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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For Dante :-)

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!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nicola: Fitting

So, let's start at the beginning.  And fair warning:  this is going to be a VERY comprehensive fitting post, so if you aren't into that kind of thing, skip it!

I printed and traced the Nicola pattern well over a year ago.  I had a beautiful piece of Anna Sui silk georgette that I knew would be just perfect for this design.  But my lack of success with the fit of the  Anouk dress made me afraid to cut into my fabric, or even try the pattern in a muslin.  So I set it aside.

After I took the fitting class in December, one of my goals was to figure this pattern out.  Really, all the Victory Patterns.  Because I think that the draft is for a body type very different from mine.  But I love the aesthetic enough to work through it, and I'm happy to say that I think I'm on my way.

When I traced the pattern, I had graded it from a 4 bust to 6 waist to 8 hip.  That was a good start, but I'd already figured out that just grading from one size to another is not the whole solution for me, with my broad back, forward shoulders and hollow chest.

Luckily, I had traced all the pieces onto Swedish tracing paper.  So a couple weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours tissue-fitting the dress.  Having the pieces on Swedish tracing paper made it a lot easier than the tissue I'm using these days - it's more durable and more supple.

The adjustments I made ended up being pretty standard for me:
* 1/2" broad back adjustment, with a shoulder dart to make up the difference at the shoulder seam
* 1/2" forward shoulder adjustment - on the front only
* 1/2" tuck to correct the gaping neckline over my hollow chest

The skirt actually fit pretty well - it was a bit on the big side, but I decided to leave it because I do sometimes have "fluffy" days.  When I make this dress again in a solid fabric, I'll take in the skirt, but with my busy print it looks fine.

My biggest problem (and this is something I've found with all the Victory Patterns I've used so far) is that the armhole was way too high and small for me.  So I had to do a fair bit of experimentation with how much to scoop out.  I ended up lowering it 1/2" at the side seam, and having to scoop out a bit more in front than in back.

front - the innermost line is the one I used


Here's how my pieces looked after my tissue fitting adjustments:

forward shoulder adjustment on front only

broad back adjusment

shoulder dart to take up excess at shoulder seam

Once I had a pretty good fit, I retraced all my pattern pieces onto tissue:



And then used those to create a bodice muslin.

When trying on the muslin, I noticed that the neckline was gaping, so I took out a tuck and then transferred that adjustment to my pattern piece and the corresponding facing piece.

Once the bodice was fitting well, I moved on to the sleeve.  I had to figure out how much to scoop out of the sleeve to make  it work with my new armscye.  I measured the total armscye and then the sleeve cap, and made sure the sleeve cap had at least 1.5" more length than the armscye.  This really was all just trial and error, and once I thought I might have the right amount removed, I made a sample sleeve and added it to my muslin to make sure it fit.



sleeve scooped out

new sleeve piece

Once I had all my fitting done, I retraced any pattern pieces that needed it.   For all the pieces that are cut on the fold, I created full pattern pieces so I could cut my silk single-layer.

So - a lot of prep work.  But totally worth it for the fit I got!  I went into this in depth because I only found a few finished Nicolas online, and not much fitting advice at all.  So I'm hoping this information will come in handy for someone with similar fit issues who wants to sew up this lovely design.

Next time:  construction!

Stash Diet Spring Cleaning Swap Meet!

Hey guys! Have you been spring cleaning (or fall cleaning) lately? If the urge has struck you and you're finding you'd like to streamline some of your sewing accoutrement, we - Morgan, Andrea and I - invite you to join the Spring Cleaning Swap Meet!
The idea is simple:
  • Round up any any fabric, patterns, notions, or even sewn garments that you don't want anymore
  • Post them on your blog or in the Stash Diet flickr group
  • Let your readers know how they can win (random drawing, first-come-first-serve, etc) and how you'd like to handle shipping (who pays, where you'll send to, etc)
  • Bask in your tidy sewing space and shop the swap!
Put up your post anytime on March 29 - 30; keep your eyes peeled for a kick-off post on Morgan's blog where you can add links to your swap posts! And, if you'd like to get involved in swapping but aren't able to participate this weekend, fear not - the regular Stash Diet Swap is going all year round in the flickr group.
Let us know if you have any questions, and happy cleaning!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Yesterday, after almost two weeks of work, I finished a dress I'd wanted to make for two years:  Victory Patterns' Nicola.

I had to do a fair bit of adjusting to get this one to fit me well, and then work slowly on my construction with this beautiful silk georgette.  I have lots to say about this make, but I promised my Instagram friends that I'd show the good stuff first, and save the details for later :-)

So here is my new dress.  My new favorite dress.  I have to say, I'm not 100% happy with these photos because I don't think any of them really do the dress justice.   It is so beautiful, and I can't wait for the weather to warm up so I can wear this someplace.  I've made Hubby promise to take me on a date just so I can show off my new dress.

I realize that it's really hard to see the design details in this busy print.  In the first few photos, I'm wearing the dress with a vintage full slip, which you can see peeking out at the neckline and front center hem.  I'm going to talk more about this slip in another post, because it's special to me, and I always had a vision of pairing it with this dress so the bits of lace could peek out.

The hemline dips down a bit in the back, which I love:

I got a flattering and comfortable fit across the back - hallelujah!

The sleeves are quite long under the arm, coming down below the waist.  When my arms are down, it hides how slimming the lines of the dress are.  Here you can see the shape of the body a bit better.

I lined the skirt in black silk, and when I walk or there's a breeze, it flutters a bit and shows.  So lovely!

I also took a couple of pictures with a half slip, so you can see the neckline uninterrupted.  For these I added a belt and hot pink pumps, which sadly don't match each other or the pink in the dress.

I think this dress looks great belted or unbelted, but the belt does help define the waistline with this busy print.  I'm going to try to find a belt that works better, color-wise.

You can see the sleeve a little better here:

And even better here, although my eyes are closed and I look like a goof!

I'm so glad I finally made this dress up.  And I'm also glad I waited as long as I did.  I'm not sure I could have produced a dress of this quality a year ago.  Having learned some fitting tricks and some tips for sewing with silk (thanks to a Craftsy class) made all the difference, I think. 

I'm not really sure how many dresses like this I need, but I do think I'd like to sew at least one more in a plainer fabric, so that the details show.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Weekend Archer #2

Here's the other one, which I wore yesterday because the print makes me so happy.  Like everyone else, I'm chomping at the bit for spring to arrive; this fabric lets me pretend it already has.

Yes, it's more of the same Anna Maria Horner voile I used to line my coral coat last year.  After I made my coat, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I loved the fabric and what a great shirt it would make, so I ordered some more.  In two different colorways.  And yes - I fully intend to wear this shirt with the coat once the weather warms up!

I did the prescribed sleeve placket on this one - not that you can really see in with this crazy print:

And used these sweet peachy-pink buttons:

For this soft voile, I used Pro-Sheer Elegance Medium to interface collar, cuffs and button bands.  It gives a bit of structure without too much stiffness.

For my pictures, I decided to experiment:  I paired the shirt with some boyfriend jeans and nude heels:


How ridiculous and awesome are these Seychelles Strike A Chord heels?  I bought them last summer because I loved the neon yellow surprise at the back, but they go with almost nothing!  But I loved them too much to send them back.  Even Hubby wanted me to keep them!

So, the remainder of the photos are really all about the shoes :-)  I'm not 100% sure I'm down with the whole boyfriend jeans + heels thing, and my lifestyle isn't very heels friendly at the moment.  But I love them so.

I also tried out the "half tuck" and I'm not sure about that either.  But it's fun to experiment, don't you think?

In real life, this shirt probably will be worn with jeans or a denim skirt, but with flats.  Yesterday I wore it for running some errands with my trusty, clunky Dansko Professionals (snakeskin print, natch).  So here's one more heels photo to remember them by:

What do you guys think of the heels + rolled jeans look?  Can an older lady (such as myself) pull if off?  I always love it when I see it on other people, but felt pretty awkward wearing it myself!