Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gussets on Parade! The Finished Wiggle Dress

So, when I wrote about gussets a week or so back, you all seemed pretty intrigued. But were you intrigued enough to want to see pictures of my armpits?

That is the question.

Anyway, here is the finished dress. See how the kimono sleeves fit closely, thanks to our friend gussets?




I designed this dress pattern. It is directly inspired by a certain Mad Men character; I'm sure you can't guess which one. I suppose I can tell you now that the pattern will be in my book. So I hope you like it!

This version is made from Harris tweed, the real stuff. It has such interesting depth of color. In some pictures it looks purple; in others, it's red. It's fully lined and very comfortable to wear.

Also, it looks great with my new leather gloves and a little jacket.

Keep calm and sew on, indeed!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Other Favorite Patternmaking Book

I've been doing a lot of patternmaking recently, and I realized I haven't written about a reference book that I use all the time. I have mentioned (on several occasions) my love for Dress Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis (updated edition available here), and I think that's a great one for beginners and anyone casually interested in altering patterns to make their own designs. But if you ever find yourself making patterns for professional purposes, you will probably want a more comprehensive and technical book. That's where Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong comes in. (I have the 4th edition; there's also a 5th edition now available.)

The book walks you through the process of developing a sloper set from scratch. But the real draw is the rest of the book (all 832 pages of it), which you can use to tweak existing patterns.

Though the illustration style (and some of the fashion) is a bit questionable (oh, and some of the hairdos are HI-larious), the content is stellar. It walks you through all the major principles of patternmaking, from dart manipulation to contouring the bust on strapless bodices.

One drawback is that I often find myself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. But I've discovered that if I follow the book's directions step-by-step (rather than trying to comprehend pages at a time), I'm always happy with the results.

The price is in line with most textbooks ($95 on Amazon), and it's got the content to back up that price. But if you're just getting into patternmaking, you may wish to start with a cheaper and less overwhelming text, like the Margolis (mentioned above).

Any other fans of this book? Or do you have recommendations of your own on this topic?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The 30-Day PFF Challenge!

That's "Press Flat First", readers! Wow, you all had a lot to say on the subject of pressing seams flat before pressing them open. And while some were rebels without a cause (like yours truly), several of my sewing heroes from around the blogosphere are ardent PFFers.

You know how they say it takes 30 days to establish a new habit? So I've decided to take 30 days to dutifully press flat first and see what my findings are. Won't you join me? I'll be doing another post in 30 days time to report back.

If you'd like to join in this exciting pressing opportunity, all you need to do is PFF with every seam, on all types of fabric. So press the seam flat on one side to set the stitches (I'm still pretty sure that's nonsense, but I'm ready to be proven wrong) and then press the seam open. Take note of how different fabrics respond. Are you getting better results? Crisper seams? No detail is too small to share with your friend Gertie, who loves to talk about the most minute sewing issues for hours on end.

See you back here for a follow-up post on February 22nd, dear PFFers!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Pressing Seams Flat Then Open: Necessity . . . or Conspiracy?

So, when I teach beginners how to sew, I always tell them to press their seams flat (to set the stitches) and then open. I tell them this because 1) it's in the teacher's manual and 2) it seems like one of those cardinal rules of sewing, like don't cut paper with your fabric scissors.

And yet, I must confess: I don't do it myself. Let me clarify: I always press my seams, always. I just press them open only, rather than flat first. Why? Well, readers, I have to tell you: "setting the stitches" sounds like shenanigans to me. What does that even mean? I mean, they're pretty set, right? From, you know, sewing them with a machine? And if they're not "set" (whatever that means), I reckon they'll get set when I press them open.

The two exceptions for me are 1) when students are watching me and I don't want the sewing police to take away my membership and 2) when I notice a little puckering of the seams, I'll press them flat to smooth them.

So, what do you think--is this blasphemy? Do you always always press your seams flat and then open? Or do you agree that this "setting the stitches" thing sounds like a vast sewing conspiracy?

P.S. Also, I got a new iron recently (pictured above). And I realized I haven't written many posts about ironing or irons. Is this something you all would like to discuss or does that actually sound pretty boring?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More on the Illusion Neckline

I'm back, readers! And I have a great post for you today: some insights into the sewing of a Peggy Hunt-style illusion neckline. As you may recall, I asked for your advice about how to sew this sort of neckline in this post, back in October. You all had so many great ideas! I also got an e-mail from the incredibly generous Sarai of Colette Patterns, who has a Peggy Hunt and offered to send me pictures! Jeez, how sweet is that?

This is Sarai's beautiful dress you see here, a perfect example of Peggy Hunt's work.



Sarai confirmed that the neckline is a very narrow hem, as many of you guessed.





Some super-duper close-ups. It looks machine stitched to me. You?

The wrong side:

 The right side:


I played around with lots of different methods to acheive this type of neckline, and I landed on the cheater's method: the rolled hem on my serger. Here's a snippet of my results:



I love how neat it looks.

My second-favorite method I tried was a machine-stitched baby hem, which I think is what the vintage dress above has. To make a baby hem, (sew one line of machine stitching around the neckline, and turned the seam in on the stitching. Then stitch to the left of your first line of stitching. Trim down your seam allowance very closely and very carefully with tiny scissors. Turn the hem in one last time and stitch.) This is a bit time consuming because you have to be certain to keep everything exactly uniform, as it can start looking sloppy with anything less than perfect, even stitching. It does make a lovely neckline, though.

So there you have it. A big thanks to Sarai for the pictures!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Incubus of Viral Plague

Hey readers, you know when you get one of those stomach bugs and you're convinced you'll never feel normal again? That's what I've been doing this week. Super fun. No sewing going on here, obviously. Just enjoyed my first solid meal of plain rice and broth, though--with a dollop of applesauce for desert! (Being on a diet like this always makes me think of Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada: "I'm just one stomach flu away from my goal weight." Hilarious--until you've got the stupid stomach flu.)

I hope to be back to blogging and answering your comments/e-mails/tweets very soon!

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to Sew a Two-Piece Underarm Gusset


Readers, I don't know how you feel about underarm gussets, but I am mad about them. (That's British for I love them.) I wanted to share a little tutorial based on a design of mine, a wiggle dress with fitted kimono sleeves and a super curvy body. To avoid any drapiness underneath the arm, I added an underarm gusset--a little triangular pattern piece that adds width in way that increases mobility but maintains a close fit. The vintage pattern above also utilizes a two-piece gusset.

There are two types of gussets: one piece and two piece. I'm showing you a two-piece gusset, which is a bit easier to insert. It has a seam down the center of the gusset.

Here's the gusset pattern piece. I know the pattern says "cut 2" but you actually need to cut 4. (Oops!)


And here's the side front piece, where you can see the cut-on kimono sleeve.



What you're looking for is the "gusset stitching line." There will usually be a large circle at the top of the stitching line and then a dashed "slash line" that goes down the middle of the stitching line.



1. To start, you need to cut and transfer these marks to the RIGHT side of the fabric. I usually forget and  mark them on the wrong side, but it's no biggie to then transfer the marks you need to the right side.



2. Next, we'll reinforce the gusset. Gussets can get lots wear and start to rip at the inner point (ask me how I know). I've adapted this organza method from a segment of Kenneth King's article in Threads magazine. I love it!

First, you'll cut four pieces of on-grain sheer silk organza (you'll need to see your pattern markings through the organza). They need to be big enough to completely cover the gusset stitching line. Pin a patch of organza over the gusset stitching line.



3. Using a regular stitch length, stitch along the gusset line. When you get to the point, take one stitch across the point. (Making a sharp pivot results in a less-crisp point.)




4. Slash down the middle of your stitching, cutting as close to your stitching as possible without cutting through it.



5. Turn the organza to the wrong side of the garment and press. Pull the organza to the inside as you press so that no organza shows on the right side of the fabric.




6. Okay, here's the part that's a little bit tricky. What you're going to be doing is sewing a triangular insert, which has a sharp pivot point. You want to keep the pivot point smooth and pucker-free. 

Start by matching the circle on the gusset pattern piece to the point of the gusset opening, right sides together.



On the inside, pin along the gusset stitching line. The stitching line on the gusset matches up with the stitching you made in step 3.





7. Start by stitching along one side, with the garment side up. You'll be stitching just to the left of the stitching you made in step 3.



When you get to the pivot point, stop with your needle down. Pivot the fabric to the left, getting all the excess fabric out of the way of the needle, and making sure that there are no puckers before you continue to sew.


Stitch along the remaining side of the gusset.


9. Press the gusset flat.

10. From the right side, edgestitch around the gusset for added security.



Repeat this whole process on the back piece of the garment. Trim away any excess organza from the gussets and pin the front and back garment pieces together, being sure to carefully match the gusset seams.



Stitch the seam and press open.



You now have a two-piece gusset! That wasn't so hard, was it?



If you have a one piece gusset, you need to make your gusset openings with silk organza as above, and then stitch the side seams and underarm seams of the garment, which will leave you with an open triangle. Next you will insert the gusset into the triangle, which requires pinning it in and then pivoting at 4 points. Not impossible, but a little bit trickier. If you want to make a one-piece gusset into a two-piece gusset, just cut the pattern piece down the middle and add a seam allowance.

There you have it: fun with gussets!


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Henry Outdoes Himself!

All right, it's gotten even cuter up in here. Behold the Henry pic of the day! I don't know if you'll appreciate two cat posts in a row, readers, but I think such extreme cuteness can't go unblogged. (Plus I so enjoyed all your charming pet comments from yesterday that I just had to keep going with this theme.)

Once again I woke up to a sweet text from Jeff with a Henry photo so I could get my fix while I'm away from home. I thought yesterday's pic was the cutest ever, but I think maybe I was wrong. The composition of this one is quite striking--he looks like he's wandering through a field of wildflowers! (In reality, that is our duvet cover.) And the angelic look heaven-ward is practically heartbreaking. So I may have to revise my stance. THIS may, in fact, be the cutest Henry photo ever.

The thing about Henry, though, is that he's always got more cuteness up his sleeve. Hey, speaking of sleeves! Today was day two of filming my new Craftsy course and sleeves were a hot topic.

Here I am getting primped by my adorable make-up/hair artist, Danica.
The great news about the Craftsy course is that they've sped up the production times so the course will be available in a couple weeks! I will post the trailer here as soon as I have it.

In the meantime, feel free to vote on your favorite Henry photo. Today's or yesterday's?


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cutest Henry Photo Ever?

Dear readers, I'm in a hotel room in Denver, where I'm doing the filming of my next Craftsy course. I'm pad stitching like the wind and my left eye is doing that crazy twitchy thing it does when I'm stressed. That's why I need to show you this photo. Jeff sent it to me this morning (when I'm away I get treated to many Henry photos by text). I think it may be his best ever. Look at that little white patch! Those soulful eyes! The perky ears!

I know I'm a bit of a crazy cat lady. The other day Jeff told me to stop kissing Henry on the mouth because apparently that's weird. (It's not like there was any tongue involved, Jeez! Why can't a lady just kiss her cat on the mouth??!!) But Henry is one of my great joys in life and I'm so happy I found him. I knew you readers would understand because many of you are crazy cat ladies as well.

So feel free to gush about your kitties and tell sweet cat stories here (the kind that would make you ineligible for a second date). Henry and I are all ears.

In the mean time, I'll be back to pad stitching! I can't wait to tell you more about my new online course.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bill Cunningham, Fashion Monk


Happy New Year, readers! I'm settled back in New York after a lovely vacation, and last night Jeff and I watched Bill Cunningham New York (yay, Netflix streaming!). I was truly blown away by it; it is certainly the most inspiring fashion documentary I've seen.

It follows a period in the life of 80+-year-old Bill Cunningham, style photographer for The New York Times. His two columns, "On the Street" and "Evening Hours", portray a vast array of New York fashion, from street to society.

But the most intriguing thing is his personal life. As I said to Jeff last night, he's sort of like a fashion monk. He was one of the last hold-outs to live in the Carnegie Hall artist studios, and believes in simple living to the point of asceticism. He works constantly, roaming the streets on a bicycle--wearing the same thing every day, eating the same meals. His tiny studio has no kitchen, and he sleeps on a wooden platform surrounded by filing cabinets that hold negatives of every picture he's ever taken. He's never had a romantic relationship, and goes to church every Sunday.

And his work philosophy is certainly admirable: he's inspired by the way real people wear clothes on the street and in life. His approach to fashion photography is very kind-spirited and never mocks his subjects. One of his first jobs was at Women's Wear Daily, but he quit after an editor changed his copy to make fun of the women he photographed.

Have you seen this film? If not, do! I think DIY types will especially appreciate his down-to-earth take on fashion. It's a great reminder of why we do what we do. As Bill quoted tearfully in an award acceptance speech: "He who seeks beauty shall find it." (Just try not to get choked up when he says it!)


Bill Cunningham New York Trailer from Gavin McWait on Vimeo.

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