Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sewing Project: Kimono Dress and Obi Sash

A few months ago, I checked out Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross from the library.

The book is very cute. In my previous life, I worked at a book publishing company, so now I kinda geek out when I find a book that has a creative interior design. The title sort of sets the tone for the whole book. If you're not sewing for a business (or maybe, especially if you are!) sewing should sometimes be FUN. It should be relaxing. So the projects in the book were designed especially to be completed in a weekend, with a restful mindset. There are women's clothes, children's clothes, bags, and even miscellany such as garden gloves. There were a lot of items in this book that I liked, and the patterns were still there (sometimes the books from the library are missing their patterns), so I did make a few things. One was the Kimono Dress and Obi Sash. Remember my obsession with kimono sleeves? Well, I read this book smack dab in the middle of the obsession. Just flipping through and BAM a kimono dress. Sewing serendipity.

One of the best things about the online sewing community is Flickr. I never used Flickr until I started sewing, but now I'm glad to have it as a resource. There is a Flickr pool for this book, and I not only looked at pictures, but also read a little on the community message board before I started on the Kimono Dress and Obi Sash. The consensus seemed to be that the dress pattern (really, all the patterns in the book) ran large, and that once completed, the Obi Sash or another belt was pretty vital to the look. 

Chartreuse cotton/lycra knit from Girl Charlee.

As you can see, the dress DOES run large. It has terrible hanger appeal. I cut out the smallest size and still took it in significantly, in both the flat pattern and after fitting. Without the sash, there is some serious gape in the front. If I weren't nursing AB, I would sew a few stitches on the front to keep it closed. If I weren't lazy, I would sew a snap on there NOW, but...well, I'm lazy!

The dress came together easily, but the fit issues sort of spoiled it for me. After adjusting the front so much to fix the gaping, I forgot didn't know that I should have fixed the back as well. After the dress was already assembled (complete with binding along the entire front and neckline), I realized that I now had a problem with a back neck gape. One of my sewing mottos is "never remove binding once applied" so instead I found myself with a make-it-work sort of moment. My solution? Gather the back neckline.

My hand embroidery skills could use some work.

After gathering the neckline, I secured the gathering stitches permanently. No more gaping! Also, it looks pretty. I'm almost positive I'll need to use this technique/emergency solution later in life, so I was happy it worked out so well.

I wasn't going to make the sash, as I didn't want to take the design too literally and make it so Japanese. Just not my style. But, given the advice on Flickr, I went ahead and made it anyway. 

The flower fabric is a pillowcase I bought at Goodwill (to make into a pillowcase dress for AB at some point). The yellow facing is leftover from one of the Oliver+S Picnic Blouses. The sash was quick to make (I think I spent more time picking out fabric than sewing) but my original instinct was right. I'm not that into it. Instead, when I wear this dress, I pair it with a thick brown fabric belt that my husband gave me. Not "gave me" as in a present, more like "gave me" because it came on a pair of men's shorts and he didn't want it haha.

It definitely looks much better on me, with a belt, than hanging up in my closet. It is a tad baggier than I'd like, but that's okay with me. I probably won't make it again, but this is one of those projects that fulfilled a couple obsessions at once (kimono sleeves, and I had a thing for chartreuse for about 2 seconds). I think it's good to purge those design crazies once in a while, so you can move on to the next one with a clearer mind. Anybody else get obsessed with a certain silhouette or color? Make me feel better!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What I'm Reading: Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing

I mentioned last week that I was going to be off to the library to pick up Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing. I was excited to see what all the fuss was about, and to potentially find a good solution for my pencil skirt obsession. Every time I get on Amazon, they suggest this book for me, so it must be perfect, right?

Soooo even though I already had a stack of library books waiting for me, I ignored them and dove right into this one. If I have a popular book, I do like to read and return it as quickly as possible, so the next person can enjoy it.

As you know if you've looked at her blog at all, Gertie's designs focus on vintage and retro looks, as well as couture sewing techniques. The book follows the same ideas (duh). Personally, it's not my aesthetic at all. First, I don't have curves. None. My knees and elbows are about as curvy as I get. So that cute sheath dress that Gertie is wearing on the cover? Yeah, it would look dumb on me. Also, I don't have the right sass to pull off something too unique, and sorry, not many people around here are wearing crinolines in their daily life.

So, the patterns and designs in this book were sort of a bust for me. Even the pencil skirt had a waistband that I just didn't like, plus a lapped zipper. I wasn't really feeling it.

But before you think I wasted my time on this book, think again! I DID find the sections on couture sewing to be fascinating. Daunting, but fascinating. I'm not at a point in my life where hand-sewing is something I'm going to do all the time, in fact, I only do it when I have to, but it's still good to know the techniques. If my sewing machine ever goes on the fritz, I don't think I'll be able to stand NOT sewing if I have to wait awhile to get it back. Am I going to start overcasting my seam allowances by hand? No. But at least I know that I could if I wanted! And maybe when AB is old enough to allow me to sit on the couch and sew by hand, I will do more of it. But for now, if I'm on the couch, 9 times out of 10 she's on my lap. One year old+hand sewing=disaster.

There were also some great sections on tailoring, boning, and underlining. Until I read this book, I wasn't sure what underlining was, but now I feel like I have a good handle on it. Sometimes you need to tuck things into the back of your mind, and if a particular challenge presents itself, the techniques may prove useful in ways you wouldn't have thought of otherwise. As a side note, I think reading the book was supplemented by my deconstruction of the wool suit jacket that I upcycled for AB's winter coat. Pad stitching, hair canvas, etc. would have been hard to understand if I hadn't seen it first-hand inside that coat. If you're thinking about getting into tailoring, I recommend buying a coat at Goodwill or a thrift shop, just to take it apart and see how it was made.

By the way, I got the okay from my bride friend to go ahead with the Pippa Middleton knock-off bridesmaid's dress. The best part? She already bought her wedding dress, and it's a Kate Middleton wedding dress knock-off. Sewing destiny! She also okay'ed the Oliver+S Fairy Tale Dress for AB's flower girl ensemble. I think that Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing gave me some great techniques for special occasion sewing, and I'm excited to put them to work on these two dresses.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Upcycle Project: Olivia and Oliver pea coat

Today's project features my most successful attempt at upcycling. Considering how well it went, I SHOULD upcycle more often...but pretty new fabric is so tempting! Anyway, without further ado...

Do you like my obnoxious before and after graphic? I discovered the iPad app Pic Collage. Too. Much. Fun!

Even though I completed it months ago, I still can't believe I made a coat. Okay, fine, it's a coat for a baby, but still! And even though most upcycle projects don't use patterns, I did use one for this coat.

The pattern is from Peek-a-Boo Pattern Shop, which is where I also acquired the Ashley Dress pattern that I blogged about a while back. My version of this coat was one of the first items of clothing I ever made. I'm not sure why I thought I should tackle a coat, but I really liked that this pattern was unisex and would give me a lot of mileage. Once I bought the pattern and read the instructions, they were concise and straight to the point, and looked manageable even for a beginner like me.

So, after reading up on wool coating/wool melton and not having much luck finding some (that stuff ain't cheap!) I decided to hit up Goodwill. It was actually summertime, so there were probably more coats to choose from than there would be in winter. There were plenty of women's suit jackets. Men's jackets would have likely given me even more yardage, but I found what I wanted without even checking the men's section.

There were only two things I was looking for when I was browsing Goodwill: wool, and as few seams as possible (fewer seams=more "uncut" yardage). It was just a bonus that I found what I wanted in red, which is unisex and I can use for multiple kiddos if I have the opportunity. Here's the original coat again:

The biggest advantage to this particular coat was the patch pockets. I easily removed them and had the whole bottom of the jacket for use with my pattern. Also, what I thought were two seams on the front of the coat turned out to be darts. Score! I just unpicked them carefully and then opened them flat.

In addition to removing the pockets and unpicking the darts, I also removed the sleeves, collar, and carefully cut out the lining. I took off the buttons and set them aside for later. Once everything was apart, I laid out my pattern pieces. Essentially, each part of the big coat became the same part on the smaller version.

The front became the front. 

One sleeve became two.

The collar became the collar.

I don't have a picture, but the back of the coat became the back of the baby version. The most exciting part was that there was some interfacing still attached to my pieces. The pattern didn't call for any interfacing, but it's a coat, I'm sure it didn't hurt! When it came time for buttonholes, I was certainly grateful for the extra stability.

Even with a lining, this coat was very easy to put together by following the directions with the pattern. The only part that gave me trouble was the collar. Surprise surprise. See collar disaster here. The instructions have you baste the collar to the outside of the coat, and then sew the lining to the coat. It took me two tries until I realized that I had sewn the collar inside of my coat/lining. Boo. Hello BFF Mr. Seam Ripper. So hey, if you want to make a coat, make sure you don't sew your collar inside of it. You can have that tip for free.


I lined the jacket with some flannel I had in my stash. It's pink with yellow polka dots. Okay, no, that's not so unisex, but when it's closed you can't tell. And as you can see, the buttons made their way back onto the coat. And for being my first time making buttonholes, those don't look too bad! I guess the fabric was just the perfect thickness for my machine, as I've tried on other materials and had terrible luck.

Action shot!

The only thing to dislike about the coat is the bulk. Duh, coats are bulky. But something you don't figure out until you're a mom is that bulky coats and car seats do not get along. So, AB only gets a chance to wear it if we're going outside and not driving somewhere. I'll let you guess how often that happens! The above photo was taken around Christmas when we had a ton of snow and went outside to "play" in it. I also made that hat...but I'm almost positive that the faux fur is what killed my walking foot, so I have mixed feelings about it. But dang if it isn't so cute!

So there you have it, a lined, wool baby coat for $7 ( the pattern). Not bad!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sewing Inspiration: confidence

Okay, so confidence isn't exactly a common muse. And if you're talking about your own confidence, it might feel a little self-indulgent, possibly stuck-up. Other than a willingness to TRY, I think confidence may be one of the most important skills needed for sewing. As a beginner, I rely heavily on directions from others, whether it's from the instructions in my pattern or a tutorial I read online. But sometimes the directions of others don't match the vision I have for a particular garment. In those situations, I'm left with a choice: compromise my idea and trust someone else's plan, or take a risk on my own abilities.

A few weeks ago I saw a fabric on Emma One Sock that I could. not. live. without. It was screaming "high-low skirt with thick elastic waistband!!" from its picture on the internet. At least in my head. So, I ordered it. I didn't have instructions from anyone else, I just had this vision in my head. I spent lots of nights falling asleep, working out the details (c'mon, I KNOW I'm not the only one who meditates on fabric/projects/sewing to fall asleep!). Ultimately, I decided to also get some less expensive fabric and make a wearable muslin to try out my idea.

This week, I finished my wearable muslin (except it's a maxi skirt, not a high-low). What I really wanted to work out was attaching the fabric to an elastic waistband and making sure it didn't look cray-cray. The elastic is 2 1/2 inches and it's not in a casing, the skirt is simply attached directly to it. It sounds simple (and it was!) but I was still scared to try it because I had no pattern telling me what to do. I was afraid that even if I could do it, that it would look stupid, not cool, etc. In short, I lacked confidence.

I'll probably blog about the skirt itself later, so what I wanted to share is that finishing it was such a huge boost of confidence. There were a few steps that I was unsure about, but I was able to use my own knowledge and judgement to work them out. And the results are even better than I expected! How many of us have patterns or fabric sitting in our stash, collecting dust, because we're afraid to work with them? Because we doubt whether we have the skills to turn out anything of worth? A lack of confidence can be equated with writer's block; if you don't think you CAN do something, you may not even try.

I say, try it. What's the worst that can happen? Afraid of ruining expensive fabric? Then make a muslin. Don't limit yourself. Celebrate your success and forget about any failures. I WAS paralyzed by this beautiful, expensive fabric, and now I'm free to work with it, because I have the confidence to try!

P.S. Today is my birthday, and I'm seriously considering saving up my birthday money (yes, my parents still give me birthday presents/gift cards...lucky me!!) for a serger. Am I crazy?? I've been sewing for less than a year...but I love knits and my walking foot has quit on me (not that it was always helpful). Thoughts??

Friday, February 22, 2013

Project Runway recap: spoiler alert!

I'm really enjoying this season of Project Runway (I feel like I say that every week!). My only complaint is that I think there's less Tim Gunn than usual. Or I may just be imagining that.

Once the challenge was revealed, I was worried for a few teams and sure that others would nail it. I was totally wrong. I thought Layana and Patricia would veer into costume-land, but they were safe. I thought Daniel and Michelle had great combined skills, but they were in the bottom. And I was SURE Michelle and Matt would kill at this challenge. Super wrong. PS--Michelle, the judges NEVER like big necklaces.

I think Michelle is getting picked on a bit. She's been in the bottom/on a losing team every. single. week. And yet during her critique she was standing by her design and she truly believed in it. Matt was IN THE TOP last week and yet his confidence was nowhere to be found. I hope that Michelle gets recognized soon because I do think she's talented. I again found myself wanting her own clothing (that chevron shirt was awesome...and I may have found an acceptable use for a peplum top, if paired with short shorts it almost looks! must fight the peplum!).

What I didn't like about this challenge was how similar everything looked. Everyone used leather. Everyone did some sort of hard/soft. I HATE country music so this kind of challenge would have been my worst nightmare. Remember the season where the designers had to dress men in a country music band? Ugh. Even though the garments from this week were 8 million times better than that, it still hasn't been long enough for me to forget all the bad bad bad fringe from back then. And Miranda Lambert? I'm sorry, but what she was wearing and how she was styled for judging made her look BAD. However, I will hang out with Zac Posen whenever he's free.

Richard's win was VERY lucky for him. While I can appreciate his ability to keep from panicking about his lining...dude. You bought MESH and didn't immediately also realize you needed to line it?? I do give him points for his Mood tshirt idea (and yes, now I want a Mood tshirt).

Poor Matt. No confidence and given the boot. I imagine that once he gets home and decompresses, he'll be very proud of himself and get his head into a better state. It was funny, when he said that it was strange to "get to be [his] age" and to not be sure of yourself, I thought "he's 30...and crap, I'm almost 30!!!" My birthday is on Monday and for the first time I'll be closer to 30 than to 25. It's a hard pill to swallow, especially when your husband is younger than you and enjoys rubbing it in your face!

I think there are a few "dispensable" designers left, but nobody is truly terrible. I have a few people to root for and a few to not care about. It makes it more pleasant to watch, but also less passionate. Ah well. I'm just excited to check out Mood's website and devour Shop the Look before using my gift card. Yay fabric!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sewing Project: Class Picnic Blouse

Last week I reviewed the Class Picnic Shorts, so this week it seems fitting to talk about the Class Picnic Blouse.

Spurring me on even more is that this week the O+S Facebook page featured one of my blouses (the plaid one) from the Flickr pool! I can't quite explain how awesome it was to simply be scrolling my news feed and suddenly--"hey! that's my shirt!" Very cool!

I've made two Picnic Blouses. In my review for the shorts, I mentioned that I sized up when tracing my pattern to accommodate AB's cloth diapers. Apparently I must think she also wears them on her torso, because when I traced off the blouse, I sized it up also. And guess what. It didn't fit! It will certainly work for THIS summer, but LAST summer she was swimming in it. I made no changes to the pattern on my first shirt, and it was a great lesson on facings, if you're unfamiliar with them or with understitching. I was totally clueless until I made this shirt. Points to O+S for being so thorough with their instructions!

Cotton voile from

So in December when I was laboring over my own plaid flannel shirt, I also traced off the smallest size of the Picnic Blouse and cut pieces for it. 

I like this a lot more than my matching shirt.

You'll notice that I embellished the second shirt with two leftover yellow buttons from my shirt, which I think looks really cute. If you look closely, you'll also notice that I sort of screwed it up and sewed the buttons too high. That's because I sewed them on the yoke before I assembled the shirt (so that the threads behind the buttons would be sandwiched between the yoke and the facing) and when picking the placement I forgot about the seam allowance along the top of the yoke, where it's sewn to the facing. That's what I get for trying to be fancy.

Whoops. The buttons stick out above the yoke.

Ah well. It's still cute!

This pattern is very simple up until the elastic casings in the shoulders. I used a tutorial here and it was invaluable. After doing it once, it was easy to remember for the second shirt. The only recommendation I have is to cut the rectangle for the casing a bit bigger than the pattern piece. Especially with the smaller sizes I was making, it helped to have a bigger piece of fabric to work with when making the casing. You can always cut it down but you can't always add more!

The only change I made on the flannel shirt (besides adding buttons) was to make a cuff on the sleeve, instead of simply hemming them. 

Left, regular hemmed sleeve
Right, turned up cuff

The instructions tell you to sew the sleeve seam (RST) all the way to the end, then turn up twice to make the double hem, and topstitch to secure. To make a cuff instead, I sewed the sleeve seam as instructed, but stopped a few inches from the end (the exact amount will vary depending on which size you're making and how deep you want the cuff). Then I turned the shirt right-side out, and sewed the remainder of the sleeve WRONG SIDES together. Now you'll have a seam allowance on the right side of your garment. Double-fold the part that you sewed wrong sides together, and that encloses the seam allowance. I then hand sewed the cuff to the sleeve so the stitches wouldn't show on the outside. It was simple and a great callback to the cuffs on my grown-up shirt. And yes, as soon as they were both finished, AB and I wore our shirts on the same day!

Two notes about the pattern. Topstitching the sleeve hem by machine (as directed in the instructions) may be near impossible if you're making the two smallest sizes. I couldn't topstitch the yellow shirt (size 12-18m), I had to sew with the wrong side facing up. It's a tiny opening. I made a note to myself to either do it by hand next time, or another possibility would be to hem the sleeve while it's still flat and unattached to the shirt. You may have bulk when you sew up the side/underarm sleeve, but it might be worth it.

Secondly, the amount of elastic you'll need for the casing is supposed to vary depending on the size of your child, but both times I found that stretching it as much as I could (i.e. using as short a length as possible) worked out fine. The bulkiness of your fabric will also affect it. I found I could use a shorter length with the lightweight voile shirt than I could with the heavy flannel one.

So that's it, two lovely picnic shirts. I fell asleep the other night dreaming of another version from some blue pirate flannel I've got wasting away in my stash. Maybe with a little ric-rac or piping? Skull and crossbones buttons? That's the best thing about this pattern, the embellishment choices are endless and will keep you happy sewing it over and over again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What I'm Reading: Lots of stuff!

Okay, so I don't want to give the impression that I somehow manage to read one book per week. It would be cool if I did, but it's just not true! I'm still working on 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts & Tips, which I talked about last week. And seriously, I've got two pages worth of notes from that book, it's awesome! I'm pretty excited because I got an email this morning from the library that they have Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing ready for me to pick up today. I believe there is a general pattern for a pencil skirt included in the book, which would help me with my current pencil skirt mission.

At any one time, I'm typically reading a couple things at once. For Christmas, my husband gave me Fabrics A to Z, by Dana Willard, which I had checked out from the library at least two different times. I don't even store it in my sewing room because I consult it so frequently when browsing fabrics online. It's been particularly helpful this week as I've been online shopping at Mood for a variety of fabrics.

I also keep the current issue of Threads magazine close at hand. I love everything about Threads--except that it's bi-monthly! At one point I subscribed to something like 5 different magazines, but recently I've dropped a couple. Now I anticipate the ones I do have a lot more.

And of course there are is all the wonderful online content to read pretty much daily. It's not a sewing blog, but I've been reading Young House Love every day for almost two years. When I had AB and couldn't read it for a few days in the hospital, it felt weird haha! Some of my favorite sewing blogs are Make It and Love ItLLadybirdColetterie, and the Oliver + S blog (speaking of which, they just posted a sneak peak at a new pattern from the spring line, I want it already!).

What is your favorite sewing-related reading material?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sewing Project: Sorbetto Top

If you have a computer, and you surf the internet about sewing, you know about the Sorbetto top. If you don't do either of those things...well, then you're not reading this review! You can download the FREE pattern at the link above, and you can sew this top up in no time. I made this entire top in a size 0 (including the bias tape) from 1 yard of 58" voile. And it only cost $3!

Cotton voile from

I typically don't work with woven fabrics, unless it's for my daughter. I was excited to try this pattern because it seems like a can't-fail kind of thing, and it takes so little fabric that I could whip one up out of anything. Basically, I wanted a gateway top for wovens, and the Sorbetto did the trick.

I traced off the size 0 and after tissue fitting was concerned that the armholes might need to be dropped. But I decided to go ahead and sew it up and see how I liked it before doing anything. Turns out, it was fine. Thank goodness for my skinny weak arms?

Believe it or not, I've been sewing for 9 months and have never sewn a dart. It seems crazy, but the only other woven shirt I've made for myself was Simplicity 2447 and it used bias cut panels over the bust, no darts. I didn't think about this ahead of time, but putting darts into a striped fabric probably could have turned out super wonky if I didn't put them in straight. I had a bit of good luck and the darts are barely noticeable in their particular stripe.

One part I did struggle with was the bias tape binding. Colette Patterns has a great tutorial on making your own continuous bias tape. From a square that was 11 inches x 11 inches I made enough tape for my whole shirt, with a bit left over. I actually had a hard time with making the bias tape. I don't know why it was so difficult, but the step where you offset the stripes and pin was SO frustrating. Once it was done, I was glad I did it, but it was still annoying. It helped that I had just finished a different top with store-bought bias tape and it. was. awful. I hate making bias tape, but I hate that polyester crap almost as much.

Here's where I confess my bad habit with bindings. I don't double fold on the inside of my garment. You can see in the photo above that the binding on the inside back neckline is raw. To be honest, I don't have the patience (or skill) to press 1 inch tape along the center, and then again in a 1/4 inch segment. Even if I had the patience to press it, I don't have the skill to sew it well and catch all the layers. So, unless I learn to make wider tape or I suddenly have lots of free time, this is my current method. Hate me if you must!

This picture also shows a bit of wonkiness with the bias tape. I'm not exactly sure why it's not laying completely flat. I suspect that when making my tape, it wasn't cut precisely on the bias. I've pressed it a zillion times and it only helps a little. It's probably okay with this type of fabric, which is wrinkly anyway no matter what I do, so it looks pretty casual.

When (not if!) I make this again, I'll probably curve it in a bit to make more of a waist. My husband said it looked too boxy. I also added a few inches to the length and may even add a bit more. I typically like my shirts to cover my waistband, since I'm constantly bending over to pick up my troublesome curious 1 year old.

The voile is a little see-through in real life, but from far away you can't tell. Yes, I know it's February, but if I don't start on summer clothes now, they won't be done in time! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sewing Inspiration: Pencil Skirt

I'm definitely the kind of person who gets a one-track mind about a certain project, and can't stop obsessing until all the details are figured out (in my head, anyway). For months I kept seeing this brown wool blend suiting in the remnants at Jo-Ann's. I must have picked it up and put it back a half dozen times. Finally, one day, it was gone, and I was sad. The only thing worse than buyer's remorse is non-buyer's remorse. And then magically, the same fabric reappeared later. I took the plunge and somehow it ended up being half off half off, so I got a yard for $3. Score!

In the September 2012 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, Heidi Klum goes over fall fashion wardrobe essentials. One of them is a pencil skirt. Sometimes Heidi's clothing choices are...specific...but when she goes basic I think she pulls it off spectacularly.

The fabric I bought has a similar texture to the one Heidi is wearing, but the colors are lighter. Believe it or not, finding a pattern for a plain pencil skirt has been nearly impossible. Vogue has plenty of crazy ones with ruffles and pockets and style lines everywhere (style lines=more than 1 yard of fabric).

Just no

All I wanted was a pencil skirt with a waistband, and preferably directions for a lining. This month's issue of Threads had an excellent article about couture waistbands in skirts. One of the featured skirts was a pencil skirt from Butterick 5391.

Perfect. Simple darts, a waistband, and a back zip. You'd be surprised how many patterns omitted one of those things. A LOT of them had no waistband. The only thing this pattern is missing, which I'd like to try, is a lining. I know they can be inserted easily, but I've never done it, and especially not with a zipper. The only reviews on Pattern Review are for different views (pants), and they are less than glowing about the instructions. I'm okay with that, I mostly just want the pattern and would likely rely on outside assistance for inserting the zipper and lining no matter who made the pattern.

The article in Threads mentioned using Petersham grosgrain ribbon inside of the waistband for more stability. If you subscribe to Snippets, the email newsletter from Coletterie, then you know that grosgrain ribbon was a topic in the most recent issue. Seems too coincidental not to be aimed directly at me! Mood has some great grosgrain ribbon, so I think I'll be picking some up with my gift certificate. They're closed today for President's Day, so I'm being forced (in a good way) to delay my shopping spree and to choose items wisely.

A simple, neutral pencil skirt is certainly not something I'll wear frequently since I'm no longer working, but that could always change down the road. Looking at my wardrobe, I have very few dressy skirts, so this project would be a useful one for me. What basics are you missing that you can't believe you've lived without?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Project Runway recap: spoiler alert!

We finally get a rearrangement of teams this week, and it was cleverly done, too. I was surprised that the Dream Team didn't take Daniel, as he's such a great problem-solver (hello, water and glue in a spray bottle?? talk about making it work!). I liked that Layana was picked for her ability to think creatively and to be feminine, as those features ultimately put her in the top (deservedly so).

I'm kind of bummed that this week was the Unconventional Challenge, because I REALLY wanted to see the contestants go to Mood. My amazing husband got me a gift certificate to Mood for Valentine's Day! I was shocked and so happy when I had it in my email yesterday morning. Not only am I thrilled to be able to buy from Mood for the first time, but there's nothing like shopping for fabric and knowing you can get anything you want. Gift cards aren't just free money, they're free shopping!! But anyway. I will be super excited to use the "Shop the Look" feature next week. I can wait that long, I guess!

Stanley's Dior idea this week made me feel a little guilty. Not having been to school or trained in fashion, my fashion history is pretty shaky. I actually own a book about Dior and haven't had a chance to read it yet. Stanley might be the kick in the pants that I need.

It was sort of obvious to me how team Keeping it Real lacked cohesion, so I was surprised that they didn't notice it until later. I think that their reduced numbers, and being able to work on individual looks (for the most part) for the first time sort of set them back. They all had their own crazy ideas and wanted to stick to them. I give them props for thinking of some lame story about decades to CYA, but then why didn't their models walk down the runway in order? Strange.

What I liked about this episode was how everyone embraced the unconventional challenge. Usually, we see someone whining about it and completely crashing and burning. That always seemed dumb to me, since you should know if you're on Project Runway that you WILL be faced with this type of challenge. It was refreshing not to deal with complaining and that pretty much all the designs were finished (I'm talking to you, Emilio, and your hardware store "string bikini").

Side bar: Lifetime played the commercial for Heidi's fragrance and she was wearing the winning dress from last week. I was relieved to see that the hoochie lace-up back with ugly silver grommets had been changed to be much more subtle. It was the only part of that dress that I didn't like, and it was satisfying to see I wasn't alone!

Winners and losers. I didn't like Samantha's. I thought her use of contact paper was smart, and I did like the mesh over the leaves, but I. Hate. Peplums. Hate. I'm no longer in a workplace so maybe there are people wearing them to work, but in real life I've never seen one. Who is wearing them?? How many times have I heard Heidi say that no woman wants to look bigger in her hips? All of a sudden when something is in vogue, it's okay? I suppose that's the nature of fashion, but for me it's right up there with shoulder pads.

Poor Joe. The silhouette wasn't THAT terrible, but he got caught on a week when nobody did badly. I think that he was starting to see that he didn't really fit into the competition, kind of like when Kooan quit last season. I'm sure he didn't want to go home, but at least now he can go back to selling his expensive cat sweaters.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sewing Project: Oliver+S Class Picnic Shorts

Fun fact: I thought the name of this pattern was Classic Picnic Shorts, and even wrote that on my traced off pattern pieces. It's not crazy, right, ClassIC PicnIC? I'm just trying to justify not being able to read.

This was my first O+S pattern. I had read Little Things to Sew (from the library) and enjoyed it. Sadly, one of the pattern sheets was missing, so that cut down on actually MAKING something from the book. It seemed like these patterns were perfect for a beginner like me. They claimed that not only would I be able to create an adorable outfit for my child, but that I would be taught a sewing lesson along the way.

Here's the bad part about these patterns. They're expensive. I'm used to buying patterns from the mainstream brands, from Jo-Ann's, when they're on sale for under $5. O+S patterns are $15.95. Ouch. The good news is that they are also carried online on sites like Banberry Place, who sometimes run great sales. The only tough part may be deciding on which one to buy! I went with the Picnic Blouse and Shorts because I thought it would be the most versatile. The top has elastic shoulders, which I desperately needed for AB's big ole noggin. The blouse can be made in many different fabrics for different looks, and I adore 3/4 length sleeves for my messy eater. 

The shorts, let's face it, are just plain adorable. They have an elastic waist in the back, a faux fly and those curved facings! so sweet. It has crossed my mind more than once to try enlarging the pattern to fit myself.

Horrible winter lighting please go away

True to their word, I learned a LOT from making both the blouse and the shorts. It was actually last August when I made two pairs of the shorts (the other pair is all blue), and AB was 6 months at the time. I sized up to the 12-18 month size because she wears cloth diapers and has the big booty to prove it. That size fit her great. I tried them on her the other day when we were having spring in January, and they still went on her body, though I wouldn't say they FIT necessarily. They'll do in a pinch but now that she's a year old, they look more like hoochie shorts. Not a good look.

The fabric is a linen/rayon blend that I found in the remnants bin at JA. I got about a half yard of the purple and a yard of the blue for around $10. From that much fabric I was able to cut 3 pairs of size 12-18 month shorts. As I mentioned, one pair is all blue, and one is picture above in blue with purple facings. The third pair is all purple and it's living in my UFO pile. After sewing up 2 pairs back to back, I was over it and never came back. Poor purple shorts. Maybe I'll have another girl baby someday and you'll see daylight.

The instructions for the shorts are excellent. The reason I got tired of them after two pairs was all the basting and pressing. To apply the facings, the instructions ask you to first baste the edge of the shorts and then press against your basting line to get a nice curve. Yes, it works great, but it became tedious. In order to do it neatly I found myself first marking the basting line, basting, pressing, trimming, etc. and it seemed like a lot just to have a nice curve (yes, okay, it was totally worth it because they're so darn cute).

The only part I found confusing was with the waistband. It did not explicitly say whether to stitch in the ditch after folding the facing in, or whether I was supposed to topstitch the outside. For my first pair I attempted to stitch in the ditch and it went pretty badly. For the second pair I topstitched. This is probably an area where someone with more waistband experience wouldn't have any issues, but this was my first. It was a great stepping stone to learning about waistbands in general, but I guess I would have appreciated a tad more hand-holding.

All in all, a fantastic pattern and worth the price to me. I had never sewn facings and I learned all I needed to know here. Highly recommend!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What I'm reading: 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts & Tips

I'm somewhat new to the game, and I'm sort of scratching my head why it took me so long to find the site. It has saved me from buying crummy patterns, and inspired me to take the plunge with great ones. So when I spotted the book 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts & Tips with the PR logo on it, I pounced on it. Metaphorically. What I really did was check it out from the library.

The book is broken up into sections on things like gear, designing, fabric, fitting, etc. There are contributions from the members of PR as well as more famous experts.

Without even being halfway through it, I've already got a great list of new ideas. In fact, the very first tip in the book might be worth the cost of admission (I'm not going to tell you what it is, gotta keep the mystery up somehow!). So far, the one I'm most anxious to try is the duct tape sewing dummy. I'm a little annoyed at myself for not coming up with that idea on my own! Better late than never. I also appreciated the different tips about transferring pattern markings, because I hate that part so much that I never do it struggle to do it correctly.

If you're like me and you don't have the benefit of an experienced sewing buddy to show you the ropes, then this book is for you. I feel like I suddenly have that mother or grandmother at my side giving me a bunch of great tips (sorry real mom and grandmother, I still love you!).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sewing Project: Simplicity 2447

Do you ever get an image/design in your mind that you just can't shake? A few months ago one of the people I follow on Pinterest pinned an image of a woman wearing a sweater dress with leggings and a flannel shirt. I'd link you to it...but apparently it's been reported as spam or inappropriate content so Pinterest won't let me. Ooops. When I buy patterns, I like to buy ones that will help me practice or learn new skills, so I figured a flannel button-up like my inspiration picture would be a good idea.

View A was my target (the one the model is wearing). Just unbutton the shirt and add a sweater dress, and viola! you would have my inspiration outfit. I will admit, I was intimidated. Collar? Placket? Cuffs? Bias-cut woven? These were all things I'd read about, but nothing I'd actually done before. There is a reason why I usually stick with knits. But with sewing, I've come to realize that there are so many things to learn and to try, that if I don't push myself with new techniques, I'll end up with a closet full of knit dresses! Probably all striped ones, too. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way, know what I mean?

This was also my first time working with a plaid. I had seen a pretty cotton flannel at Jo-Ann's and thought about using it for this shirt, and possibly having enough left over to make AB a shirt as well. My local store was out of the fabric when I went to purchase it during Black Friday, but happily for me JA was offering free shipping (or something...I can't remember!) on Cyber Monday. So I ordered up three yards, which came out to $12. Bonus surprise, when it arrived, it came with a note that I had ordered the end of the bolt, and they'd given me the extra for free! It was entire extra yard! It turned out to be very lucky that I had extra fabric. Pattern envelopes aren't kidding when they say to allow extra for plaids. After cutting out, I realized that the two bias panels on the front were the same, instead of mirrored. I wish I could tell you how it happened...but I have no clue. I don't think I'll be in a hurry to work with plaid again. (I DID end up using that bonus yard for AB, and her shirt is way cuter. Review coming at some point!)

It took a really long time to make this shirt. There are like 12 pattern pieces, interfacing, etc. I hate cutting out, so that step alone took probably a week. I'm very grateful to have a spare bedroom for a sewing room, so I can lay out 4 yards of fabric (okay 2 yards at a time), and then just walk out and close the door when I'm tired of it!

My fabric was thick, so I chose a medium-weight interfacing. Now that the shirt is finished, I wish I wouldn't have used any at all. My inspiration photo was all about an easy, lazy comfort, not a crisply tailored shirt. If I had thought about that ahead of time, I would have realized that interfacing was working against that idea. But as a beginner, I know that these little lessons about thinking outside the box will come with time and more mistakes experience.

The instructions for this pattern made no sense to me when I read them alone, but when it came time to DO each step, somehow it worked out magically. The only "mistake" or poor direction was with the collar. I have only made one item with a collar (a coat for AB) but it did not have a collar stand, so I was flying a bit blind and relying heavily on the directions. Somehow I ended up with an off-centered collar.

Collar fail

In the photo above, you can see that the collar is too far to the left. All that empty space on the right looks pretty silly. By the time I noticed my mistake...I kind of stopped caring. Like I said, this shirt took me forever. I don't plan on wearing it buttoned-up, so for now I just flop the collar over and pretend everything is cool.

Speaking of buttons, I couldn't button it up even if I wanted to, because I didn't add buttonholes. I added BUTTONS, but no holes. Remember my too-thick interfacing? My machine wasn't a fan, either. I attempted buttonholes on the cuffs first, since they were only two layers of fabric and one of interfacing, and even that much gagged my Brother. I ended up sewing those by hand. There was no way I was going to sew buttonholes by hand all the way down the front placket for buttons that I wasn't even going to use. 


A lovely buttonhole-less placket 

I'm really glad I made this pattern, because it gave me experience with button-down shirts. I have plans to sew a few for hubby and already have the Negroni pattern. I would have felt terrible if I had screwed up a collar on a shirt for him. I don't think I'll be sewing this up again for a while, but I'm happy to have it in my pattern library.

Love those yellow buttons!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ready-to-wear inspiration: Pippa's bridesmaid's dress

I mentioned before that I purchased a bridesmaid's dress for a wedding this fall. I'm actually in two weddings within two weeks of one another. For the second wedding, I get to make my dress! Yay! The bridal party is all wearing different colors, and our dresses will all be different. The bride stipulated our colors and the length, but the rest is up to us.

I browsed the commercial patterns for bridal/special occasion, and wasn't totally impressed. Having just gone shopping for RTW bridesmaid's dresses, I can say that the options there aren't that inspiring, either! Everything is either one-shouldered or strapless. Or plunging. Am I the only one who doesn't think all the goods should be hanging out during a wedding? Apparently.

ANYWAY, I finally found something I liked. Remember when Kate Middleton and Prince William got married, and everyone raved about Kate's sister's dress? I found two patterns (here and here) that copy that look. I think there is something very charming and classic about this dress.

Butterick 5710

I'm not going to pretend that it's a style I can wear anywhere other than this wedding. Maybe another wedding, as a guest. Pattern Review only has two reviews about the dress, but one is super inspiring and absolutely beautiful. Can you imagine it in a deep red wine color (bride's choice for me) and tea length? 

The wedding isn't until October, so I have time to decide (and to get the bride's approval!). Did I also mention that AB is the flower girl?!? And that I get to make her dress, too?!? SO excited about that. I've got my eye on the Oliver+S Fairy Tale dress. I've been drooling over that one since it came out, but haven't had a reason to make it. With two weddings in two weeks, I now have the proper excuse for busting out the special occasion fabrics. And I should probably learn how to sew zippers. Although the fabric buttons in that blog review are FABULOUS, so I may just skip the zippers and go with that idea.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Project Runway recap: spoiler alert!

Okay I'll admit this straight up: I did not get to pay a LOT of attention to this episode. First, I almost always DVR PR and watch it the next day. Thursdays belong to The Office and Parks and Rec, so those two shows take precedence. So, while watching PR this morning, I was also doing something very important: decorating for a birthday party!! AB is turning 1 on Saturday. Sorry PR, but there was some multi-tasking going on.

Yet another week goes by and I don't hate the team aspect of this season. I know it's frustrating for the people putting out good work, but that being stuck on the losing team means they aren't showcased. To be fair, in the first few weeks of any season there are always people who sail through the middle and nobody pays attention to them until later. I can't say that it wouldn't be happening to the same people who are being overlooked now, so, no biggie.

It bothered me that Heidi didn't come in with Tim during consultations. Some of the best moments in PR history have been when Heidi challenges designers in the workroom. Le sigh.

I felt SO bad for Benjamin this week. His interview where he broke down about finding his worth was hard to watch. I'm sure we've all been in that place at some point, seam ripper in hand, cursing ourselves (or is that just me?? tell me it's not just me!). What infuriated me about his dress being in the bottom was that it looked exactly like a dress that Heidi wears in promo commercials for Project Runway. Do you know what I'm talking about? It's a pink Grecian strap monstrosity. I Googled for about two seconds and couldn't find a picture, sorry.

I was also annoyed about Cindy being in the bottom and ultimately out. This week her past performances worked against her, as Matthew's S&M dress was poorly made and boring. I honestly think that if designs were judged without anyone knowing who made them, Matthew would have been out. At least Cindy used color! The amount of black going down that runway made me sad.

The two winners were so sweet. Kate showed a softer side after being sort of mean this whole time, and Daniel continues to be my favorite as a humble, hard-working, genuinely nice person. His interview about how badly he wanted to do well, tears in his eyes but NOT breaking down, was crazy inspiring, especially as a fellow self-taught sewer. I liked his dress, though I would have preferred it in pink instead of nude, but ah well. I wasn't at Mood, I don't know what they had!

I'm left wondering how much longer these two teams will exist. I hope they mix it up soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Scrap busting: headband

I have a huge box of scraps. And three bags of smaller scraps. So any project that helps me use them up makes me happy. One of these days I'll make some pillows and stuff them full of scraps and feel a huge sense of accomplishment. But for now, I'm happy to do little projects like this one: 5 Strand Headband.

I love this blog (Make It and Love It) and can't say enough about her sewing tutorials. They taught me a lot when I was first starting out.

I found this headband very easy to make following the directions. I used some leftover purple two sided knit from Girl Charlee. It has two tones of stripes on one side, and is solid on the other side. I used it to make a dress last summer and it was a total disaster (another adventure without a pattern). The fabric is pretty thick as far as jersey goes. Since it's two sided, it doesn't look quite as pretty as the headbands in Make It and Love It's tutorial. If/When I make another one, I won't use a stripe.

AB hates stuff on her head, which is unfortunate since her hair is growing like crazy and is always in her eyes. When I get a chance, I'll probably use this headband for a dress as shown in this tutorial. Gotta love clothes without closures!

"Get this off my head!"

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What I'm reading: Overdressed

I love to read. My favorite thing to do when I was a kid was to go to the library. I always came home with a huge stack of books, but typically only read half of them. My eyes were always bigger than my...brain? I've read a handful of books that I can honestly say have changed my life. Atlas Shrugged, Wicked, and Island of the Blue Dolphins are a few of the fictional variety. I can now add Overdressed to that list.

The full title is Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. The book is written by Elizabeth Cline, a writer for magazines and blogs. I appreciated her investigative journalism-type approach to the subject. I was afraid the book would be a sort of hippy-dippy hey let's stop buying stuff from China kind of thing, but I was wrong. It was well-researched and Cline even traveled overseas, posing as an owner of a clothing company, to investigate factories and prices.

There were two parts to this book that will stand out in my mind for a long time. First, Cline quoted a statistic that said if every man, woman, and child in China bought just two pairs of wool socks, then there would be no more wool left in the world. At some point, the consumerism in China will rival the amount in America, and our natural resources (cotton, wool, etc.) are at serious risk. (Kinda makes me want to buy some sheep.)

The second image I can't shake is from her chapter on thrift stores. She made some excellent points about how Americans assume that there are thousands of people just waiting to take our old clothes, and that we feel like we're doing someone a favor by donating clothes to places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Wrong. Cline describes one Salvation Army location in New York that bales up clothing they can't sell at a rate of 18 tons every three days. The amount of waste she describes is staggering.

Personally, my New Year's Resolution was to not purchase any new clothing for this entire year. My goal is to make, refashion, or buy used any time I need something. The only exception is a bridesmaid's dress that I bought this weekend for a wedding in September (I'm the maid--er--matron of honor, yay!). It sounds like a difficult goal, but since I started sewing I look at all clothing differently. But even more important has been the impact of having a baby and becoming a stay-at-home mom. Before we had children, my husband and I both worked full-time (a luxury in this economy, I'm well aware) at good companies. We lived within our means in terms of cars and lodging and most months had disposable income. I could buy stuff without thinking about it too much. These days, with one income and another body to clothe and feed, I think much more about my purchases. Even without any sort of New Year's Resolution, I'm having a hard time remembering the last time I bought clothing for myself. My parents gave me an Old Navy gift card for my birthday last year, and I think that might have been my only shopping trip in 2012!

For all the bad that has come from the recession, I hope some good has come in teaching us to consume less, to spend wisely, and to be content with what we have. I'm no expert in any of these things, but I think being aware is half the battle.

Now if only I could stop purchasing FABRIC...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sewing Project--Simplicity 1716

I've mentioned before that being a nursing mother requires different accommodations in dressing. When my husband and I planned a trip to Tennessee for our anniversary last October, I knew I wanted to make and wear a dress out for our traditional date night dinner. However, having the baby with me would mean a neckline that could work for nursing. Enter Simplicity 1716:

Ah the beloved draped neckline. When I purchased this pattern, I thought I could probably get a lot of mileage out of it. I'm not thrilled about the twisted knot on views A, B, and C, and the instructions make it look pretty complicated. However, I like having a pattern for a flutter sleeve and a shirt or tunic.

I wanted to make View D, the draped neckline tunic, but our trip being in October necessitated some sleeves. I simply used the long sleeve piece from views A/F and added it to D. I had no problems doing so. The whole dress is made from size 4 of the pattern.

The fabric is a polyester knit from Jo-Ann's. I was determined to find a red and black stripe for this dress, for no particular reason except that it was stuck in my mind at the time! I lucked out and this fabric was on sale for 70% off or something crazy like that. Normally I take very good notes on what I pay for stuff, but I think I cut into this so fast that I have no records. Oops!

This project was my first with polyester knit. I wanted a fabric with some sheen so it would be a bit dressier. I took my time carefully cutting so that the stripes would match at the side seams. The worst thing about this fabric was that it would not hold a crease when pressed. I'm sure that's probably true of all poly knits. Hemming was a real challenge. Luckily, the drape didn't need hemmed and I left that raw, which just left the sleeves and the bottom.

I forget what I did with the sleeves, but I think there was just a lot of pinning involved. With the bottom, I tried a trick I had read online of using Steam A Seam and then sewing over it. It...kind of worked. The hem is still ultra-wavy. I probably wasn't using the right kind of Steam A Seam. I've since purchased some tricot interfacing, which has some stretch, and I've read that you can hem with it in the same fashion.

The pattern envelope calls this a mini-dress, and it is. I've only worn it with leggings or jeans. If you wanted to lengthen it and be more comfortable without pants, I certainly think it would be easy to do.

I definitely want to make this again, maybe with the flutter sleeve next time. The draped neckline was perfect and the rest of the pattern fit me pretty well. There is binding on the back neckline that turned out very professional, even though I had my doubts while sewing it. All in all, a great pattern to pick up during a Jo-Ann's 99 cent sale!

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