan Khalje that I'd come across some time ago.

Those snaps are on there to stay, and I find it incredible that although the dress is only two thin layers of silk held together with two small metal snaps, I don't feel in any way exposed when I wear it!