Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bombshell a rant

Fact: this was one of the most annoying items I've ever sewn
Fact: it was worth it*

I feel a little annoyed with you, Internet. For a year, all I read about swimsuits was that they were OMG SO FUN to make and YES YOU CAN MAKE ONE GIGGLES and SO QUICK AND EASY I MADE MINE WHILE DRINKING A COCKTAIL.

Yeah, no. Andrea's recent post was much more realistic (in true Andrea fashion, of course). I made this suit at least a month ago so I think some of the hate in my love-hate attitude has actually subsided, believe it or not. I'm sure I'll make another swimsuit (more on that in a minute) but my first foray into this world was straight off annoying.

This is the Bombshell swimsuit pattern from Closet Case Files (duh), in a straight size 8. The pattern is drafted for someone who is 5'6" and I'm 5'4", but I believe I'm long-waisted and the fit was just about perfect. The crotch portion could be shortened a little but that's it. I made a few small modifications to the design to avoid being yet another boring black Bombshell (btw, I recommend black for your first hides all sewing sins!!). I bought a bikini top to rip apart and steal the cups, and I decided to steal the straps/rings and some braided trim as well.

Part of why it took me so long to blog this suit is because I really did not want photos from my kitchen...but you try taking self-portraits near water while wrangling a 2 year old. Oh, and without getting other people's kids in the shot. Sorry. But as proof that this suit has seen water, here are some not-so sneaky photos from my phone.

First: construction was a pain in the ass. If sewing together three layers (two of them gathered) of nylon-spandex with a quarter inch seam allowance sounds like fun, then you have my pity. It wasn't fun. Also not fun, sewing quarter inch elastic around the curves of the bust and somehow not stretching the fabric. Oh, and did I mention this was with a zig-zag stitch? Shoot me.

Second: it was NOT a fast sew. It took just as long as any other "normal" project (maybe five days of sewing? which for me is usually 1-2 hours/day). To be fair, there was a lot of unpicking on my part because I basted with white serger thread...which showed on the outside. STOOOOPID!

Third: I frequently had to switch between the sewalong and the instructions. Not a HUGE deal because I had the instructions in my Dropbox on my iPad, which can obviously then switch over to Safari. But it still kind of bugged me. Perhaps I was being too careful and making sure I didn't miss anything. Oh wait...I did miss something.

Don't cut out this dart. I cut one side and then was like...uhhhh...that's not right. I managed to still sew the dart with one side cut, but I know that Shanni did the same thing, so it's not just me.

Overexposed to show detail

*So was it worth it? Yes, I think so. It's a pattern that looks good on everyone, which is well-nigh impossible! This is definitely a time when sewing something myself was much more in the budget than buying. I hadn't bought a swimsuit since a trip to Gulf Shores five years ago, and it was a cute little Victoria's Secret number that's completely worthless for actual swimming. Now that I have a child, it's nice to have a suit that feels appropriate for my lifestyle.

Braided trim on center-front

But to continue my contrary nature in this post, it's almost TOO much coverage for me. The front bodice is 3 layers, so it feels very heavy, especially when wet. You need all those layers because of the clever way it's constructed, with a crotch portion and a longer "skirt" portion, but I'd be lying if I said it makes me feel unencumbered.

Here's the thing. I know that lots of ladies have made this suit and they are thrilled with how it makes them feel when they wear it. I get it. Their enthusiasm is contagious. But for ME, I don't need that much swimsuit, even though I think I look pretty good in these photos. My "problem area" is not my stomach. I don't mind showing it off. My thighs? Different story. My boobs? I'd like them to be contained, please. And I knew that before I went to all this trouble to make this suit.

I'm glad I bought the pattern. I have hacks and mods planned and now feel confident in making them happen (well, maybe not confident, but at least slightly experienced!). Want to see?

This is more ME. A bikini, but with a short that covers my way too white and not-toned thighs ("not-toned" sounds better than "flabby" right?). My black suit was always meant as a muslin (I got all the fabric from the remnant bin at Jo-Ann's, I think in total I spent less than $10 on the suit) before cutting into this beautiful fabric from The Fabric Fairy:

I think it will work well with my sketch, better than the Bombshell because I don't want to gather it and lose the beauty of the print. I hope this photo does proper justice to this's gorgeous.

And because I don't know where to stick this information in this too-long post, I also made a bikini top as soon as I finished my full suit. I have a black skirt bottom to pair this with and I wanted to see how the triangle top would work out.

As you can see, I crossed the triangles. I was not comfortable otherwise, although the coverage on the side is great. The band piece is 1 inch elastic. In the back I used the closure from the upcycled bikini top.

Not having any more cups, I took Lauren's advice and sewed in an extra layer of lining (I even used the fabric from the upcycled bikini top). I've also worn this one and was much happier with a bikini version, although my elastic got abused the first time I washed it and I don't know how long it will hold out (now won't that be embarrassing?).

Can you make a swimsuit? Sure. If you have a LOT of patience with yourself, and be honest about what you need from a pattern before you buy. Want to design your own? BurdaStyle just released an inexpensive swimsuit sloper, which would be super fun to have, I think.

Your thoughts on swimsuit making? Am I being a big baby, or is it truly harder than everyone is making it seem?

Today is the last day to save 20% on A Sewist's Notebook. Use code HAMMOCK14 at checkout.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Project Runway preview, continued

Welcome back to part two of my Project Runway season 13 preview! I forgot to mention this last week, but commentor Amy reminded me: in addition to these designers, there will be a "Runway Redemption" contestant brought back from an old season. It will be either Alexander, Amanda, or Ken. If those are my only choices then I'd pick Alexander. I think he was eliminated right before Fashion Week though he deserved to go.

But let's finish off the facts and figures about the rest of the cast!

Kini--Lots of education and experience. He comes from Hawaii so he likely has a different perspective than all the NYC designers. He makes the second designer to list Craigslist as a favorite website (what?!). Has done a lot of cool stuff with denim.

Korina--All designer and not so much workmanship. Anya proved that this is a combination that CAN work...but that depends on your aesthetic. If you're not making maxi dresses every week than you probably can't get by on ideas alone. A lot of her work is asymmetrical, which drives me bonkers.

Kristine--Now this girl I like! Although her work is a bit crazy. Seems realistic about fashion as a business, but that doesn't limit her creatively. And THIS: Fashion must? Fashion as a style: Wear what you are confident about and what expresses your true self.

The Mitchell Perry--Okay, I wanted to dislike this guy because of how he phrases his name (apparently the domain name was already taken), but he won me over with one of his responses to the online Q&A. In case you've never read one of those, the producers always ask the designers what they would design for Michelle Obama. After all these years, I'm so tired of this question. The Mitchel Perry responded with a similar sentiment, that he wouldn't necessarily want to design for her. THANK YOU!

Nzinga--Uh oh, she lists estimating time for garment completion as a weakness. Her designs are very soft and pretty, which always goes over well with the judges. As long as she doesn't get too ambitious with a zillion yards of pleating!

Samantha--It took my approximately 30 seconds to read her entire Q&A, that's how brief she was. Her portfolio was a strange mix of torture devices and easy separates. The only remotely unique thing she said was that she hates open shower curtains. So...there's that.

Sandhya--Watched PR from her native India for years, but only recently could apply due to moving to the states. I respect that a lot, since many contestants don't even watch the show, which irks me. Some of her fabric choices were so colorful that it was hard to make sense of the style lines.

Sean--He lists Uggs as his most-hated fashion faux pas, so we can be best friends. All of the photos in his online bio are of menswear...I hope someone mentioned to him that this show primarily designs for women? Also, he's from New Zealand, so I probably will be so busy listening to his accent that he could design a paper sack and I'd want him to be safe.

Tim--His mom taught him to sew. He says that when he was a kid, if he didn't like his hand-me-downs he was told to alter them to his liking. Ha! Sadly, he has a vest obsession. I hope it doesn't show up in all his designs. His background is mostly in tailoring, so I worry for him if there's an eveningwear challenge.

Between the first batch and this group, does anybody stand out to you? If I have to make a prediction (and you all demanded one, right?) then I'd guess Angela will be first out (or maybe Fäde), and my guess for a winner will be Carrie or Emmanuel. Project Runway premieres Thursday night at 9pm/est, and I'll be there with a glass of vino! Check back Friday for the first episode recap!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Knit Finishes Part 3: Narrow Hem

Hello again fellow sewists! Ready for another explanation of a knit finish?

Last week I wrote about one of my favorite knit finishes (binding) so why not follow that up with one of my least favorites? The dreaded narrow hem! But don't worry, I've got plenty of tips and tricks to help you.

A narrow hem is one of the laziest finishes (in my humble opinion) but is inexplicably the most common one called for in patterns (the Big 4, at least). Part of why it's so common is its versatility; you can sew a narrow hem on any opening. I've most often seen it along a neckline, bodice/skirt hem, and sleeveless armhole. Personally, I prefer a deep hem (at least 1") on the bodice of a shirt, though there is an argument to be made about bulk if your knit is medium to heavy weight. A curved skirt hem also needs a narrow hem to make easing the curve less difficult to sew.

A narrow hem is sewn exactly as it sounds. The fabric is turned to the wrong side by the amount allotted in the pattern.

If you're having trouble getting your pins into the hem, try pinning directly into your ironing board. Give it a good press with the appropriate amount of heat (high heat for natural fibers, low heat for polyester). Sew it down. Since knits do not fray, there is no need to turn the hem back a second time.

After the hem is sewn, press it again, with steam. The steam will help eliminate any waviness that appears as you're sewing the hem. You'll notice that I've used a straight stitch here. This is an arm opening for a Coastal Breeze Dress and it does not need to stretch to go over my body. I see no reason to use stretchy stitches (zig-zag, stretch stitch) unless absolutely necessary, so I use a straight stitch often on knits.

There are a few tricks you can use to make sewing narrow hems easier and to hopefully eliminate waves before they even appear. Waviness happens when your knit is stretched through the machine due to the contact between the feed dogs and the presser foot. If you have the ability to adjust the pressure foot pressure, trying reducing the pressure.

This is the presser foot pressure dial on my serger.
Sadly, my regular machine doesn't have one :(

If the fabric is lightweight and is being sucked down into your sewing machine, try using a stabilizing paper (here is a great article from Threads about stabilizers). I've never used a commercial stabilizer, but I've had lots of success with regular old tissue paper.

Place the tissue paper under the fabric and sew like normal. The paper provides more surface area for the feed dogs and prevents the fabric from disappearing down into the machine. Afterward, carefully pull the tissue paper away from the line of stitching.

Use tweezers to pull out leftover pieces. I recommend using tissue paper only on washable garments, as a quick trip through the washing machine will eliminate any pieces that are totally stuck under the thread. If your garment is not washable, then try to match the color of the paper with the color of your garment to hide any lingering shreds.

If you're working with a synthetic fabric, it might be nearly impossible to get it to stay flat long enough for you to sew it. In that case, I have a fantastic notion that will save you hours of headaches:

This tape is sticky on both sides, is a quarter inch wide, and dissolves in the wash. At my Jo-Ann Fabrics it is sold with the quilting notions, not the garment notions. It's also available from Amazon (affiliate link). Sadly, I've only found it in a quarter inch width. It's perfect for narrow hems, but I'd love if it came in a half inch (I've never used them, but I've heard good things about Emma Seabrooks' knit tapes as well).

To use, unroll it and stick it down on the raw edge of your fabric, on the wrong side. Remove the backing tape, and then fold.

The tape provides stability for a narrow, slippery hem, and works particularly great with unpressable synthetics. This tape is far superior to Steam-a-Seam, as it washes away and leaves your hem soft and natural.

Lastly, you can use clear elastic in a narrow hem in exactly the way I described for the dissolving tape. There is no need to stretch the elastic as you sew, it's simply there to provide stability and prevent your hem from sagging out over time. I've had success with this technique in a neckline of a boatneck tunic, as well as the front of a wrap dress. On this wrap dress, I used a glue stick to stick get the elastic to stay in place along the raw edge. I zig-zagged it down, then turned it to the wrong side and topstitched.

Wrong side, wrap dress

Right side

Who knew the most "simple" finish could require so many tricks? I'll be honest, it's been a long time since I've used a narrow hem, but on certain garments it's the only method you have available.

Next week: fold-over elastic (my nemesis!)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Project Runway preview!

Can you believe it's been seven months since Project Runway: All Stars ended, and three months since Under the Gunn?! It's been nine months since a "real" season of PR! Holy moley! In this desert wasteland of TV known as "summer" it will be nice to have something new to watch. Don't worry about me, I've been spending plenty of time outdoors, but by 9pm I'm comfortably settled in my jammies and ready to veg out.

I've taken a look at this season's contestants and done the hard work for you. Here's a quick summary of my impressions!

Alexander--1st time auditioning, loves black, wouldn't mind a team challenge: It all depends who is on my team, however I like the idea of being able to bounce ideas around and collaborating to make a strong look.

Angela--Honestly answered that she's not sure she could win, she could "have a bad day" and be eliminated. That's totally me! But she sounds very hard-working and determined, though inexperienced as she recently changed careers.

Carrie--Listed pink as one of her favorite colors, so a win for me! She has a lifetime of experience and can work quickly, which is always an advantage. However, her designs are intricate, and she might be one to run out of time and throw out a bad look.

Char--She's wearing jeans and a t-shirt in her photo online. I love her already. She's self-taught and listed knits as a favorite. She has some cool photos in her portfolio, but I have a hard time seeing a clear message about "who she is as a designer" which always riles up the judges for some reason.

Emily--She didn't make a huge impression on me, but she works at Britex, which is cool. Another knits lover. Could be a dark horse.

Emmanuel--I think he'll be a strong competitor. His portfolio shows a lot of range, from complicated menswear to simple, beautiful dresses. He has a lot of education and professional experience.

Fäde--"I used to cook until I bought a sewing machine, since then no time for anything else." Amen! That's how I feel. I'm not sure he has enough experience to go very far.

Hernan--He's already presented at Fashion Week. Kind of tight-lipped in his Q&A, but hey, at least he mentioned Heidi as one of his super model muses! She hardly ever gets a mention for some odd reason!

Jefferson--Claims to have a good sense of proportion, and I can see that in his work. Otherwise he seemed "completely ordinary in the best way" (any other Frozen watchers out there?).

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Mine too. This is only half the contestants. Stay tuned until next week and I'll review the rest! Project Runway premieres Thursday, July 24th at 9pm/est!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My First Renfrew

Oh. My. Word.

It's taken me TWO MONTHS to blog this shirt. I whipped it up back in May (you can see it as part of MMM here) and kept meaning to blog it ASAP.

However, every time it came out of the laundry, it was on me within 24 hours (the "Golden Boy" of shirts as I just saw on an episode of Seinfeld). And then I'd forget to take pictures, and then I'd wear it to bed...anyway, enough excuses!

Altered pattern piece, back bodice.
The portion to the left of the green line was removed.

This is the Sewaholic Renfrew in a size 4 with significant width removed from the center-back along the shoulders, following this excellent tutorial. I think I removed maybe an inch (on the fold, so 2 inches!) and it's still not enough, as evidenced by some back neck gape. I have seriously narrow shoulders.

The fabric is a cotton/spandex knit from Girl Charlee. It is SO. SOFT. The bands on the sleeves and neckline are a solid black cotton/spandex, also from GC.

This was my first time sewing a V-neck, and the results are pretty good for a first try, I think. Black hides all sewing sins!

I went with the V-neck in order to keep this somewhat masculine print from overwhelming me and making the shirt look like boys' pajamas. I LOVE a V-neck, I think it's super flattering, so expect most of my Renfrews to go that route. And of course, there will be more! 

I've got a bunch planned (and apparently they're all striped!), but I'm waiting for a good time to sit down and make them all assembly-line style. Probably soon. I'm in love with the way this pattern is drafted, with just the right amount of ease through the torso, sleeves that are a cinch to sew in the flat, and yet it doesn't look sloppy at all. I made this one during ONE toddler nap (just the sewing, anyway, not cutting). How can you beat that? Especially for my first time making this pattern.

I did try a new trick for serging in the round, which I read about in Serger Secrets (I think it was that book, anyway...). Basically, you cut a rectangle out of the seam allowance, creating a "starting point" to begin your serging:

Serge around in a circle and meet up with your start point. The only disadvantage, which I figured out AFTER I'd already started, was that my serger could not accommodate the full seam allowance. My bands are bigger than called for because of it. No biggie, and next time I want to try this, I'll trim the seam allowances first.

There isn't much more to say about this pattern than what's been said before, so I'll leave it at that. Add me to the list of Renfrew-lovers!