New Dress, New City, New Year!

Hey everyone, remember me??? It feels like years have past since my last blog post – that’s how crazy life has been. I do have a good excuse, though – I moved across the country! Again! That’s right, folks; I am once more a resident of the East Coast. Around Thanksgiving, my husband was interviewing for a job back east “on a whim,” and a few whirlwind weeks later, I found myself backing boxes like my life depended on it. Crazy how quickly things can move when you least expect it. CRAZY.

So, at the moment, all of my precious sewing accouterments are being shipped in large crates across the country. We are staying with family until we either a. find a place to rent or b. buy a house. SAY WHAT?? Needless to say, it will probably be a while before I am able to post my “first makes of 2016!” In the meantime, however, I do have a “final make of 2015” to share, as well as a few reflections and goals for the coming year.

First off, a pretty dress:

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When I found out at the beginning of December that we were going to be moving in just a few weeks, I of course responded by stress sewing. Rather conveniently, this news also coincided with my husband’s holiday work party. So, naturally, I decided that the best course of action was to sew an entire dress – including tracing and fitting a new pattern – the day of the party. And I had to work that afternoon. But somehow, it all came together in time (well, almost – the hem is still basted in :P), and my manic sewing episode actually did help me sort through some of my anxiety about the move.

The pattern is Tilly’s Lilou dress from Love and First Stitch, which I modified slightly to ensure a proper fit. Since I was so short on time and this was my first time making the pattern, I took a bodice pattern that I had already fitted and tested, and traced the neckline and armhole shape onto it. I’m soooo glad I did, because it meant that I didn’t need to make any more fit adjustments as I attempted to break me land-speed sewing record. The fit isn’t quite perfect (the shoulders are a teensy bit too long), but it’s good enough for a special occasion dress.

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The fabric was one of my Black Friday scores from Fabric Outlet in SF. The whole week after Thanksgiving, everything was 40% off, which I used this as an excuse to do some serious retail therapy. I also got two gorgeous lengths of wool coating in anticipation of the frozen tundra of the northeast. Goodness knows I’ll need it!

Speaking of coats, that leads nicely into my goals for 2016! While I have several specific goal projects in mind, my over-arching goal for the year is not to force anything I don’t feel like doing. I was re-reading my goals from last year in preparation for this post, and saw that one of them was to post on this blog twice a week. HA. I realized soon after that that very goal was the kiss of death for me posting regularly, because it set up a guilt-procrastination-more guilt loop every time I didn’t meet my goal. So above all, I want to keep things fun and as stress-free as possible.

With that in mind, here are a few projects I’d love to make, or at least start:

-a winter coat. As I mentioned above, I already have the wool. Now I’m just debating which pattern to choose…

-more jeans. I’ve worn my current Ginger jeans to near oblivion, so I clearly need more!

-more work clothes, especially blouses. Honestly, I’m not that thrilled to sew these, but I really need them, and I’m trying to create an entirely handmade wardrobe so…we’ll see. Not holding my breath on this one.

-my sister’s wedding dress. YUP. I have a feeling this one might trump all of the above…

And I’m going to leave it at that. It could be months before I even have a sewing space, so for now my goal is to be patient, role with the punches, and try not to let the chaos of it all phase me too much. The changes have only just begun, and we have so much left to do before we can truly “settle down.”

To close, I just wanted to mention a few reflections on the past year. I feel like sewing took a bit more of a back seat than it had in 2014, but I’m ok with that, because I had such a full life in San Francisco. And I have to admit, I’m very sad to have to leave such a wonderful city. Even though I was only there for 16 months, I really lived there, if you know what I mean. I still can’t believe how lucky and blessed I was with the opportunities that came my way and the people with whom I shared them. In so many ways, this was the best year of my life to date.

So, here’s to looking at you, 2015. We sure had a heck of a time together.

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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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Mabel Magic: The Perfect Pencil Skirt

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as that quick, palate-cleansing project that happens to by not only super comfy, but also rather stylish, all while filling a major wardrobe gap. This skirt fits all of those categories!

After my rather epic evening gown adventure, I needed something fun and easy to get my sew-jo back. I attempted to make Tilly’s adorable Bettine dress, but everything about it just looked horribly wrong on me, and it ended up in the UFO pile (which I never had before a few months ago, but now…ooof, looks like a new bad habit is forming!!). Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a fabulous dress and has looked wonderful on a lot of the folks who have sewn it up, but it just didn’t like right on me. A combo of poor fabric choice and design elements that don’t quite jive with my body and face structure created a perfect storm of frumpiness. Ugh.

Soooo…that did my sew-jo in even more, and I knew I needed something quick and idiot-proof STAT. Enter Colette’s Mabel skirt. I’ve made it a few times before, thought it never turned out exactly right – the fact that it sits at the hip, and not the waist, means that it is forever creeping up my legs as I walk, resulting in a great deal of tugging down throughout the day to avoid wardrobe malfunction. So, when I saw the tutorial on the Colette blog about how to add an elastic waistband that would sit at the natural waist, I knew I needed to try it. And I’m so glad I did – I love the result! I think I have finally found my Magic Mabel.

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To add the elastic waistband, I added 4″ to the bottom of the skirt, as the tutorial recommends. I also took in about a half inch at the waist at the center back and did a slight sway back adjustment (I think I might need more next time), to account for the different size of high waist vs. low waist. I used a different technique than the tutorial does for applying the elastic, and instead used a twin needle to sew the 2″ elastic to the right side of the skirt. It’s actually the same technique used to apply the elastic to the Comox Trunks – good thing I learned to make men’s undies! 🙂

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the top in those photos is another Renfrew I made over the summer – I seriously love that pattern! I made it before our Maine summer vacation so I’d blend in with the locals (cuz, y’know, deer/moose and all….:P). Quick fabric note – I made it with a Girl Charlee cotton/poly print, and since there is no stretch or give in the fabric due to a combo of no spandex and having some polyester, it ended up being WAY too small in the size I usually make. SURPRISE! So I ended up having to creatively size up using smaller seam allowances. It’s not a perfect fit, but good enough considering. And I love how this skirt makes it more work appropriate – win!

All in all, the skirt only took a few hours from start to finish, and I can already tell it’s going to be a real wardrobe workhorse. Now to make five more!

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An Evening to Remember

Goodness gracious, this weekend has been quite a whirlwind of events! I had the immense privilege of watching not one, but two fantastic opening nights at San Francisco Opera – on Friday night, the opera season opened with a lovely production of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, and Saturday evening was none other than the unforgettable Sweeney Todd. Both shows were beautifully sung by some truly world-class singers, and of course, the dancers (my contribution to this whole operation – I played their warm-up classes!) were fantastic. Whew!

Since Friday evening was not only opening night, but the opening of the entire season, I knew everyone would be dressed to the nines. Instead of wearing one of my existing gowns from my music school days (which are all a little/lot too tight at this point), I decided I really wanted to make one. So when rehearsals began all the way back at the beginning of August, I began plotting my plan of attack. I love a halter silhouette for formal wear, and at first was thinking of using the Sewaholic Lonsdale pattern, but I decided that the back tie detail wasn’t quite what I was looking for in this particular dress, as I think it lends a more casual element to the design. I eventually landed on the Ava dress from the book Famous Frocks: The Little Black Dressusing the Lonsdale skirt in place of the bias cut skirt in the pattern.

The fabric is a rayon batiste from fabric.com, which I had originally intended to use a lining to my trench coat. Since it bled terribly after several washings, I realized it couldn’t be used as a lining, but would make a lovely flowing dress all on its own. Cutting it out was pretty tricky – the fabric is very thin and shifty. I probably should have just used starch or gelatin to stabilize it, but since I was working with a LOT of yardage, I didn’t know how that would turn out. So instead I taped the yardage to my wood floor to keep it on the straight of grain and slid my cutting mat underneath, using a rotary cutter to avoid distorting the fabric as much as possible. It wasn’t a perfect process, but it got the job done!

I then took my sweet time sewing it. In fact, this was supposed to be a wearable muslin for a different fabric, but I put so much work into it that I decided to just used this as my final dress! And, of course, since I spaced out my sewing so much, I ran into several near-disasters at the last minute that nearly ruined the project. I managed to get a stain on the center front of the bodice right before I was going to insert the zipper, and spot cleaning just created huge water marks. So I ended up inserting the zipper and then washing the whole thing – two days before I wanted to wear it to the opera. Good thing it dried quickly!!!

Fit-wise, it definitely could use a few tweaks for next time. You can see from the side views (which I promise you’ll see shortly…) that I had to take pleats out of the underarm area of the main bodice piece, since it gaped horribly (like, showed everything) when I first tried it on. To fix that for next time, I want to try to slash and spread the pattern itself to remove the excess fullness, which I think should create the equivalent of a SBA for this style. I just used the pleats here because I wanted to salvage the dress if possible!

I ended up fully lining the dress – both bodice and skirt – since the fabric is pretty thin. The double layer of fabric creates a lovely swooshiness to the skirt, which felt really delicious to wear! Here she is:

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All things considered, I really enjoyed wearing this dress to opening night. Everyone really was dressed to the nines – full-on ball gowns and tuxedos! This dress is elegant in its simplicity rather than its complexity, so I didn’t feel out of place even in the midst of so much glitz and glamour. It truly was a night to remember!

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The Perfect Summer Dress

There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a great summer dress – something that keeps you both cool and cute during those hot, sweaty days! Even though summer is drawing to a close, I still find myself wearing a fair amount of summery garments (layered with cardigans, etc., for colder weather), and this dress is no exception. It combines pretty much everything I could want in a summer dress – knit fabric, a swishy skirt, and POLKA DOTS! Did I mention polka dots??

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If you haven’t figured it out already, this is the Moneta Dress by Colette Patterns – my current favorite knit dress pattern. I really love the bodice shaping and gathered skirt, as well as the different collar options. It’s difficult to tell in this pic, but I used the Peter Pan collar option for this dress. It’s a little overboard on the cuteness meter, but personally, I love it. The loud polka dots and collar combined kind of remind me of Minnie Mouse. In a good way.

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In terms of construction, there’s really not a whole lot to say here. I did a slight sway back adjustment, which I may need to augment, judging from these photos (I think the fabric has stretched a bit with wear, as these photos were taken a month or so after I finished the dress). For the collar, I sewed the pieces together on my regular sewing machine instead of the serger so that I could notch the curves and get a cleaner line. I’m really pleased the the result – I would highly recommend sewing all of the collar options on your regular machine for precision, even if you used your serger for the rest.

One last construction note – I always gather my skirt with long basting stitches (the “usual way”) before adding the clear elastic to the waist. I’ve tried the whole elastic ruching thing several times, and not once has it worked for me. My method take a little longer, but I think the results are worth it.

The fabric is a nice rayon knit that I actually got from Sally over at The Quirky Peach when she had her summer stash Instagram sale. I thought that was such a fun way to destash and reach out to the online sewing community simultaneously. And I got a ton of awesome fabric at an amazing price!!

All in all, this is definitely one of my favorite makes so far this year. It does exactly what I want/need it to, and I imagine I’ll probably end up wearing it to pieces in the next year or two. Woot!

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Classy Camo Shift Dress

Do you ever start a project knowing that there’s a fairly good chance it’ll end up a flop, but you go ahead and do it anyway? That was this project. I generally shy away from shift-dress-type garments because they tend to look very sack-like on me, but when I saw the Colette Mesa pattern in the June issue of Seamwork, curiosity got the better of me and I had to give it a try. That and a fabulous knit remnant find from Britex. So I dove in, knowing full well that this could end up in the UFO pile.

After briefly studying the finished measurements for the pattern, I saw that the dress was meant to have negative ease through the hips, which is pretty much my mortal enemy. So I simply graded from an XS at the bust all the way out to a size large at the waist/hips area, since I knew I would rather have extra fabric there than fabric clinging to my tummy/bum. When I tried on the finished garment, I was a little horrified with its sack-like-ness, but with the easy addition of a skinny belt, I decided it could stay. And, to my surprise, I keep finding myself reaching for it on days when I want to feel polished yet comfortable. Which is most days. So I wear it a lot!

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And as it turns out, the dress pairs perfectly with the Morris Blazer from my last post, so I usually pair the two together for an especially put-together look.

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering what the heck is up with the dress sleeves, the sleeves accidentally got rolled up when I wore the jacket out to do my photo shoot, and I didn’t notice it until I was reviewing the photos later. Oops! Annoying, but I decided I was too lazy to try and retake all those pictures :P.

So there you have it – a simple, classy ensemble that I go to again and again!

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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!