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!!

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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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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If at First You Don’t Succeed…

So you know how I keep complaining that it’s winter here? Well, today it’s spring :P. Seriously – 65 degrees and humid. I didn’t even have to wear a coat this morning. So weird! Not that I mind; I got to pull out one of my spring skirts! Yay for denial…

Since I’ve been in such a sewing frenzy, I managed to complete yet another project this weekend. I had enough fabric leftover after the dress to make a top. However, I already have two grey knit tops – one long-sleeved and one sleeveless – so I wanted to make sure this one was different enough to justify making it. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try out a new pattern and use this as a “wearable muslin” (i.e. an experiment that hopefully works out well enough to wear). The pattern I tried out was the Côte d’Azur top pattern by Hot Patterns. This was my first pattern from that company, and I had read variable reviews about the fit of their garment, so I wasn’t sure how it would work out. Here’s the result:

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Top: handmade “Côte d’Azur top” by Hot Patterns, Skirt and Tights: Anthropologie, Cardigan: LOFT, Boots: Clark’s

Yes, those are yellow stockings….I keep trying to come up with a clever Twelfth Night reference about them, but so far have come up dry. Anyhow, I’m very glad I made a muslin of the top! Not because it fit poorly – the fit is actually great – but because I made a stupidly obvious mistake that almost ruined it! I did the front gathers wrong – I misread where the gathers end, and ended up gathering way too much. I then tried to make some alterations to fix what I thought was a fit problem, which involved me cutting the fabric, so that when I finally figured out what I did wrong I couldn’t go back and do it the right way. Argh! I managed to make it work, though. The hem is kind of wonky, but when it’s tucked in you don’t even notice it. I really like the finished product, so I can’t wait to make it again *correctly*! I think I want to make a dress version of it for spring…real spring, not this faux get-your-hopes-up-but-it’s-actually-winter spring 😛

Stuck on Repeat…

I know I just wore this skirt two posts ago, but I have several good reasons!

1. It’s warm
2. It’s comfortable
3. I’m (hopefully) going to the fabric store today on my break, so I can show it off!

And everything else I’m wearing is different, I promise…

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Top: Banana Republic, Sweater: LOFT, Skirt: handmade “Chardon” by Deer and Doe, Tights: Gap, Boots: Clark’s

Another thing that has been “stuck on repeat” in my life is my sewing/crafting. I’m becoming more and more obsessive about it, to the point that it’s starting to feel a little out of control. So, a new goal of mine is to find balance in my sewing “habit.” I’m also curious to know – how do others create balance with this sort of thing? Do you have a serious hobby (not necessarily craft related – anything) that you find yourself struggling to keep in balance? How do you do it? I would love to hear other people’s stories!

Flannel to the Rescue!

It just keeps getting colder here in Boston!! So this week, instead of sewing more knit-fabric garments, I finally came to terms with the dropping temperature and decided to sew a flannel skirt. I made another Chardon Skirt with one of the beautiful cotton flannels that recently found its way onto the shelves of Grey’s Fabric and Notions. I have to confess, as much fun as I’ve been having sewing with knits, it was a nice change to sew with a heftier, more stable fabric that doesn’t change shape on you every few seconds!

The finished product is nice and warm, and was also super quick! I didn’t line this one, so it only took me one cutting session and two sewing sessions to complete (to compare, my first Chardon took me almost a month!). Oh, and did I mention it has *pockets*? Here it is in today’s outfit:

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Top: Banana Republic, Jacket: Anthropologie, Skirt: handmade “Chardon Skirt” by Deer and Doe, Leggings: Banana Republic, Boots: Clark’s

And without the jacket, so you can see the pleating and belt loops:

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And lastly, at only $10 a yard, this skirt cost me under $30 – compare with this similar skirt from a high-end retailer that’s over $100. I’ll take that!

Fruits of My Labor

Today I get to “debut” two of my latest creations! First up is the green bamboo top from my last post. I’m still a little stumped about how to handle the color – it’s much brighter and bolder than I’m used to, so I have a feeling there will be a “learning curve” for this piece. I have several pairs of pants that would work, but since today’s forecast included a fair amount of rain and other unpleasantness, I wanted to make sure I could wear my boots! I literally went through every skirt I own this morning with my husband (he often has better taste at I do….) trying to find a decent match.

It turns out the winner was the skirt that I just completed a few weeks ago, a high-waisted grey wool with box pleats. I love the silhouette created by “poofy” skirts, so I’m very pleased with the pattern. I will definitely make more in the future!

I also experimented with mixing neutrals this morning with the addition of the brown sweater (alas, I didn’t make this one). My tendency is to “match” neutrals – i.e., brown skirt with brown sweater, etc., but my husband pointed out that that doesn’t work very well. So I’m trying new things! He let me walk out of the house with this outfit, so I figure it must not be too bad.

What do you all think of the pairing? Any suggestions for ways to match this bright avocado top? What do you do with hard-to-match pieces?

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Top: handmade “Renfrew” pattern by Sewaholic, Skirt: handmade “Chardon” pattern by Deer and Doe, Caridigan: LOFT, Belt: Banana Republic, Leggings: Banana Republic, Boots: Clark’s