Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On Gardenias and Starlets

Thank you all so much for your feedback on my rose dress dilemma! Your responses were passionate and quite varied, to say the least. I kept changing my mind with each new comment! I'm so impressionable. Which is why I feel I must pull out the big decision-making guns: listening to my mother. She feels that Michael Kors-designed Vogue 1117 is to die for, and I cannot, in good conscience, disobey my mom. That's what a good daughter I am. (I can just hear her laughing in disbelief as I write this.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Must. Have. This. Dress.

Did you guys see the Selfish Seamstress's post on Ceil Chapman? It is, in a word, awesome. The fabulous Ms. Selfish herself commented on my Spring Fabric Fever post to say that my Liberty rose print was just begging to be given the Ceil Chapman treatment, as in the mouth-wateringly perfect draped floral sheath above. I am now obsessed and must figure out a way to make this dress. Thank you, Selfish Seamstress! (God, talk about selfish - posting helpful and inspirational tips on others' blogs? Does she ever think about anyone other than herself?!)

And now, dear friends, I need your help making this dress happen.

So here's my fabric:

The first option is to attempt some advanced patternmaking. I could be brave and use my Jenny skirt pattern in conjunction with a self-drafted bodice. I did a quick sketch, and this is what I think the lines should look like. Don't laugh at my drawing!

I think I could modify a v-neck bodice, making it very plunging and then adding some tucks at the center bust. And then the sweetheart neckline behind it looks kind of like a modesty panel or dickey that could be tacked in. Of course, this would require lots of muslins and potential aggravation.

The other option is to take a contemporary pattern and make something more inspired by (rather than directly knocking off) the Chapman.

Some possibilities? I think my top pick is Vogue 8555.

There's always the fab new Michael Kors (Vogue 1167) which has some cool draping at the bodice.

Or last season's Michael Kors (Vogue 1117), with some very Chapman-esque pleating.

(I have all these patterns on order, thanks to the current $3.99 sale!)

So what say you, dear readers? Which direction should I turn? I need lots of guidance here!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fashion Emergency Solved!

So, I was blissfully working away on my muslin for the background dress, when a fashion disaster struck. The weather was getting warm and I somehow had no cute spring jacket! It was a travesty, people. I called an emergency halt on the background dress, pulled McCall's 5525 out of my pattern stash, and stocked up on some navy cotton pique, stat! I'm happy to report that my condition is now stable.

I liked the 60s vibe of this pattern, so I attempted a bouffant hairdo for you.

I lined the jacket in white and navy polka dot lining fabric. (I can't remember if it's acetate or poly.)
Here's the back:
And hey! Remember this skirt?

I started with a size 16, made a muslin, and ended up taking it in a bit at the princess seams. I also narrowed the shoulders. I wanted a "shrunken" look, but I got a little carried away. I need to go to Overfitters Anonymous or something.

I did some light tailoring, which included a back stay:

Muslin interfacing on the jacket front and around the armhole:

And padstitching on the undercollar:

Guys, I love padstitching. It makes SUCH a difference in shaping a collar!

The only design change I made was to shorten the sleeves to three-quarter length, which just felt springier to me.

The verdict? I liked this pattern quite a bit, and it also comes with some classic trench variations. Highly recommended - and a fashion emergency solved! Now we can all breathe a sigh of relief and return to our regularly scheduled sewing . . .

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rotary Cutters: Yea or Nay?

{Image from The Purl Bee}

So, I've never owned a rotary cutter and mat. But I'm deeply intrigued by them, and all the accessories that go along with them - the mats and gridded rulers and such. Rotary cutters look terribly efficient (and dare I say fun?) and like they would make such quick work of things like bias strips. Here's my dilemma, though: I wonder how useful they really are to the garment sewer beyond that.

Quilters love rotary cutters for obvious reasons - you can speedily cut your squares or whatever it is you call them. (Please excuse my ignorance, quilters.) But are they really useful if you're just sewing garments? I've only seen one clothing construction book refer to rotary cutters: Built By Wendy's Sew U, which suggests using a rotary cutter to cut out multiples of a pattern at the same time. Which, unless you're starting a little sweat shop or something, doesn't seem like it would be all that necessary for the home sewer, right?

Also, what about the mats? They're rather pricey, especially for the larger ones. And wouldn't you want a big-ish one for garment sewing so you wouldn't have to keep moving your mat around under your fabric?

Clue me in, please. Is there any reason for me to add these pieces of equipment to my already overstuffed sewing space?

What say you to the rotary cutter for garment sewing: yea or nay?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hello, Gorgeous! Vogue Summer 2010

It's one of the most celebrated days in the sewing blogosphere - the release of the new Vogue Patterns. It's like your birthday - but it comes four times a year! March Madness for seamstresses! (Special thanks to Erica B., who was ON it - she blogged about the new designs before they even showed up on the site!) And hot damn . . . look at 1174, a strapless Cynthia Steffe design. I love everything about it, from the bustier top to the pockets. And the styling! How about the fabric? And the hair! My goodness, the hair!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spring Fabric Fever!

Well, it's that time of year again: the seasons are changing, and I've gone into major fabric-hoarding mode. May I take you on a little tour of my spring stash? Lemons, polka dots, and roses the size of my head await!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Drafting a Convertible Collar

There are two ways to draft a convertible collar: the easy way and the hard(ish) way. We're going to do this the easy way, folks! The type of convertible collar I'm going to show you is just a basic rectangle that gets folded in half. This is what I used on my blouse above, the details of which (including pattern number), are in yesterday's post.

This simple type of collar is best for shirts that you plan to leave unbuttoned at the top. If you want to button your blouse all the way up, you need to do some fancier drafting that allows the collar to roll properly. But for the purposes of making a blouse like the one above (which I intended to be worn open), a simple rectangular collar is fine. I suppose one could say that this collar isn't all that convertible anymore, but let's not split hairs, shall we?

So here's how you do it.
  • Figure out your collar LENGTH measurement. Get out your blouse front and back bodice pieces. Use a measuring tape to measure the neckline of the pattern pieces on the seam line (do not include seam allowances or darts in your measurement) from center front to center back. You can also just sew up the blouse to this point and then measure around the neckline as it is sewn. On my blouse, the measurement was 10". Double this measurement to get your full collar length. So, your collar length is 20".
  • Decide on your collar WIDTH measurement. I wanted mine to be fairly narrow, so I went with 2".
  • Draw a rectangle that is your WIDTH x your LENGTH.
{Note: image is to half-scale. Click on images to see them larger!}
  • This is only half the width of your finished collar. Now you need to add the other half that will get folded to form the entire collar. So add another two inches to the bottom, like this:

  • Only your under collar will be interfaced. I like to draw little slash marks to indicate this, like so:
  • Now add a 5/8" seam allowance all around, like I've done in blue below. Voila! This is your pattern piece.

To sew your collar: *
  1. Lay out your fabric and cut out one of pattern piece on grain.
  2. Interface undercollar portion only with a lightweight fusible.
  3. Fold collar in half horizontally, right sides together.
  4. Sew on short ends, with a 5/8" seam allowance.
  5. Trim seam allowances and cut corners diagonally.
  6. Turn collar right side out, poke corners out with a point turner or knitting needle, and press.
  7. Baste raw edges of collar to neckline, matching up the collar ends with your center fronts.
  8. Stitch on your facings as directed by the pattern.
*As always, consult a good sewing reference, like the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing if you need more visual sewing instructions.

That's it, lovely readers! Let me know if you have any questions.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Not-in-Kansas-Anymore Outfit

Dorothy Gale would appreciate the blue gingham and 40s-vibe of this ensemble, don't you think? This is a combo of a contemporary pattern with a vintage one: the skirt is an early 50s pattern and the blouse is a current Simplicity offering that I made a couple crucial design changes on.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gertie, Girl Reporter {3.20.10}

Surprise! It's Girl Reporter Friday - on a Saturday! Just keeping you readers on your toes. I took the day off yesterday, but I was way too preoccupied with Jeff's book auction to blog. Thank you all for your congratulations . . . I'm happy to report that he landed a fantastic two-book deal with a top publishing house. Woo hoo! Anyway, on to this week's stories - this week we have more ugly shoes, the brilliant rise of Betty White, Lady Gaga in Diet Coke can curlers . . . and more!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Work Week Sewing

Readers, I haven't been able to sew a stitch this week and it's making me positively twitchy. Usually I try to fit in at least a little sewing at night, but it was just not happening these past few days. First of all, Daylight Savings Time made me stumble around like a zombie for the first half of the week. (How can that one little hour throw me off so much?!) Then there's just the simple fact that some weeks I seem to be able to juggle everything better than other weeks.

A lot of you often comment on my ability to get so much done - blogging, sewing, and working a full time job. I don't know that I ever really feel that way, that I'm accomplishing so much. My life circumstances certainly allow me to have the schedule I do. After all, I have no kids. (Minus Henry, who will always be my sweet little boy! Yes, I know he's a cat.) I adore my job and work hard at it, but I'm a mid-level employee without direct reports so my job responsibility level outside of working hours is manageable. My husband does (way more than) his share of the housework, including cooking almost every night. Yep, he's the best!*

But yes, I do have to make a point to dedicate a lot of time to the things I love to do. I get most of my sewing done during the weekends, when I can devote long stretches of time to a project. (Is there anything more delicious than sewing for hours at a time? Throw in a case of Coke Zero and the Glee soundtrack, and I'm in heaven.) During the week, evenings are often taken up with blogging. I usually write my posts at night and then set them to automatically publish at 7:00 am the next day while I'm still blissfully unconscious (Unlike Jeff, I am SO not a morning person). But depending on what I'm writing, I find I can usually slip in a little sewing these evenings as well - whether it's just cutting something out or sewing a hem.

The weeks I don't find time for this stealth sewing, like this one, I feel a little out of sorts. There's nothing like sewing to get you to slow down, breathe, step away from the computer, and just enjoy working with your hands for a bit. But I think it's important to be realistic about what one can really accomplish, and if sewing has to go on the back burner for a week to save my sanity, than so be it. It will make me appreciate it all the better when I can get back to it, right?

How about you? If you work, do you sew during the week? And how do you manage it? I'm interested to hear how others with different schedules (like stay-at-home moms) manage their sewing time too. I'm sure we all have a lot we could learn from each other!

*(Speaking of Jeff, I don't think anyone understands dedication to an artistic pursuit better than he does. He's been getting up at 6:00 am every day for the last several years to work on his writing. I've always been in awe of his tenacity and work ethic. It's all paying off today, when his fantastic novel is going to auction between several bidding publishing companies. Congrats, baby!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Underwear: What's Feminism Got to Do With It?

Yep, that's right. We're talking about underwear today.

Feminists are often (oh-so-condescendingly) called bra-burners as a result of a certain women's lib event in 1968, but did you know that this famed bra-burning never actually happened? In reality, protesters at the Miss America pagaent theatrically dumped symbolic items of women's oppression into a bin they called the "Freedom Trash Can." (Which actually shows quite a sense of humor, don't you think?) There was at least one bra among the items, as well as girdles, high heels, and pornographic magazines. But not a single thing was lit aflame - nor was it ever intended to be.

According to the women who were there, the fact that what lives on from this day is an insulting, nonfactual term for a very real movement is the most maddening thing of all. This article posits that the legend of bra-burning is a media-driven myth, and a mocking one at that. Bras were actually never meant to be a universal symbol of the women's movement (thank goodness).

Today's topic is a result of the comments on my last retro lingerie post, in which a few insightful readers asked how I consider myself a feminist and still wear constricting foundation garments. Excellent question!

I bring up the mythical bra-burning, because like the feminists who were there and saw what really happened, I get a little weary of certain items somehow becoming universal symbols of women's oppression. A girdle is a girdle, and yes, you can imbue it with characteristics of subjugation, or you can choose to just think of it as a piece of material with a certain sartorial purpose. However, the real answer is probably somewhere in the middle ground between those two extremes.

But the sticking point for me is trying to think of an undergarment as either feminist or not. What is feminism, after all? The movement for women's equality. And yes, an uncomfortable girdle can certainly keep one from feeling liberated (believe me, I've been there). But a girdle cannot work for women's freedom or detract from it on its own. Here in the U.S., a group in Utah was recently trying to pass legislation that would make miscarriage a punishable crime on par with homicide. Now THAT is anti-feminist.

I think the mythical bra-burning has sunk into our collective conscience more than we can really know. Hence the reason things like Spanx become major points of conversation in the feminist arena. But isn't this all a sort of sideshow that distracts from the major issues?

In terms of body image issues, I think the question is a trickier one and its connection to feminism is tenuous. But it boils down to this: Can women truly love and accept our bodies if we're trying to Spanx them into an oppressive ideal? I think it depends on the person and the motive. If you're a size 10 and you desperately want to believe that you're a size 8 so you squeeze into a too-tight foundation garment to look like you think you should look, then yeah. You're probably not feeling the body-acceptance love. But if you have a dress that could benefit from a smoothing or shaping garment and you don't have crazy expectations of what it's going to do for you and your self-image, I think that seems like a healthier approach. What doesn't seem healthy is feeling like a bad feminist if you want to experiment with different foundation garments.

As for how this all relates to sewing? Well, in the making of my last two pencil skirts, I've found that the fit is so good that there's no reason I would need a bodyshaper. Yet another point for sewing as a body-positive activity!

What do you all think? I know you'll have some opinions on this one!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vogue Patterns Magazine: Yea or Nay?

We talked about my beloved Threads magazine a while back, and I thought it was time I gave Vogue Patterns magazine its due. I used to think this publication was just a glorified advertisement for Vogue Patterns (and let's be honest, a lot of it is). But I've actually read a couple issues lately instead of just ignorantly judging (I know, so unlike me!) and I'm impressed. In addition to the hit-or-miss fashion spreads, there are a lot of fantastic techniques-based articles.

I think it's worth it for Clare Schaeffer's regular column alone - in this issue, it's about using self-fabric trim on Chanel-style jackets. There's also a detailed article on full bust adjustments with great pictures (not for me, but I know a lot of you ladies would love it), and an informative piece on the ruffler foot.

Things I'm not so crazy about are their "Accessories Updates" (if I wanted to look at a bunch of tchkotchkes and geegaws I could buy in a chain store, I'd read Lucky), and their styling can get a little hokey at times. Just look at the nautical spread this month: some of it is gorgeous, like Vogue 8577 done up in a crisp blue and white polka dot. (Must. have. this. pattern.)

But then there's pure cheesiness: a navy jacket complete with a gaudy anchor crest and military-style buttons? A classic dress done up in this fabric? (If you squint, you'll see that those are little life preservers, anchors, and other nautical emblems. Literal much, Vogue?)

Yikes. I can only think of one place where I'd like to see that print, and that's on the curtains of a toddler's bedroom.

Anyway, back to the positive. The thing I like about their styled pattern spreads is that I'll often discover a pattern I wouldn't have noticed before, like the shirtwaist above. This, combined with the excellent technical stuff makes this magazine a worthwhile read, I think. I don't subscribe yet, but I think I'm on the verge. (Hint to Vogue: if you could offer something more substantial than a 10% off a subscription with a Club BMV membership, I'd sign up for both in a heartbeat! But I know times are tough right now.)

How about you? Are you a regular reader or subscriber?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Should Pattern Companies Update Their Sizing?

Question of the day! Do you think pattern sizing is outdated? We all know that the major pattern companies use a system that's quite old - meaning that it hasn't been affected by vanity sizing or the whims of the garment industry. But that also means that it's stuck in a static, decades-old status quo. Are there changes you think should be put into effect?

I've been thinking about this recently based on my own decision to get brutally honest about my size. I'm thrilled with the way things are fitting lately, but I'm surprised to find out that I'm borderline "plus" or "women's" size. For my BurdaStyle Jenny skirts, I have to cut a 44 in the hips. This is the last size before plus sizes start. I recently made a Simplicity blouse in a size 16. According to the info on the pattern envelope, the next size up is 18W, meaning women's - as opposed to misses' - sizes.

I hope I don't sound like I'm in denial here. If I'm practically plus-size, so be it. But there certainly seems to be a large disconnect somewhere, considering that I wear about a 10 in RTW, which is squarely a misses size.

This definitely points to the lack of patterns for larger women. BurdaStyle only releases some of their patterns in plus sizes. And I know that plus-size women often feel abandoned by the Big 4 pattern companies when it comes to cute patterns in larger sizes.

However, there does seem to be a shift happening in independent pattern companies. Colette Patterns and HotPatterns sizing runs closer to ready-to-wear. For what it's worth, I've now seen smaller seamstresses complaining that the smallest size in Colette Patterns is too big for them. Is it possible that there really is no way to please everyone?

[Colette Patterns Size Chart]

This isn't an argument about whether there's an obesity crisis in our country or not or a place to point out that women's bra sizes have gotten incrementally bigger over the years or whatever. It's just asking the question: what can pattern companies do to better serve their customers? What do you think, lovely readers?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Emma Outfit

It's done! This is the outfit inspired by one of my favorite TV characters: Emma Pillsbury of Glee. As you may recall, I wrote about my quest to recreate a particular outfit of hers here.

Here's the inspiration:

And the Gertie-fied version.

Not bad, eh? Guys, I love this outfit. (Not to toot my own horn.) The blouse was made from a 1960 pattern and the skirt is BurdaStyle's Jenny (which I've made before in black with suspenders). If I had to live with only one skirt pattern for the rest of my life, it would be this one. No joke. To get the bow version, I made the waistband a little narrower (so it came to 2" wide, to be exact). The bow pattern was easy enough to make - it's just two rectangles.

The fabric I used is the "Fancy Italian RPL" from Gorgeous Fabrics. Oh, how I love this fabric. It has a sort of crepe-like texture to it, and it's both comfy and flattering. I lined the skirt in Ambiance rayon lining, and I cut it on the bias. I read that this can be helpful if your garment fabric has some stretch to it, but it really just made the lining very hard to work with. I don't think I'll be doing that again. If you want your lining to stretch, it's easier just to buy a stretch lining, in my opinion.

Here's the lining. I stitched some lace to the bottom for extra prettiness. It's like a creamsicle!

The blouse was made from this lovely pattern, McCalls 5226.

It was kind of hard to fit, but it turned out well in the end . . . aside from the fact that the bust darts are a smidge too high. (Yes, I should have made a muslin!) I actually lined the blouse too, since the rayon I used was a little on the sheer side. I used a rayon lining matched to my skin tone, and followed these excellent instructions for quick-lining. I love how professional it looks to attach the lining to the facing. It became a sort of underlining/lining hybrid since I stitched the sleeve hems to the lining.

I love the look on my face here in this next shot. Yeah, I'm wearing an orange skirt with a bow on it. Wanna make somethin' of it?

And here you can see the skirt length better.

That's it, folks! I've also made another blouse and skirt in the meantime (both 40s-styled) which I suppose I'll photograph next weekend. (It's so hard to photograph anything during the workweek!) This week, it's back to the grind on my the background dress - with muslin number two!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gertie, Girl Reporter {03.12.10}

[My favorite image of the week: the Oscar gown color wheel from Jezebel}

Welcome back to Girl Reporter Fridays, where I channel my inner Lois Lane to bring you the most interesting stuff from my Google Reader. This week there's my award for the most annoying celebrity quote of the week, furriness at Chanel, possibly the world's ugliest shoes - and more!

But before I begin, an important message about this feature: As you've probably picked up by now, feminism, pop culture, body image, and mainstream fashion are important parts of this blog. Throughout the week, I talk about these issues specifically as they relate to sewing. However, these Girl Reporter posts are a bit of a deviation in that the articles I link to rarely have anything to do with sewing. I understand that these posts aren't for everyone. Which is exactly why I do two posts on Friday: something for everyone! Huzzah!

Now on to the stories!

That's it for this edition! Happy Friday, friends!

Vintage Sewing and Body Image

So we've talked a lot here about sewing and body image in general, but it's occurred to me lately that the sewing of vintage patterns brings with it a distinct set of issues. I spent last night painstakingly fitting my muslin for the background dress, and it's interesting that even though the basics of sewing and fitting haven't changed, fitting modern bodies into the silhouettes of eras past can be rather disheartening.

First of all, there's the fact that vintage patterns are available in limited (usually smaller) sizes. There's nothing like shopping for vintage patterns and being confronted with bust measurements that are several inches smaller than my waist. Patterns with a 36" bust are often marked as extra large or the seller will make a fuss about how unusual it is to find a pattern in a particular size. (Speaking of which, have you guys seen this shop Booty Vintage? She specializes in larger patterns.) Patterns for plus size women were often matronly (remember Mrs. Exeter?). Shopping for vintage patterns can make you start to feel gigantic and alienated, no doubt.

I also find that fitting changes needed for vintage patterns can be far more intense and dramatic than contemporary patterns. (Makes sense, right?) I sometimes sew from a 34" bust vintage pattern. This will usually fit me in the shoulders, but beyond that, many inches need to be added all over. With every inch I add, I can choose to beat myself up or not let the measurements determine my self worth. I know what I'd like to choose every time, but emotions can take over. It's easy to start to feel like your body is abnormal if you don't match the 34-28-37 figure prescribed by your pattern envelope.

The other interesting thing about sewing with vintage patterns is that it can be very obvious - and disconcerting - how much fit has changed over the decades. In fact, the fit of vintage patterns can feel downright alien at first. Bodices were often long and blousier than we're used to. Waist seams were sometimes severely nipped in, creating an uncomfortable digging-into-the-midsection feeling if you're not wearing a girdle or waistcincher. The fit can be so different from decade to decade that it can feel like a complete crap shoot when you open a vintage pattern: what the heck is this thing going to look like? But perhaps that's part of the fun of it, too.

And then there are the illustrations on vintage patterns. Pattern illustrations of the past were idealistic at best (like the fabulous one above; pattern available here). It's easy to fall in love with a wasp-waisted dress, only to discover that it doesn't live up to your expectations once you put it on your body. So often the blame can be laid on our own bodies, rather than our optimistic expectations from looking at an exaggerated illustration on a pattern envelope.

For me, sometimes fitting something beyond recognition can be helpful, body-image wise. The background dress has required so much fitting that I've lost track of whether I'm adding or subtracting inches from the original pattern as I go. This takes away the trap of placing a value on each alteration that I do. All I notice is that I start to look better with each tweak. What I've learned most from sewing my own clothes is that nothing is more flattering to my body than a perfect fit, and that's the most confidence boosting thing of all, don't you think?

Thoughts, anyone? Are there particular body-image issues that you've come across while sewing from vintage patterns? Or do you think the issues are generally the same no matter what decade your pattern is from?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Building a Sewing Library

I've always been a book person. I grew up in a town where the library was a converted one-room schoolhouse and I remember clearly the tiny children's nook on the second floor. I love to browse book shops and libraries, and I've worked in more of them than I can count at this point. It wasn't much of a surprise that my chosen career ended up being in book publishing. I mention books often on this blog, and I've recently gotten some requests for a post dedicated to my favorite sewing books. You demand, I supply!

I enjoy reading about sewing almost as much as I enjoy actually sewing. Is there anything better than curling up in bed with the new issue of Threads or a lovely vintage sewing book? As you can imagine, I have quite a collection of sewing books. But out of all of them, there are a few gems that I come back to again and again.

But before I begin, a couple tips for building your library:
  • Buy used. This cuts down on cost, and you can find out-of-print books pretty easily as well. My favorite site is
  • Look for older editions. The book nerd in me loves having the first edition of sewing books. Plus, if you're sewing vintage, these older books correspond well to vintage pattern instructions.
  • Focus more on technique-based books rather than project-based books. It can be hard to resist fancy new books filled with tons of trendy patterns, but I find that these are the books I use the least. You'll get more bang for your buck if you focus on skill-building books.
Now, on to the list!
  1. SEW: Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp. This is my absolute favorite beginner's book. Even if you've never sewn a stitch in your life, this guide will make you comfortable with the basics of sewing. And lots of cute projects as a bonus.

  2. The Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing. This is the classic guide that tons of sewists use and it's a fantastic supplement to your pattern instructions. Drafted your own Peter Pan collar but don't know how to sew it properly? Want to use a lapped zipper rather than a centered one? Make a simple waistband for a skirt without a pattern? This is your book!

  3. The Sewing Book by Alison Smith. This is a DK guide, which are known for their clear pictures on glossy pages. This is an all-in-one reference like the Reader's Digest Guide but with photos rather than illustrations. I use this as a second reference, after my RD guide.

  4. Design Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis. I'm obsessed with this book, as you've probably noticed. I have a 70s edition of this book, but it's available currently as Make Your Own Dress Patterns. If you're interested in making design changes to your patterns or drafting your own elements like collars, yokes, and waistbands, this is a fabulously accessible book that you must own.

  5. The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot. Published in 1943, this is the oldest sewing book I own. I love it for the illustrations as much as the time-tested techniques.

  6. Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto. This is the fitting book I recommend to anyone who asks. It teaches you tissue fitting and how to address every fit issue you can think of. This covers dresses, blouses, and skirts.

  7. Clare Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide. Whenever I'm sewing an unfamiliar fabric, I look it up in this book. It gives all the info you could need from recommended needle size, care guidelines, best finishing techniques, and more.

  8. Easy Guide to Sewing Linings by Connie Long. The bad news first: this book is out of print, hard to find, and quite pricey. But I got my used copy for around $30, which is an excellent price. I have to say, it is so worth it. Lining always brings up a lot of questions, and this book answers them all. I love her method of quick lining. (See the technique here on the Threads website.) Update! This book is available as a pdf download here for only $13.99. Thanks to the commenter who pointed this out!

  9. Threads back issues. Okay, this isn't a book, but I've learned SO much from perusing my back issues of Threads magazine. You can order back issues directly on the Taunton site (watch out for their 50% off sales), but I bought most of mine on the cheap on eBay.

  10. Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire Shaeffer. The classic text on couture sewing at home.

  11. Tailoring: the Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket. All the tailoring I did on my red coat, I learned from this book. It is fantastic. Trust me.

  12. Pattern Drafting for Fashion Designers by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. If you want to get deeper into drafting patterns, this is an excellent resource. It's geared toward fashion students (and it comes with a textbook price), but still accessible to the home sewer, I think.
Did I skip any of your favorites? Do share!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Featured Pattern! "A Simple to Make Blouse for Beach or Evening Wear"

Isn't this pattern from my sponsor ZipZapKap divine? It's just the kind of thing I love: a basic 50s blouse that you can customize to your heart's content. As the pattern says, "This Simple to Make blouse is sleeveless and is styled for beach or evening wear." You know what else is great about it? According to the line drawing, it looks like this VERY similar to VoNBBS's Portrait Neckline blouse, which many of you have asked about (see my versions of that blouse here and here). All you'd have to do is extend the shoulders and sew the darts as tucks!

Not to mention that it's an awesome pattern in itself. Can't you just see it in so many different fabrics? It's available in a 34" bust here. Go get it before it's gone!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Drafting a Peter Pan Collar, Part Three!

{Click here to watch the video on YouTube.}

You didn't think I forgot about this, did you? Here it is, the third and final part in this video series on how to draft your own Peter Pan collar for a blouse. (I used the Sencha blouse, but this can work for anything - dresses included!) Make sure you start with part one and part two if you're just tuning in. And read on here for construction tips!

After you finish this process, you'll be ready to cut out your fabric! If you need visual help on constructing your collar (and couldn't we all use a little extra assistance?), consult a good sewing reference. My favorite, a 70s edition of the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, has fantastic instructions for sewing this type of collar.

But the gist of the construction is this:
  1. Sew the under collar to the upper collar sections (right sides together).
  2. Notch, grade, and trim the seam allowances.
  3. Turn right side out and press. Make sure the seam of the collar falls on the underside, so it's not visible from the top.
  4. Baste the collar pieces to the right side of your blouse at the neckline.
  5. Construct your facing unit and baste, right sides together, to the neckline (on top of the collar).
  6. Stitch around the neckline, through all thicknesses.
  7. Notch, grade, and trim the neckline seam allowances.
  8. Turn the facing unit to the inside of the blouse.
  9. Understitch the facing unit.
  10. Tack the facings at the seams.
And, as always, leave any questions in the comments!

P.S. Have any requests for the topic of my next video series? Please let me know here!

Back in the Dressing Room (Sigh.)

Let's take a little detour into ready-to-wear, shall we? I've happily been avoiding store fitting rooms lately. As you can imagine, I have quite a sufficient wardrobe, aside from the fact that I'm always adding new handmade items to it. (Plus no clothes shopping frees up funds for fabric and sewing machine feet! Yay!) But then I saw the above Tracy Reese dress in the latest Anthropologie catalog, and I was immediately drawn to it. I've never owned anything like it, really. The bodice shape, color, texture, and overall length are very different from anything I own. I was suddenly struck with the idea to make a dress like this someday. But how to know if this sort of thing would even suit me? Well, I supposed I could walk the block and a half to my local Anthro and try it on! And that's just what I did.

The first thing I did was to track down the dress. The second thing I did was to get honest about my size. (My recent remeasuring has certainly given me some new insights about my body.) I grabbed a 10.

So I took it to the dressing room (I actually picked up a few other items on my way - more on that soon). I pulled it over my head and it zipped up easily, but not too easily. I suppose that means it fit. But that's in the most generous sense of the word possible, because what I saw in the mirror does not describe "fit" to me. The draped top bodice hung sloppily. The bust did not flatter. The midsection was weirdly bumpy. And the length! Good god, are they really calling these things dresses?! (Yes, I know how old I sound right now.) Let's just say that bending over even slightly in this would be quite scandalous.

So obviously I wouldn't be tempted to spend $298 on this dress. I tried to focus solely on color and fabric. This creamy beige is not a color I would usually choose, but I thought it was a nice change, especially in a textured fabric like this. And the skirt/bodice fabric was divine - I believe it was an embroidered silk organza. So something in this vein might be in my future, but you have no idea how glad I am I can fit and sew it myself! (Actually, yes, you probably do.)

The other dress I tried on was the Traced Twirls dress. Isn't it adorable?

This fit in an 8 since the sides are shirred with elastic. And it is SO cute! The skirt has six gores, and I think it's actually fuller than a circle and the shape is super flattering. It has a cotton lining with a pink ruffle at the bottom that helps it stand out just perfectly. The bust has very cool petal-like folds. I love the 50s, Alfred Shaheen vibe of this. I will definitely be stealing some ideas from this number!

Next I tried on a couple pairs of pants. (DOUBLE SIGH.) Oh, pants. How I despise thee sometimes.

These are the Widest Leg Pants, and what I didn't realize when I picked them up is that they have a LARGE INVERTED PLEAT right smack on top of the thigh. In case you're wondering what this might look like (on me anyway), it is horrific. I think I'm going to have nightmares.

I also tried the Smooth Sailing pants, which won't give me nightmares, but they weren't anything to write home about either. They were a bit low-rise, making me appear quite wide in the middle. Taken in conjunction with the wide legs, there was a lot of wideness going on.

Anyway, the whole dressing room experience didn't do much for my self-esteem but it did make me awfully glad I can sew. Though, I must say, I'm mystified by pants fitting. I noticed recently that Sew Fast Sew Easy will be hosting a pant moulage class with Kenneth D. King. I'm tempted - anyone else?
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