Work(horse) Separates

Yikes, it’s been a long time since my last post!! I blame Christmas sewing :P. In my defense, though, I’ve almost completed all of my handmade gifts, which hopefully means no stressful last-minute crafting! Or, at least, less…a girl can dream. Anyhow, several weeks of “secret sewing” have meant that nothing bloggable has come from my sewing machine in quite a while.

Luckily, I had some separates I made a month or so waiting in the wings, so here we go! I’ve been noticing a distinct dearth of “real” work clothes in my wardrobe recently, and decided I really needed to remedy that. I have lots of full/poofy knee-length skirts paired with casual-ish knit tops or knit dresses, but no “serious” work clothes. Granted, in my line of work, you can really wear pretty much whatever you want, but since I’m still on the young side and since looking “twee” doesn’t really encourage people to take you seriously, I decided it was time for a change.

Since my altered Mabel skirt had been such a hit when I first made it, I decided not to mess with success, and got right to work on another. This time I used a striped ponte – actually, leftovers from this dress – to make it again. I made a few little tweaks to the fit, mostly just taking the center back in a little more and lowering it a bit for a sway back adjustment. It’s still not quite perfect, but I’m getting there.

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The top is also a new make. The photos are a bit overexposed so it’s hard to see, but it’s the Seamwork Astoria cropped sweater. I used a very spongy polyester sweater knit to sew it up, which created more than a few fit challenges. Although the fabric had the necessary stretch percentage for the pattern, it also has rather extreme recovery, making it fit much more tightly than a more regular knit “weave” made from a natural fiber or blend. To give myself a little room to play, I cut the pattern with larger seam allowances (I think it was 5/8″ instead of 3/8″). I’m very glad I did, since my basted together version with the original seams was skin tight! I ended up using 1/4″ seams for the side seams and bottom band, which added back the necessary circumference.

I also added 1 1/2″ to the length – I found it was just *too* cropped as-is, and I couldn’t raise my arms without flashing people. The fit is definitely still wonky, but it’s wearable. Next time, I plan to make this out of more forgiving fabric to see if I can fix some of those issues.

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So there you have it – two new pieces that have already turned into real wardrobe workhorses. Now back to Christmas sewing!!

All Wrapped Up: Belated Birthday Wrap Dress

(apologies for the terrible pun in the title…)

In the spirit of finally blogging things made several months before, I bring you – *drumroll* – my birthday dress! My birthday was in March, and I did wear this on “the big day,” so you do the math :P. But hey, better late than never!

Backing up a bit, I’ve been on a search for a good knit wrap dress pattern pretty much ever since I started sewing. Short of shelling out major $$$ for the original Vogue DVF pattern, however, I was having trouble finding one. However, for Christmas, my mom got me the wonderful Famous Frocks: The Little Black Dress book, which happens to have a knit wrap dress pattern included in the lineup (the “Liza Dress” in the book). This pattern was inspired by the original DVF design, so it was exactly the sort of look I was going for. I also knew I wanted a wrap dress that was red and drapey, so when I spotted a slinky Brazil knit at Eddie’s Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale, I snatched up several yards and got to work!

I made the variation version, with 3/4 length sleeves and a fuller skirt (the “original” is sleeveless, with a slightly narrower skirt), and I absolutely love the result. It has become my go-to dress for fancy-ish-but-not-too-fancy occasions, like attending opera dress rehearsals or ballet performances. It’s easy to dress up or down depending on the occasion, and it’s always comfortable, which is a major plus at formal events!

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One unique construction element worth mentioning here was the neck finish – this pattern used a binding instead of simply folding under and hemming. This helps alleviate gaping, which is often an issue with wrap dresses. The binding is simply a strip of fabric cut along the direction of greatest stretch, creating basically a knit version of bias binding. You then press it in half, sew it to the neckline, understitch, and then turn under and hem. It’s a few more steps, but it’s definitely worth it, since it both stabilizes the neck and prevents gaping.

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Outtake – the dangers of taking pictures in the wind!

So, all in all, a very successful make, and one that has been worn many, MANY times already!

On the Run: Giving my Sewing a Workout!

This seems to be the year of making things I never thought I’d ever attempt to sew for myself – things like bras, jeans, and bikinis. Well, today I have a new addition to that list – workout clothes! Now that we live in such a mild climate year-round, I finally decided to bite the bullet and start running. While I have no ambitions to be a marathoner (I’ve told myself that 10K is a goal someday…maaaaaaybe…but no more than that!), I’ve actually grown to really enjoy running shorter distances (I’m up to a 5K at this point), especially since that often involves running through parts of Golden Gate Park :).

Since my workout clothes were getting…errr…a workout, I decided it was time to restock my fairly tiny athletic-wear wardrobe. I started out making the Seamwork Manila leggings using an unlabeled technical fabric I found last summer while discount fabric shopping in San Jose (I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of poly/lycra/nylon blend). The pattern came out pretty well, although I found the cuff at the bottom to be quite snug, so next time I’ll probably grade up a size at the ankle. I didn’t think I had particularly beefy ankles, but maybe I do! I also need to add about an inch to the back at the waist to account for my buxom bum.

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For the top, I made Papercut Patterns’ Pneuma Tank, using a thin rayon for the tank and the leggings fabric for the bra underneath. For the straps, I used my usual bra strap elastic, which worked out quite nicely. I really like this top – I definitely plan to make it again! I especially love running with it, since the vents in the side and back provide a bit of extra breeze to keep me cool. I did wear it to a yoga class recently, though, and the looseness of the tank was a bit problematic for inverted poses (thank goodness for that bra underneath!!), so consider yourself warned…

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The top especially has gotten a lot of wear, and both have held up great so far to the demands of movement, sweat, and washing. I’m really looking forward to making more activewear in the future, especially now that Tasia has come out with her own line of workout clothes at Sewaholic. I already have the fabric and patterns for those – so stay tuned!

More Husband Sewing: Another Newcastle

Today I have yet another long-overdue project to share with you! This year, like last year, I decided to sew my husband something for his birthday. However, unlike last year, it didn’t take me five months post-birthday to complete it. Just one month. 😛 Still, an improvement!

Since his first Newcastle Cardigan was such a hit, I figured a second version would be a great choice. This time, I chose a lighter weight fabric so that I could play around with the contrasting yoke option the pattern offers – a really sharp detail that I enjoyed a lot! The main fabric is a very lightweight fleece I found at Britex that supposedly has moisture-wicking properties, which I figured can’t hurt in our often sweaty weather here.

In fact, the fleece was so lightweight that I was concerned about pairing it with the ponte knit I had chosen for the contrast yoke. To mitigate any potential problems mixing the two different weights, I added a medium-weight interfacing to all of the interfaced pieces (as opposed to a lighter-weight option that I might have otherwise picked for the fabric). This worked quite well, and I didn’t end up needing to interface the main body pieces, which was my plan B if things didn’t work out as hoped.

I played around a bit with the fit for this one. Last time, I had made a straight-up size medium and shaved off 3/8″ at the armhole to account for my husband’s narrow shoulders. This time, I retraced the whole pattern, grading from the smallest size at the shoulders to a medium at the chest. After basting the pieces together, I found that this actually didn’t work as well as my first fix, so I adjusted my seam allowances accordingly to approximate the first version as closely as possible.

I really love how this one turned out – the contrasting yoke is such a nice touch!

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I’m pleased to report that this version has been an even bigger hit than the last one! It’s gotten a lot of use, and has held up extremely well, even with the differing fabric weights. I always enjoy sewing Thread Theory patterns – not only are they beautifully drafted, they work perfectly with my husband’s body type! I’m sure there will be many more Newcastles in his future…

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Belated Blogging

Goodness gracious, I’m behind on my blogging! I now have several garments languishing in an un-blogged (though much-worn) state, one all the way from March! Unfortunately, I blame this mostly on my photo-taking situation here in the city. Even though I live in a “good” neighborhood, I’ve had several experiences with loitering, “creepy” voyeurs during a few of my photoshoots, so I’m now very shy about taking my camera out into the streets of SF (and my living room is a no-go in terms of lighting). Have any of you experienced this when taking pictures? Any tips??? Ugh.

But anyhow, on to cheerier topics – like a colorful dress! In case you hadn’t already figured it out, this is the Colette Moneta Dress, a real favorite of mine! I actually made this version well over a year ago, shortly after the pattern came out. It’s my second iteration of the pattern, and I have since made a few changes (mainly, a sway back adjustment and removing a bit from the CF neckline to avoid gaping), so you may notice a few fit issues here that I fixed later on.

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As you can see, I made up the pattern pretty much as-is, using the original collar and gathered skirt. I really love this version, and it’s been a real wardrobe workhorse for the past year. It’s the perfect combo of polished enough for work but comfy enough for pretty much every other activity, so it gets worn a LOT!

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The fabric is a fantastic jersey from a local sewing store near my parents in PA, Steve’s Sewing Center. They started carrying designer leftovers a few years ago, and their collection is really pretty amazing! I actually just went there again on a quick trip back home – any sewers in the area should definitely check it out! This particular knit has a lovely drape and a very soft, almost peachskin texture. I think the fiber content is polyester, though to be honest, I really don’t remember.

…but wait, there’s more! One of my favorite makes from over the summer was by far the Grainline Studio’s Morris Blazer. It’s such a versatile pattern, and really fills a lot of wardrobe needs. (I may or may not have bought fabric for another…) I already blogged about my second Morris here, but this was my first version. Interestingly, since this first version is made out of a stable knit, and my second one was made out of a stretch twill, I actually had to use two different sizes to account for the varying amounts of stretch. This version is a size 2, but my green one is a size 4 – just goes to show that you really do need to take your fabric into account from the beginning!

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I absolutely adore this fabric – it’s from Blackbird Fabrics, and although this particular knit isn’t available anymore, Caroline always has some great knits stocked. I used the “right side” for the main body of the blazer and the “wrong side” for the collar – I just love it when I can take advantage of fabric like that! I originally had purchased this fabric for a different pattern, so I only had one meter, but I was able to squeeze this out with the help of some creative cutting (I had to switch the grainline of the collar facing, but it all worked out in the end). The fabric is super soft, and has only pilled a tiny bit after very frequent wear.

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So there you go – a few favorites that have now finally made it to the blog! Whew!

Vacation Trio

Today I have not one, not two, but three unblogged garments to share with you! My pile of “needs to be photographed and blogged” pieces is really building up, so I have a lot of catching up to do – not that I’m complaining! Since we were renting a cabin in Maine with my parents over vacation, I wanted to make sure I took advantage of my dad’s superior photography skills and camera, and on our last day there we did a lovely little shoot at the beach right across the street from our rental. The view you see here – that’s what we saw when we looked out the window! It doesn’t get any better than that.

Anyhow, on to the outfit! Two of the garments are recent makes, and one is actually from last summer that just didn’t get blogged before now. I’ll start with the star of the show – the Morris Blazer by Grainline Studios. This is actually my second Morris – I still haven’t blogged the first one – and it is definitely a new favorite pattern. It’s just the right combination of casual yet put-together, which is perfect for life as a musician in San Francisco (and great for vacation, too!). I love that this pattern uses stretch fabric – so often, I feel very constrained in a traditional blazer, like my wide shoulders are about the bust open a seam, so that extra bit of stretch really helps a lot. I made up a size 4 for this version, which is out of a stretch twill, but it’s worth noting that my first version, made out of a ponte knit, was a size 2. That just goes to show you how important your fabric choice is! And that it’s always good to air on the big side for sizing just in case…

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Next up I have the Aurora tank from the June issue of Colette’s Seamwork Magazine. I really enjoyed both of the patterns in this issue, and have made up the Mesa as well, but just haven’t blogged it yet…story of my life! The fabric for this make is a Brazil knit made by Telio, which I purchased at Eddie’s Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale. I had never heard of Brazil knit before I encountered this fabric, but it kind of looks like a tiny herring bone pattern on the right side and a “normal” knit on the wrong side. It has a lovely, heavy drape and very strong recovery, making it nice for flowy dresses and tops.

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As you can see from these pics, the armholes are a bit too tight due to the method I used for finished the under arm raw edge. The pattern has you simply turn under the raw edge like a hem, but the curve on the pattern pieces is very deep, and the strong recovery of the fabric meant that it simply refused to press such a tight curve. I ended up having to use a knit binding, which I think I must have stretched too much while applying, hence the puckers at the armholes. Oh well – it was a good learning experience!

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I especially like the back pleat detail – it gives a little more room for my wide shoulders. I may try going a size up next time to see if that helps with the armhole situation. We’ll see!

And what’s the third garment, you ask? My Katy and Laney Tap Shorts! I made them last summer after the pattern came out, and was so happy to have weather hot enough that I could finally wear them again! Clearly, they really need to be ironed since their last wash, but they’ve been getting a lot of use and turned into a real workhorse during this vacation.

And so ends my summer vacation. I’m definitely feeling sad not to be on the east coast anymore, but this trip was a nice contrast to my west coast life, helping me see the pros and cons of both locations. I have a feeling the east coast will always feel like “home” to me, but I look forward to the new adventures the west coast has in store for my this fall!

Summery Soma

Greetings from the wondrous land of Maine, otherwise known as vacation paradise! My husband and I have been on a lovely little trip back east for the past two weeks, and are trying to soak in as much foresty goodness as we can before heading back to the city. We miss green things!

As usual, our vacation inspired a frenzy of last-minute sewing, as I decided about two weeks before we left that I needed all new clothes. Ha! I didn’t so much plan a vacation wardrobe as frantically sew everything quick, easy, and summery that I could lay my hands on. I actually managed to churn out several successful garments (still awaiting photography), and one more swimsuit!

Ever since the success of my Bombshell Swimsuit, I’ve had a sudden hankering to sew yet more swimwear. Which is somewhat ironic, since, in the past decade or so, I’ve owned maybe two swimsuits. Maybe. However, what was never a priority before has now become something of an obsession (I blame my lingerie habit). Yes, I’m surprised, too.

I had purchased the Papercut Patterns Soma Swimsuit pdf pattern a while ago when they were having a sale, and have had that project in the back of my mind for some time. I made the variation 2 top and the mid-rise bottoms in a size XS and S, respectively. I also made foam cups from the upper and lower cup pattern pieces (I don’t think I’d really ever be comfortable in a swimsuit without some extra padding), which made the construction a little dicier than it otherwise would’ve been. I wasn’t sure if the top would actually be wearable until I finished it, but I think it worked!

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For the foam cups, I basically just cut the upper and lower cups out of foam, removing 3/8″ at the cross-cup seam and at the top of the upper cup to make room for the elastic. Then, instead of attaching the upper and lower cup to the lining all at once, I sewed the swimsuit fabric and lining separately, sandwiching the finished foam cups in between. It looks a little funny when it’s not on my body, but when I’m wearing it I think it works pretty well.

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I also criss-crossed the straps in the back – I hate feeling like straps are about to fall off my shoulders, so this seemed like a good solution. Sorry for the awkward bum shot….

Altogether, I’m pretty pleased with it! This is the first time I’ve actually wanted to wear a bikini in public. I have a feeling I will do a lot more swimming now that I have two me-made suits. 🙂

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Finally Dropping the Bomb…shell

One of the major themes of my sewing this year so far has been “stuff that seems scary but looks cool/fun.” I started with bras, then jeans, and now…swimwear! Yup, that’s right, y’all are about to see pics of me in a swimsuit. Consider yourselves warned :P.

As with my other “scary sewing” adventures, this project was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I used the ever-popular Bombshell Swimsuit Pattern by Closet Case Files, which has been making its rounds in the blogosphere for over two years now. I had actually cut out the swimsuit last year when I was still in Boston, but due to a poor choice of swimsuit lining I wasn’t able to complete it before the big move to San Francisco. And, of course, upon arriving on the west coast, I was shocked by how cold this city is and had no desire to complete that project!

However, for the 4th of July this year, my husband and I got to spend the day with my in-laws in Livermore, where it gets HOT. Like, 90s and above hot. So when I heard that there might be a pool visit involved in our weekend celebrations, I got right on it! I managed to whip up this suit in just a few hours on Friday – it’s really that easy. I will admit that having some lingerie experience made certain parts of the process a little less scary, but even those who’ve never touched lingerie elastic should have no problem (especially with Heather Lou’s wonderful sewalong to follow!).

I got my fabric online from The Fabric Fairy, and am quite pleased with it. I mentioned above that I had an issue with the lining – that was not due to poor quality, but rather to the fact that I ordered tricot swimsuit lining. In many cases, this would be fine, but since tricot doesn’t have the recovery of a jersey knit, I couldn’t use it for this particular suit, since the lining provides a lot of the structure to the suit (the main fabric is gathered and basted on top of it). I ended up getting some basic jersey nylon/spandex lining from Joanne’s, which worked fine, but I think in the future I should use an even heftier fabric for the lining, as this one seemed to stretch after attaching the ruching.

I graded quite a bit between sizes for fit – I think I went with a 6 on top up to a 10 on the bottom, and the fit is fairly good. It’s a bit tight to get on and off, but it *is* a swimsuit, so I think that might just be the nature of the beast. I did add foam cups to the top to avoid “nipping,” using the Dritz “Sew-In Bikini Bra” in an A cup. Next time, though, I think I’ll just make my own foam cups, since I have the materials! These cups fit fine, but I think I can do better now that I have some bra-making experience under my belt.

And now for the big reveal:

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All in all, I’m pretty pleased with it! It stayed in place nicely during my swim, and so far seems to have survived its first trip to the pool. It’s not quite as figure-flattering as I had hoped – I had to “suck in” a LOT in these pics to avoid looking pregnant – so be warned, this suit does not hide curves!! However, I appreciate the full coverage and retro style, and I’ll probably make more of this suit in the future. Hooray for pioneering new fields of sewing territory!

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Conifer Coolness

Ok, so I know I said my next post would be about jeans, but, well, I lied :P. With good cause, though – I get to show you a brand new pattern! Seamstress Erin’s Conifer Skirt just hit the blogosphere yesterday, and I got to be part of the pattern testing! (in case you’re curious, she has a pattern testing sign up on her site) I have to admit, when I first got the pattern, I thought it would be one that was fun to sew up but that I probably would never wear it, since it didn’t seem like my style. Boy, was I wrong!! It has actually turned into one of my favorite skirts, so much so that I have fabric set aside for a second one.

For my test version, I used a fabric that was marked at the store as “swimsuit” fabric, but I’m almost positive that it’s actually a polyester Brazil knit, because it doesn’t feel like swimsuit fabric at all. Since I was working off the test version, which only had a raw edge hem option, I decided to walk on the wild side and do a rolled edge hem on my serger for each of the skirt layers. Erin later included a hemmed option in her final version, but I’m actually really happy with how the rolled hem turned out. Depending on your fabric, it might actually turn out better that way!

I constructed a lot of this skirt on my regular machine, and only used the serger for the side seams and a few others. It was a fun adventure to put together, though it did give the slightly dyslexic part of me a workout with the mirrored back and front layers. Just a word of advice – double check before you sew! Erin put in a lot of helpful diagrams (seriously, her instructions are awesome!), but it doesn’t hurt to just take a minute to think about how the finished layer will look before you sew. Ask me how I know :P.

And speaking of diagrams and instructions – I just have to say that I was so impressed with Erin’s response to the testers’ feedback. She clearly took all of my comments seriously, as I saw a lot of them in the final version. I felt like I actually contributed something useful to the process, which made it all the more fulfilling for me.

…oh, did you want to actually see it? Here she is!

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A quick note on sizing – due to the nature of the layers and the shape of the skirt, I would highly recommend not trying to grade between sizes if your waist and hips fall into different sizes on the chart. Just go with your hip size. Since the skirt is intended to sit lower on the waist and the waistband has elastic, it all works out in the end. In the first pattern draft, the only waistband option was the fold-over – here are some pics showing that:

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Again, I didn’t think I would like that type of waistband, since I was afraid it would add unwanted bulk around my middle, but I actually think that I’ll use it again for version 2! Erin did include a regular elastic waistband, though, for those of you who prefer that.

So, all in all, a great pattern! One of the things I really love about Erin’s patterns is that they’re a bit quirky and off-the-beaten-path. This pattern isn’t your typical indie pattern, which, I think, is rather refreshing. It’s a great way to add a splash of fun and pizzazz to your wardrobe without going too crazy (or you could make it totally over-the-top, too!), and perfect for summer. Congratulations, Erin, on a fantastic new pattern!

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Adventures with Scuba – Diving Right In!

I know, I know, my puns are inexcusable. But sometimes I just can’t resist…

Seriously, though, have y’all heard of scuba knit fabric? It’s a pretty awesome textile that has been making its way through the sewing blogosphere in recent months, and I’ve been dying to get my hands on some. Scuba knit is exactly what it says it is – the stuff you make scuba gear out of! (Or, at least, that’s what I’ve always assumed – correct me if I’m wrong!!) Essentially, it acts like a firm double knit, and has a thick, squishy texture. One fun thing you can do with this fabric is leave the hem edges raw, since it’s extremely stable. It’s basically an all-around awesome fabric!

…and a few weeks ago, I finally added some to my stash! In the spirit of my blogging resolutions for 2015, I attended the January Bay Area Sewists meetup, arranged by the fabulous Chuleenan of C Sews. This particular meetup was a fabric swap, so we all brought bits of our stash to swap. I’d never done one of these before, but it was truly genius – I arrived with five pieces I didn’t want anymore and left with five pieces I couldn’t wait to sew up. And I didn’t pay a penny! (Well, I did later when we all went to Stone Mountain and Daughter, but that’s another story…). It was an amazing experience to meet so many other sewing enthusiasts of all ages. We even had a few men! I’m so thrilled I went. And I went home with a yard of scuba knit!

Since I didn’t have much to work with, I decided to make the Colette Mabel skirt, which is the perfect pattern for small amounts of stable knits. I spent quite a while studying the print of the fabric and trying to figure out how to make it match up at the seam lines. I got so close to getting it perfect, but the whole mirror-image thing with the back piece messed me up. I’m still kicking myself a little for not seeing that sooner! So one side seam matches up perfectly, but the other doesn’t. Alas. But I still managed to get a pretty good approximation with the bit of fabric I had left, so all in all I’m still pleased.

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As far as the fabric is concerned, I treated it like any old regular double knit and sewed the seams on my serger. I decided to leave the hem edge raw, and cut around the lace-like part of the print for a fun extra effect. I was quite proud if myself for thinking that up, and I really like the result!

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(I promise I didn’t cut the front crooked – it’s the way I’m standing)

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The one thing I’m not so thrilled about with this skirt is that it rides up terribly when I walk in it. If I’m mostly standing still, it stays in place just fine, but if I’m walking much at all (which is what I do pretty much all the time!!), it rides up so badly I start to get stares from passers-by. I think this is because the scuba is such a stiff fabric – on my other Mabels, which are made of drapier ponte, this isn’t such a problem. Oof. Has this ever happens to you? Any advice for fixing this??

So it will probably be reserved for “standing only” occasions like parties or dinner outings. But hey, for a free skirt, I’ll take that!

Oh, and p.s., my top is another Deer and Doe Plantain Shirt, made from a gorgeous bamboo/Lycra blend I got at Grey’s Fabric during my November visit. I made it up right before Christmas, and it has been in constant wardrobe rotation ever since!

P.p.s. I made the necklace too :P. And yes, it’s driving me bananas that it ended up crooked in these pics!

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