Saturday, December 19, 2015

Named Olivia Wrap Dress

I had been dreaming of making this dress ever since the pattern came out early this fall.  But I kept putting it off while I pondered how to fit it.  In Named patterns, I size in at 36 bust, 38 waist and 42 hip.  The tulip shape of the skirt gives you a little wiggle room with this pattern, but I think if you make it too tight, you lose the original proportions of the design.

After a lot of thought, I decided to go with the 36 bust and grade out to 38 for the waist, and then make the entire skirt in size 38 as well.  The fit is slightly snugger across my backside than intended, but I still think it's flattering.  Note:  I wasn't wearing a slip when I took these photos but I did wear a "slipshort," and the back got a bit hung up on it and made those wrinkles at the left hip.

As you can see,  the bodice is designed to be slightly blousey.  There are a couple darts on the front skirt, and the waist has elastic as well as the wrap ties.  There are on-seam pockets at the hip as well.  I was dubious about how this would work but I went ahead and tried them on this dress, which I consider my test version. For once, I followed all the instructions.  Against my better judgment, I inserted the pockets as written:  the side seams are sewn except at the pocket opening, and then the pocket bags are attached to the seam allowances at the opening, and finally sewn to each other.  I like to think that I'm pretty good at precision sewing, but this was really hard for me!!  Next time, if I do pockets at all, I'll do them in my normal way of attaching the bags to the front and back pieces first and then sewing the side seams and pocket bags all in one go.  My inability to sew the pockets accurately resulted in some holes and misalignments; I was able to close up the holes afterwards by hand, but as you can see in the photo above, there is some bunching at the left hip because I couldn't get that pocket aligned exactly.

I say "next time" . . . I think there will be a next time - I like the pattern and design enough to have more than one of this dress.  But I found the sewing of it extremely tedious.  First off, I loathe sewing knits on the regular sewing machine, and because of the construction of this dress, there are very few seams that can be sewn on the serger.  Secondly, those pockets.  Much too tedious.  And finally, I find it very frustrating to have to wrangle large stretchy pieces with long, skinny, even stretchier pieces hanging off.  By sheer force of will, I managed to complete this dress in 3 days.  So, after a cooling off period, during which I'll go back to my comfort zone of hand-tailoring blazers, I may try it again.

The only other little tidbit to share is that the opening in the side for the tie is quite large - I went back and closed it up by 1/4" each top and bottom to avoid exposing myself.

The sun came out yesterday, so after I got back from the gym, I quickly put on the dress and snapped a few shots.  But even with the sunshine, it's hard to see the details of the dress - really, the lighting in my house is horrible.  So I ended up playing around with some of the editing tools in iPhoto to make them more visible. And I decided I quite liked the artiness of it!  Here's a before and after example:

I liked that I could add pink shadows.

Do any of you intend to make this dress?  How do you feel about sewing knits on the sewing machine?  Do large, stretchy garments make you frustrated too?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Style Arc Stella Coat

I've been on kind of a Style Arc bender lately . . .  And I've been obsessed with this pattern ever since Sam made hers last spring.  So I finally broke down and bought it a few weeks ago, along with a few yards of this Italian wool blend coating.   I'd really intended to make this coat in a classic camel, but decided to find an outer to go with this silk CDC lining I'd bought last month.

This wrap coat has a slim silhouette.  As with my Dotty blouse, I bought the pattern in size 8 to accommodate my shoulders, but of course had to grade out to about a 12 from the waist down.  I did many of my typical adjustments after a tissue fitting:  shortened the sleeves, did a broad back adjustment, low round back adjustment and sway back adjustment.  Although the line drawing shows three panels across the back there is actually a center back seam, which is great for me - when a back is cut on the fold I usually have to convert it to a seam to make the adjustments for my back.  All those vertical seams means that there are plenty of opportunities for grading in or out as needed.

This design is also clever in that the front piece doesn't go all the way to the side. There is a narrow panel at the underarm, so that the on-seam pocket in the "side" seam is actually positioned a bit to the front, placing it just right for easy access.

I've said this before, but I really love that the seam allowances are marked on Style Arc patterns.  The typical seam allowance is 3/8", but I've noticed that the neckline seam allowances tend to be 1/4".  Because my fabric was so thick, I took that up to 3/8".  It took me a while to get used to this after 40 years of predominantly 5/8" allowances!  But I realized that the smaller seam allowance basically means that the seams are pre-trimmed, and I like that a lot.

On both the Style Arc patterns I've used so far, the sleeve heads have been perfection.  The amount of ease is so spot on that the sleeves insert beautifully. The sleeve heads are also shaped with more volume at the back, which is what I need for my forward shoulders.  It is so nice - and so novel - to use a sleeve "as written."

For this pattern, there was a new-to-me concept of using fusible interfacing as the sleeve header.  I really liked how this worked for this jacket, which is softer in shape and has little interfacing and no shoulder pads.  Something to keep in mind for future projects.

I liked pretty much everything about the pattern.  I didn't love working with this thick wool very much, although I like the outcome.  It really didn't want to hold a press, so I ended up topstitching all the seams except the sleeve set-in - which means that I sewed every seam three times.  I wasn't so sure about the look of the topstitching, but I was unanimously outvoted when I asked my Instagram friends! In the end I'm happy with it though, and although it added a lot of work to the process, it was still probably less than catch-stitching all those seam allowances down by hand.

The pattern gives instructions for a bagged lining and even has a couple of diagrams.  But I felt more comfortable making the lining and facing into a unit and sewing the whole thing to the outer at the front and collar edges, then closing it up by hand at the sleeve and coat hems.

I put in the last hem stitches just 15 minutes before I had to get ready to go downtown for a concert Friday evening.  It ended up being a warm-ish evening, so I pushed myself to finish.  And I have to say, I felt like a million bucks in my new coat and silk Dotty blouse!  I did have a little bit of a scare though when the kid next to me on the subway opened up a bottle of some bright red sports drink!  You better believe I got up and walked to the other end of the car!  I have a feeling I'll be worried about stains every time I wear this coat, but I love it all the same.

A last note on the length:  I did not shorten the body, which surprised me.  I'd wanted the coat to come to must below my knees, and that's exactly where it ended up as drafted.  It surprised me because at 5'4" I generally do have to shorten things.

I'm a huge sucker for outerwear, but I think this will have to be my last coat for a while.  My closet is crammed full!  But I can see making this again in the spring in a cotton twill, maybe in a mid-thigh length.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spotty Dotty

It's hard for me to believe that it's been a month since I made my first Dotty top.  I pondered the fit for a few days, and then made Dotty #2 the following weekend. And it's been hanging on my dresser ever since.

Part of the reason I haven't been posting as much here is that I rarely feel like doing the whole "photo shoot" thing any more.  So much effort!  This top has been hanging there waiting for me to get in the mood, but it just hasn't happened.  But there are some things I want to say about it, so I've decided just to forge ahead with pictures of it on a hanger instead of on me.

In my first post about this pattern, I made a list of adjustments I'd planned to do. But in the end, the only one of those I ended up doing was to shorten the sleeves! As I took a good look at how the top fit me, I realized that the armhole was way too deep and that the torso was also too long.  Shortening in these two places meant that I could avoid grading out at the hip and doing a sway back adjustment. Here is how it looked after I pinned out these adjustments - it no longer looked like it was swallowing me!

Taking a tuck out horizontally across the front and back to shorten the armhole meant that I also had to tuck out the same amount on the sleeve cap.  Normally, I would just tuck out this amount and smooth out the edge.  But this time I decided to try the method recommended in Fitting and Pattern Alteration, and I really liked how this works.  I mentioned this book in my last post; it recommends making changes at the seam line rather than the cutting edge, so that the seam lines remain unchanged and everything matches up like it's supposed to when sewing.

So for this adjustment, I sliced across the sleeve cap at the place where it would match with the tuck I took from the front and back.  Then I cut 2 slits vertically, each a bit away from the the apex of the cap, with small clips into the seam allowance to create hinges.  I placed one side of the seam line the specified amount (I removed 1/2") down on the seam, then swung out the other to the opposite side.  The cap seam line remains smooth and consistent in length when done this way.  It's much easier to see what I mean in pictures:

I love it that Style Arc patterns have the seam allowances marked.  It really makes this type of adjustment so much easier.

Here are the adjustments I ended up doing:

1.  shorten armhole by 1/2"
2.  shorten torso by 1"
3.  shorten sleeve by 1"
4.  shorten cuff by 1/2"
5.  outwardly rotating elbow adjustment of 1/2"

Very different from my original assessment!

I also made some pattern changes.  I increased most of the seam allowances to 5/8".  I did this to make the gathering easier, and also because I'd decided to use French seams on my silk crepe de chine.  But I did keep some of the smaller seam allowances, so I made myself a key - the different allowances are color coded:

If you look at that front piece, you'll see that the neck edge has a cut-on facing that is curved.  For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to make that turn back on a fabric with no stretch.  So I cut off that section, added some seam allowances, and sewed the facing on separately.  Next time though, I think I'll skip the facing completely - I don't really think the top needs it.  I'll just use a narrow hem at that edge.

I wore this top to a concert the other night and felt quite stylish.  I snapped this picture for Instagram, but later added a few long necklaces which looked even better:

I'm happy with my fit changes, and can see myself making this top at least once more.  I might even make it in a solid color!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Arcane Adjustment

Readers, do you ever think about how your elbows might be affecting the fit of your sleeves?  I never did, until a problem I've had for a long time finally led me to look, page by page, through Fitting and Pattern Alteration to find a solution.  And the answer turned out to be that I have Outwardly Rotated Elbows!  Who knew such a thing even existed?!

Here's the problem I've had with long sleeves:  most of the time, the portion of the sleeve from the elbow to the wrist twists towards the back.  I've noticed that it doesn't happen as severely with two-piece sleeves, and on knits it usually doesn't bother me because I often end up pushing those sleeves up.  But on shirts and blouses, it really irks me.  Here are some examples.

The fix is actually easier than figuring out what the problem is.  All you have to do is cut up the entire length of the front and back seam lines, and also make a small clip in the sleeve cap seam line to make a hinge.  Then swing the back seam out by however much you need and fill in the empty space with some extra paper.  Swing the front seam line in so that it overlaps the sleeve by that same amount and attach it.  You may have to trim away some of the sleeve if it extends beyond the seam allowance.  Doing the alteration this way instead of just adding a bit to the back and taking away from the front at the cutting edge ensures that the seam line remains unchanged and everything will match up nicely.  I did a quick little model of the adjustment for you:

I did this alteration on my second Dotty Blouse, and it really made a difference in the fit of the sleeve - it actually hangs straight from my shoulder now!  What a revelation.  Since it was my first time doing this adjustment, I was conservative and only moved my seam lines by 1/2".  But I think I can go up to as much as 3/4" in the future.   It makes such a difference that you can even see it in this picture where my elbow is bent.  No twisting!

Now what I haven't experimented with yet is how this works on a shirt like the Archer, where there are plackets and pleats to deal with.  But I will figure it out, because up to this time I've mostly been wearing my Archers with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows because it bugs me so much how they twist!

And there is a sister adjustment for those of you with Inwardly Rotated Elbows.  If you find that your sleeve twists below the elbow toward the front, just do the opposite of what I described above.

Do any of you have either of these issues with your sleeves?  Have you ever considered the rotation of your elbows?  I was convinced that my sleeve problems were caused by my forward shoulders, but the forward shoulder adjustment, while it improved the set of the sleeves, never completely remedied the situation.  I'm so glad I've finally figured out this piece of the fitting puzzle!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sloppy Dotty

No sewing the last couple weeks, as I had another round of guests followed immediately by a trip out out town.  So this weekend, all I really wanted to do was sew.  And sew I did, although I got slightly derailed by life and ended up hurrying through this project.

The project in question is the Style Arc Dotty Blouse.  I've been fascinated by Style Arc for quite a while and have been wanting to try their patterns, so last month I pulled the trigger and purchased a few.  Here's how the paper pattern looks:  I really liked that it was accordion-folded - so much easier to put back into the envelope!

Because Style Arc patterns are purchased one size only (I got a size 8 for this top), I decided to make a (hopefully) wearable muslin with some super drapey rayon jersey.  The description says this pattern can be made in either woven or knit, and since I wasn't sure about the sizing, I thought knit would be a bit more forgiving as a test.  Sadly, the jersey wasn't a great quality, so although I intend to wear this top, I know it won't have a very long life; I had to unpick a couple areas and that left a few tiny holes.

Compare my top with the line drawings on the pattern - there's not nearly as much volume in this blouse as the pattern would lead you to believe.  But I like it. However, I won't be able to love it until I make a few fitting adjustments.  Here's what I intend to do next time:

1.  Add 2" width at hip - no surprise, as my hip measurement puts me in a size 12
2.  Shorten the sleeves, and possibly even tighten the cuff and add a continuous placket and button
3.  Swayback adjustment - this will also take out some of the excess length in the back

4.  Possibly shorten the whole torso by 1/2" - 1" - undecided about this as yet.

What surprised me is the adjustments I don't need:  I think that even in a woven, I'll be able to get away without doing a broad back or forward shoulder adjustment.  Pretty much unheard of for me.  That could be due to the fact that I bought a size 8, specifically to accomodate my back and shoulders.  My bust falls between the size 6 and the 8.

Style Arc pattern instructions are notoriously brief, and while I didn't really need them to construct this top, I tried to follow them anyway.  I didn't do the greatest job though, and I felt there were a couple things missing that gave me problems later.  So I'm glad I used this cheap fabric for my first go - I know what to do differently next time!

Most of my construction problems had to do with the front facing.  This facing is cut on with the front piece and folded back, then sewn into the shoulder and side seams.  What the directions neglect to say (and maybe I should have known by default to do) is to finish the facing edge at 3/8" before doing anything else.  I didn't realize my error until it was too late, so I ended up fusing my unfinished edge to the top - not a huge deal since it's jersey, but I'll definitely want to do it right the next time.  Also, having that excess 3/8" of facing at the bottom side seam  meant that it showed at the hem on one side.  That's the seam I had to unpick and do again, resulting in some small holes in my jersey.  I trimmed as much of the excess facing as I could, then sewed the seam with a slightly wider allowance to cover it up.

The yoke is attached burrito-style, but after that things get a bit vague.  If I'd followed the instructions (such as they are) I would have ended up with an unfinished shoulder seam, like this:

Yuck.  Instead, I kept my facing folded onto the front, then wrapped the yoke shoulder seams around it, inside out (so that the right sides of the yoke are facing each other, with the front sandwiched in between).  This gave me a MUCH neater finish:

Another problem I had was trying to make gathers in the 3/8" seam allowance.  I could only fit 1 row of gathering stitches in such a narrow space.  It worked OK for the back:

But absolutely failed at the sleeve cuff:

So next time I'm likely to convert any seam allowances that need gathering to 5/8".  I may even convert all the allowances, since the future versions I have planned are all silk and would benefit from French seams.

As I mentioned above, the sleeves are way too long on me - no surprise there, as I usually have to shorten sleeves 1" - 2".  Because of that failed cuff above, and because this is a test garment, my fix was to cut off the cuff, turn the sleeve back a few times and tack it in place.  Good enough for this version.

I think the line drawing is inaccurate regarding the placement of the shoulder seam.  Even on my very forward shoulders, the yoke wraps to the front instead of sitting on top of the shoulder, and this is backed up by how the top lays flat:

(I guess this is a good time to apologize for the poor quality of the pictures.  I had to make a choice between taking the photos with my phone, or waiting who knows how long to write up this post, so I chose the phone.)

You can also see in the photo above that I coverstitched my facing down.  I'm not in love with how it looks - it's too close to the tuck and just looks superfluous.  I think I won't need to sew it down in my future versions because the facing edge will be finished, but I didn't trust the fusible web to hold up in the wash.

Finally, just for the sake of novely, here's how that front piece looks:

It's so large that I had to tape all 3 of my cutting boards together to cut it out!  So I was surprised that the top doesn't have a whole lot of volume when it's on the body.

I realize this post is rambling, but I did want to get my impressions of my first Style Arc pattern down in writing before I forgot!  And although there were a couple things I didn't like, my overall impression is that this is a solid pattern, and I'm looking forward to making it again with my adjustments.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Conclusion (and some outfits)

I realized as I was writing all these posts that I should probably state a few caveats.  I'm not an expert tailor - or even an expert at sewing.  I'm just a lady who really likes to make, and think and read and learn about tailoring.  Over the last year of making blazers I've learned a lot of new techniques and discovered some things that work better for me than the instructions given in my pattern.  I wrote this series to pass on the things I've learned.

So don't take my methods as written in stone.  I feel strongly that in most things, there isn't one right way - there are a variety of ways.  The ways I've presented are the ones that work for me.  Maybe they will work for you too.

That said, I've come to believe that success in tailoring comes down to a few things:
1.  Slow, careful, precise work
2.  A willingness to redo anything that isn't spot on
3.  Pressing
4.  Pressing
5.  Pressing

Get the idea?

I also realized as I was going along that I glossed over some steps.  I wavered in my explanations between putting down every. single. thing. I could think of, and the idea that if you're making a blazer, you already know quite a bit about sewing.  So if I missed anything that you guys think I should have addressed, please let me know.  I've got another blazer planned for next month - hand tailored this time - and I'm planning on photographing the parts that don't overlap with this series. But I can certainly try at that time to add in anything I missed here.

And because posts without pictures are super boring, here are some Polyvore sets I made for my new navy blue blazer - an item I've been wanting in my closet for a long time.  I've already worn it with this outfit and I felt fabulous:

I'm hoping to wear this one soon:

Here's a set I made back in the spring.  That's how long I've been planning this jacket!  I probably won't be able to wear this until next spring now.

And a couple more:

Is anybody else on the Polyvore bandwagon?  It's one of my favorite toys.  I'm not great at making creative sets, but these work for my purposes - they're good reminders of outfits I can make with items in my closet.  I'm one of those people who gets stumped about what to wear when it's time to go out.  I've really loved having a library of outfits to choose from.  It's also fun to look up an item, i.e. "navy blazer," and see how other people would style it.

All right - I think I have finally exhausted myself on the subject of the Navy Blazer!!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pressing and Finishing

This is it folks - we have reached the end!  These last few steps are not complicated, but they do take a fair bit of time.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Get your podcasts ready before you start.

Begin to prepare the jacket for its final press by pinning all the way around the collar and front edges.  As you pin, work the seam toward the back.  Remember that the back is going to change at the break where the lapel turns.

Now go back and baste the edges into this position with long diagonal stitches.  I am strongly biased toward silk thread here as it will not leave any impression on the fabric when pressed.  Don't use any knots, just take double stitches when you need to end or start a length of thread; you want to keep everything smooth.

Now go to the ironing board and press, press, press those edges.  Work it as much as you need to to get everything looking smooth and consistent, shaping the jacket as you go.  I've been known to spend a good 45 minutes on this step alone :-)  Use plenty of steam if your fabric can take it, a press cloth if it needs it, and instead of using the clapper here to flatten the edges, press with your hands or a pressing mitt.

If the hem wasn't turned up previously, turn it up now and carefully catch stitch it in place with somewhat loose stitches.  You want the hem to be able to move with you as you move when you're wearing the jacket.

Once my hem is stitched down, I go back and use an invisible stitch to secure that bit of Hong Kong facing that is going to peek out below the lining.

Pin the folded-back lining hem edge to just below the catch stitching on the outer hem.  Sew the lining in place with a fell stitch or slip stitch.  This will create a jump hem, and you'll see those last few open inches at either side.  Invisibly stitch these down to the facing.

Push the lining sleeves into the outer sleeves, then turn the entire sleeve inside out and fell stitch the lining hem just below the catch stitched hem you made on the sleeves previously.

Now in order to keep the collar in place, you have to stitch in the ditch again. You'll be stitching from shoulder seam to shoulder seam at the back neck, zigzagging from inside to outside.  I admit this part is really tedious - you have to kind of fish around with your needle for each stitch to make sure you get it right in the seam.  If you don't, the stitches will show.

Down to the wire now:  mark your buttonhole positions and make the buttonholes, then cut them open and sew on your buttons.  If you find that your basting around the edges is in the way when you are making the buttonholes, remove it first.  Otherwise, remove the basting at the very end.  Or not - you have some leeway here.  I usually keep it in until I absolutely have to remove it.

Give the jacket one more light press and steam to work out any wrinkles from handling . . .


Go wear your beautiful new jacket!  Or just sit there and admire it for a while. That's what I do ;-)  I always keep my newest makes hanging from the dresser knobs like that so I can admire them for a while before putting them away in the closet.

Happy Tailoring!!