Navelgazing, Sewing

A new year, a new start

I had so many plans for other posts that never got written. Things have been chaotic here because I accepted a job offer in Seattle. I will be moving in two weeks.

There hasn’t been any sewing around here because of the packing. The packing was eye-opening though! I did not realize that my fabric stash accounts for half of my worldly possessions!

I culled quite a bit and gave quite a few yards to my friend (a newbie sewer). But I still have a lot of fabric! I think that I will go on a fabric fast for the next year. In the meantime, does anyone in the Phoenix area need (or want) fabric? Just drop me a comment and we can meet up.

Hopefully, I’ll be posting more regularly next month.

(I still need to show you my finished bridesmaid’s dress! Spoiler: it looks really nice and I’ve worn it several times since the wedding.)

Projects, Sewing

Gray Guipure Dress: finishing the foundation dress (hamfisted sewing)

Have you ever sewn with nylon supplex?  It sews pretty well.  It doesn’t slip.  It feels nice.  But wow, it is hard to make any hem or finish look nice! I tried a band.  That looked clumsy.  I tried serging and stitching under.  That wasn’t pretty.  It was wavy, gappy, and yuck all over.  Finally, I resorted to serging the neckline and armholes and gluing the serged edge down.  When I say glue, I mean I literally glued it down.  I thought that I had some steam a seam in my notions box, but I could not find it.  So the edge is not fused.  It’s glued – with a cheap school-grade glue stick.

I left the hem unfinished because it wasn’t ravelling and nobody was going to notice that I hadn’t hemmed the dress under my lace dress.  I decided that it was the better part of valor because the only thing that a hem could do for the under-dress was to stretch it out of shape like the neckline.  How ghetto.

This bridesmaid’s dress is really a mix of high highs and low lows: hand stitched silk and guipure lace on the outside, unfinished hems and glued finishes on the inside.

Next time I sew with supplex, I’m going to use facings to finish the edges.

Fitting, Projects, Sewing

Gray Guipure Dress: fitting the foundation

I was going to make a sweet bias-cut silk charmeuse slip dress to wear under my guipure lace dress, but the gray charmeuse and the pearly white charmeuse both looked sad, dingy, and pedestrian under the guipure and organza layers.  I shopped the dress around my stash and discovered that it looked pretty darn good over a pale lavender nylon/lycra supplex.  After thinking about it and consulting with my friend at work, I decided not to sweat the silk and go with the supplex.  In retrospect, it’s actually rather perfect because the colors work, the snug body-conscious style of the supplex dress really highlights the airiness of the guipure dress, and the practical nature of the supplex was a real bonus (I can sweat through it and wash it afterward).

Then I encountered a strange issue.  I pulled out my tried and true (TNT) knit dress pattern.  This TNT knit dress pattern was the first TNT pattern that I’ve ever made.  I developed it through a trial and error process in January.  I made some fabulous dresses and shirts from it earlier this year.  I pulled it out, made 2 changes (averaged out the grain of the shoulders, squared off the shoulder joints), and cut it out.  I sewed it up very quickly on my serger.  Then, when I tried it on, it was baggy.

Odd!  I figured that it was just the fabric and made a couple of adjustments on the spot.  I took in the seams a little bit around the hips, tightened the top of the tank dress at the shoulder, scooped out the neck and shoulders so that the bagginess was less noticeable.  It looked ok, but just a little bit looser than I had remembered.

Then, while my serger was out, I cut and sewed up two other knit dresses and one top.  I made one heavy gray ponte knit for my winter work wardrobe with elbow-length sleeves.  Then I made a simple brown jersey sheath dress.  And finally, I stitched up a basic white tank.  (Boring, I know, but I don’t have any white shirts left to wear).  And they were all big.

Apparently, it was not the fabric, it was the pattern.  I wondered whether the two tiny changes I made had impacted the fit.  … until I tried on the bridesmaid’s dress.

The gray guipure bridesmaid’s dress was too big too!!! The bust and underbust are sagging.  The waist has migrated down to the top of my hips.

I have two weeks.  I need to go on a crash diet of tacos and pizzas now.   (It’s easier than unpicking loads of lace and altering the dress).  If that fails, I’ll just make myself a cummerbund and disguise the excess fabric under a layer of waist-cinching silk.  Or I’ll just live with the extra ease and have Mr. put his arms around me and pinch out the excess in the back for photos.  Ha!

Projects, Sewing

Gray Guipure Dress – Re-Construction

Two months ago, after posting my last construction post on the gray guipure lace dress, I texted my sister pictures of the dress.  She responded with: you should lower the neckline, raise the sleeves, take in the waist, and maybe wear a belt.


I have to interject here with some commentary about appropriate wedding attire.  I am puzzled to see so many brides choosing strapless gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses for their weddings.  I don’t know why brides want their attendants to look like contestants on the Bachelor in short skirts, low-cut dresses, and stripper heels.  I don’t know why brides want to look like hoochies in virginal white.  That’s their choice though.  But my sister gave me a choice of dresses (anything gray, preferably lace).  I chose to make a conservative high neck, knee-length dress with sleeves because that’s what makes me feel attractive and comfortable.  She can wear a low-cut dress to her own wedding.  I prefer not to create any distractions and keep mine covered.

I was taken aback at the suggestion that I lower the neckline on my dress.  I held the line there.  And I refused to consider a belt or undo all of the applique to take in the waist.  But I did agree to shorten the sleeves to cap sleeves because I wasn’t a big fan of the long sleeves.

Making any changes to a dress like this is an ordeal.  First, I had to carefully unpick the lace motifs off of the sleeve.



Then I had to thread trace the new sleeve length, trying on the dress, and experimenting with different sleeve lengths before picking off or cutting out another layer of motifs.


Once I got it short enough, I had to add motifs onto the remaining bald spots.


This is the same spot on the sleeve where I appliqued a little leaf to fill in the gap.

Then, once I had a lace sleeve in place, I had to cut the excess organza off and re-hem the sleeve with delicate little fell stitches.

But I got it done.  I was cranky about it, so I put it aside for two months.  This weekend, I realized that I was on a tight deadline to finish the dress, so I whipped up a nice supplex tank dress to wear under it, which was perfect.  But then I discovered something awful when I tried it on.

That’s a story for next time.

Planning, Projects

Grandma’s wedding guest dress: planning and construction

My grandmother needed a nice dress to wear to two weddings this month in Los Angeles. Shopping for mature women is no fun.  Clothing meant for mature women tends to be frumpy in earth colors and dull prints.  Manufacturers address the fitting issues that mature women have (dowager’s humps, lowered bustlines, and larger waists) by making things large and adding elastic to waists and closures.  For everyday wear this might be ok, but for formalwear, it looks sad.

My grandmother and mother were stressed out because nothing in the stores fit her or looked appropriately dressy at an affordable price.

Grandmother’s waist is larger in proportion, but she is very petite.  She is 5′ tall, her shoulders are very narrow, and her ams and legs are thin. If she buys clothing that fits her waist, she is swimming in them. And she does not like clothing designed for grandmothers. (Who does??)

I offered to make something for her.  Sewing for my grandmother presented a very interesting design challenge.  I wanted the dress to fit well and to be stylish.

The cut was easy enough to decide.  A petite proportioned A-Line dress would be perfect.  But then I realized that I couldn’t just pick any old A-Line dress.  The neckline had to be high enough to cover her cleavage.  She is self-conscious about her thin arms, so I needed to make sleeves.  But LA in October can be hot, so the dress needed to breathe and allow for airflow.  In addition, she lives alone and might not be able to wrangle a zipper by herself, so I opted for a pullover dress.  I didn’t want a pattern with bust darts because I did not have a chance to fit her before the wedding.  After looking through all kinds of options, I realized that my favorite pattern, McCall’s 6102, would be perfect and easy to sew.

Then I had to pick fabric.  My grandmother had mentioned liking lace earlier this year, so that seemed like the perfect solution to the long sleeves/hot weather dilemma.  I went to SAS Fabric (Phoenix’s local discount fabric store) and snatched up one and a half yards of a hot pink guipure lace remnant for $30/yard.  (It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?  I had eyed it before, but couldn’t think of any reason to purchase it other than to look at it and pet it from time to time.  This was the perfect excuse to buy some. I have enough to make myself something nice.  I did need to use a cross-section of the entire yard and a half to get a good pattern match across the sleeves and hems because the selvages are different!)  Then, I pulled out a linen/rayon blend out of my stash that coordinated with it.  I couldn’t find an exact match for the pink, but decided that the colors worked well enough together and that the comfort of the linen/rayon blend outweighed a better color match.  I decided that the lace would form an overlay on a tank dress.


I made a muslin to test the sleeve length and gauge the ease in the waistline.  I was hoping that I would get a cool summer dress out of it.  When I tried it on, Mr. immediately asked “is that a hospital dressing gown?”  He was right.  It’s a wadder destined for the scrap pile to be transformed into facings, pockets, and bias tapes.  But the length is right, the fit should be right, and the sleeves worked.


Still, I was a bit cautious about cutting into the lace, and wanted to muslin the tank dress separately because I knew that the tank dress needed higher armholes than the lace overlay for modesty (no bra sightings here) and to give the lace a little ease in the high-stress area around the sleeves.  I made this in purple linen.  I really like it.  It’s very wearable for the Phoenix summer heat and now I think that I need to make a few of these loose linen sacks for myself.  But I’m going to take this one to my grandmother because she likes purple and she could probably use a comfortable easy-care summer dress.

Purple Muslin Dress

Once I had the pattern and design choices nailed down, the fabrics purchased, and the fit muslined, I still had to walk through the garment sewing process to come up with the final design.   I researched a bunch of techniques and tips on sewing guipure lace before decided that I wanted a really simple transparent shirt connected to the dress at the neckline for lots of movement (and to avoid the 100+ hours of handsewing I did with my gray guipure bridesmaids’ dress).  I stumbled on this gorgeous creation and decided to keep mine similarly simple.  I opted not to use the serger, but to bind the seams with matching raspberry pink bias binding in my dress.  This was not me being fancy.  This was me being too lazy to shop for matching threads, thread the serger, and test the tensions.

I put it together in one day.  First, I sewed the foundation dress and finished the armholes.  Then, I sewed up the lace top.  Then I sewed them together at the neckline.  To accomplish this, I pulled the lace top over the tank dress and matched up the necklines.  I sewed bias tape onto the outside.  Then I flipped the bias tape to the inside and sewed it down.  Easy peasy.  🙂


I think that it’s a success – on trend, festive, brightly colored, modest, and comfortable.  I’ll post pictures of grandma wearing it when I get some snapshots.

Navelgazing, Planning, Projects, Sewing

Project Borg: learning from the past year

Last year, I decided to put my list-making and inventorying obsession to good use and document every item I finished.  Here is the list:

November 2013
Pear print corduroy mini – success, but too sweet and too short.
Gray flannel pinstripe pencil skirt – successful basic

December 2013
Houndstooth pencil stretch mini
Jersey feathers dress – FAIL
Sweatshirt raglan sleeve dress- gifted
Orange fleece sweatshirt for Dax (the dog)

January 2014:
Grey polka dot elbow length jersey tee shirt – relegated to PJs
Deer and Doe Plaintain Breton tunic – FAIL
Deer and Doe Plaintain white jersey shirt – FAIL
Deer and Doe Plaintain shift – FAIL
Long sleeved Breton stripe dress
Fashion sewing group pants – FAIL
Pants v. 1 – FAIL
Pants v. 2 (white) – FAIL
Pants v. 3 (floral linen) – FAIL
Jeggings – FAIL
Pants v. 4 (Brown stretch) – FAIL
Pants v. 5 (Blue and black paintbrush print – FAIL
Pants v. 6 (Blue turquoise broadcloth) – FAIL
Pants v. 7 (Blue turquoise broadcloth) – FAIL
Pants v. 8 Brown and pink pinstripe stretch – (ok, but not awesome)
Ponte and “leather” leggings – ok, but never worn
Black and white geometric ponte dress
Just Cavalli jersey dress – success!
Just Cavalli jersey tunic – birthday present
Grey and teal geometric print ponte tunic
Quilted vest – hot pink – gift for mom
Merino wool leggings– gift for mom
Sweats (green)- gift for mom
Sweats (black) – gift for mom
Floral linen purse – gift for niece

February 2014
Pants v. 9 (Mohair) – ok, but not a rousing success
Brown open-weave sweater knit Tessuti Fave – LOVE
Plaintain T-Shirt (striped) – FAIL (this is where I give up on the Plantain. It just looks terrible on me)
Peter pan collar sleeveless white blouse – not very well constructed, but worn very frequently.
Ikat skirt – FAIL (just say no to fold-over elastic waistbands)
Trumpet skirt – khaki stretch gabardine – worn and loved to pieces (I tore the invisible zipper out this week)
Green sateen stretch twill Marfy skirt – love at first make. 

March 2014
High-low “crop” top with blue and white “sweater print” lawn – love the shirt, hate crop tops.
Marfy blouse – cut out March 2014 (WIP)
Green slim fit ankle trousers – March 2014 (great fit… except the waist keeps growing.  Note to self: use interfacing for stretch pants)
Fur pullover – Surprise win!

April 2014
“Railroad” pants – favorite pants… wonky pockets.
Navy and white polka dot dress with circle skirt – a favorite summer work dress

May 2014
Liberty tank – maybe my biggest success.  I wear this a lot!

June 2014
Blue linen rayon trousers – I wore this one to pieces this summer.  It is beginning to look threadbare.
Sleeveless blouse with collar and decorative front buttons – Grey and white striped nylon shirting –  FAIL
April Rhodes Staple Shirt (polka dot pink rayon) – OK.  Got some wear before the seasonal wardrobe transition.
2013 Winter Burdastyle peplum top – hot pink viscose linen – nice but loose on me; gifted to mom.

July 2014
Tank with scalloped hem – gifted to friend
Striped breton shirt – lightweight summer tank – loved, but then ditched because the clear elastic in the shoulders was scratchy.
Floral Michael Miller skirt – love it, but it’s too short to wear too often.
Orange ponte knit skirt – wardrobe basic
Orange ponte knit blazer/cardigan Vogue 8893 – didn’t like it, but I wear it a lot in the office.

August 2014
Elsa “Frozen” costume for my friend’s kid. She loves it.
2 Flower-girl tutus – success!
Bridal shower tutu for bride
Altered sister’s wedding dress.

September 2014
Mr.’s Shirt: Green khaki
Mr.’s Shirt: Black and white chambray western shirt
Mr.’s Shirt: Peacock print
Mr.’s Shirt: Check print
Purple linen shift dress – for grandma
Pink lace dress for grandma
Navy flocked cotton dress – FAIL

October 2014:
Lace bridesmaids dress – FINALLY finished!
“Venice Memories” – pleated midi skirt with elastic waist – super cute.  I love it. 

That’s quite a bit of sewing.  68 finished garments! It does not include works in progress or UFOs.  Lately, I’ve been working on some longer-term projects that are more complex.  I like being able to pick up something, do a little bit, move on, and take things in pieces.

There are quite a few fails in this list: 17.  Some of them failed because I didn’t work out fit issues.  Others failed because the style was simply inappropriate for me (Deer and Doe Plaintain, I’m looking at you).  And some failed because I’m just not good at sewing things together (fabric stretched out, something cut slightly off grain, inappropriate fabric choices).  Lessons learned.

I am also shocked to see that I do some unselfish sewing: 1 for a friend, 2 garments for Grandma, 2 kids projects, 4 for Mr., 5 for my sister, and 5 for my mom.

The best successes are the garments that I end up wearing a lot (sometimes to pieces).  There is a clear theme in the successes: well-fit, simple silhouettes, easy-care fabrics.  The skirts that I wear the most are knee length straight or flared.  The pants that I’ve worn the most are straight leg and machine washable.  My favorite shirts are woven pullovers (collars are a plus).  My favorite dresses are ponte shifts for winter and linen shifts for summer.  I like a touch of whimsy.  And I am not trendy or fashionable.  That’s cool.  I can work with this.

I think that I’m ready to move on from this particular list… now that I have a blog, I can use the blog to inventory my makes – successes and fails. 🙂


Fabric, Navelgazing, Planning

Project Borg: to raise the quality of sewing

To recap, I make sewing related lists obsessively. They seem to follow several themes: plans, wardrobe development, and inventories of things purchased, made, and wanted. They’re basically like doodles… Instead of drawing pictures, I write notes.

After drafting multiple lists, I can see patterns and themes emerge. By the time the new season rolls around, I can identify the patterns. Once I identify the patterns, I thread them together and create a mental “picture” of my new season’s sewing plans. With the picture of my wardrobe in my head, I hit the stacks… of fabric.

I shop my fabric stacks and start by identifying a basic core. Here’s the core I picked out for Fall 2014:

I selected them based on available yardage. (I needed enough to make multiple garments from each.) From left to right: mauve wool gabardine, rayon glen plaid suiting, linings, and a stretch brown twill suiting.

Then I pick fabrics that coordinate with the core to make wearable basic separates. This is what I picked from left to right: green poplin, stretch pinstripe suiting, gray stretch suiting, soft herringbone flannel.

Then, I pick out fun printed fabrics to tie everything together.  These are my selections for blouses, tops, dresses, and accent pieces:

And here is the final picture of what my fabrics look like all together: 

They are all prewashed or treated so that they’re ready to go.  I put them all in a box in my sewing area so that I can pull them out whenever I want to start sewing something.  I just need to pick the patterns to go with these fabrics now.