Friday, December 25, 2009

baby got back--yoga pants don't

Ever since I read Johanna's post about sewing workout wear, I've been thinking about making yoga pants. When I first bought my serger, I whipped up a pair using BurdaStyle Corrine, mainly so I would have an opportunity to get used to the machine while working on a low-stakes project. The results

Here's the front. Not too bad, at least from a distance, anyway. I wish they were a little tighter around the waist, to hold them up securely, and a little looser through the thigh. But then, there's the back...

**Warning! Truly terrifying tooshie pictures! Read on at your own risk!**

The back of the pants is, as you can see, a total disaster, primarily because the crotch length is way too short. This has the effect of pulling the back of the pants down and making them indecently low-rise. I'd be afraid to wear them to my pilates class, where I might actually bend over.

I think I know how I would need to alter the pattern to fix this problem. Kathleen Fasanella has an excellent series of tutorials on the phenomenon of the camel toe and how to fix it, and although she's primarily talking about jeans (and, of course, about the front rather than the back), I think the same principle would apply to my yoga pants. By making the curve of the crotch seam deeper, as Kathleen illustrates here, I could increase the length of that seam and make more room for my bottom inside the pants. I'd also lose some of the total width through the waist and hip. I could add that width back in at the side seam, but since I wanted to make the fit at the waist tighter anyway, I think I'd just leave it out.

On the one hand, this project has a lot of potential as a learning opportunity. I can re-draft the pants and make them again with comparatively little effort and expense, and once I have a good pattern, it will be quick and easy to whip up all kinds of workout pants, which I would get a lot of use out of. Since I aspire to sew jeans, altering the yoga pants might give me experience in pants fitting, and I might even be able to compare the flat patterns of the yoga pants and the jeans to get a sense of how the jeans will fit me.

On the other hand...Darn, that's a lot of effort for yoga pants! Especially since you can buy such nice ones from Target. And since I used the last of my black jersey to sew the pleat-front dress, I'll have to buy some more material for my next attempt. I can't say that it's the sexiest project in my queue, but we'll see if I ever get around to yoga pants 2.0.

the green mla dress

Finally, here are the pictures of my green dress! In my head, I've been calling it the MLA dress, since when I dreamed it up this fall, my goal was to have it done to wear to the Modern Language Association conference, which starts in a few days.

(This merits a quick side-note about English-professor-chic, a look that can be tough to achieve. Especially for dressier situations like conferences, you need to look polished and professional, but not corporate; alternative, but not over the top. As an insecure and sometimes frumpy grad student, attractive young faculty from prestigious institutions with sophisticated, cosmopolitan fashion sense are like my kryptonite.)

I fell in love with this fabric at Haberman's during my pattern-drafting class this fall. It's "Ralph Lauren" Italian embroidered virgin wool--Ralph Lauren in quotes because, as they explained to me in the store, designers rarely commission fabric, but buy samples from textile producers and then sell what they don't use to fabric stores. I love the two-tone embroidery, and I envisioned a sheath dress, with the pattern extending up from the hemline.

Here's a close-up of the embroidery. The color isn't quite true in this picture--the fabric is dark olive green, and the embroidery is done in a lighter green and an aqua-blue.

I drafted my own pattern for the dress, based on the sheath dress pattern I started making at the end of my pattern-drafting class. I copied several details--like the sleeve length and the skirt width--from this beautiful but impractical BCBG cocktail dress, which I love, and which really flatters my figure.

Since I was designing a daytime dress, I raised the scoop neckline and lengthened the hem. I also added a little more ease to the fit, so I could wear it over a sweater. Not only does wearing a turtleneck sweater underneath increase the versatility of a sheath dress, but as Erica B. points out, it is very of-the-moment, too!

All in all, I'm incredibly happy with how my dress came out. It fits me like a glove, and the finished look is very much what I envisioned when I first saw the fabric. There are a few details I would change: the neck is a bit too high in the back, and the right sleeve seems to have puckered a bit--I think because I caught the dress fabric when I hand-sewed the lining. But you can't really see these issues in any of the pictures, which is encouraging.

I've already worn this dress twice--once to a Christmas party we crashed (long story!), and again on Christmas eve, and I'm planning to wear it to the conference in a few days.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

wedding-guest dress

I promise I'll post pictures of completed projects soon--the green dress is done, and I love it, but what with the holidays and the cold weather, I haven't had the opportunity or the fortitude to take pictures outside that will do it justice. And although the pleat-front dress just needs some quick finishing, I doubt I'll get to it before we leave town in a few days.

In the meantime, my mother-in-law (a.k.a my "Other-Mother") has got me scheming about a new project: a dress for a spring wedding.

The Mr. and I will be guests at his cousin's wedding in North Carolina this spring. The wedding ceremony will be in a neat "country gothic" church, and the reception at a historic manor house with beautiful grounds. As my Other-Mother points out, this occasion will of course require a new dress! Here's what I'm thinking:

BWOF 5/2008, dress 127

And here's the fabric I have in mind, a sheer silk chiffon from Gorgeous Fabrics. I've had my eye on it for weeks, and now it's even on sale, marked down from $18/yd. to $12.80.

I'm also inspired to see that the slapdash sewist has made this dress with such lovely results. We're shaped pretty differently, but it's still encouraging to know that the dress looks good on a real person, and not just on the model in the magazine photo.

In the spirit of financial responsibility, I can't buy the materials for this project until after the first of the month. But now that the seed has been planted, I can't stop thinking about it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

winter sewing

It's winter in Michigan. And winter here doesn't mess around--long underwear isn't an option, it's a way of life. So, although I'm pleased with how my pleated dress is shaping up so far, I probably won't get to wear it for months, and I'm determined that my next few projects should be more weather-appropriate.

Buying winter clothing that is both stylish and practical is tough, and sewing it is even tougher. But here are some of my ideas:

A wool jersey dress. This one, from the current BWOF might be a little edgy for me. But I'm a sucker for cowl-necks.

This skirt would look great in a medium-weight stretch wool. Gray would be practical. Although I would have to start tucking in my shirts. And since I have a bit of a tummy, I might want to consider adding boning to the waistband for additional structure.

Jeans. What I wear most, especially since I'm not teaching this year and can dress more casually. Inspired by Johanna's excellent series of posts, I'm considering using BurdaStyle Anita as a starting point. I've already bought denim (the sale was too good to resist), but I admit that I'm daunted by the alterations that will almost certainly be required to get the fit that I'm looking for.

Sweaters seem tricky to sew, but I'm hoping they'll prove more do-able now that I have a serger. The shawl collar sweater is Burdastyle Esther, and the belted cardigan is Jacket 119 from BWOF 12/2009.

Pleated wool trousers. I'm intrigued, but I'm also trepidatious, since I've never owned a single pair of pleated pants in my entire adult life. I think the key would be to go for a wide-leg style and use a heavier wool, to make sure all the volume looks intentional and the front doesn't get poochy. These are from BWOF 9/2007 via Miss Celie's Pants, but there are some similar styles in my 9/2009 Patrones.

And a swimsuit--since we're planning to escape the cold in January with a long weekend in Orlando. This pattern--Burdastyle Alison--must have been designed with me in mind. It has everything I look for in a swimsuit: a flattering neckline with lots of support for a fuller bust, and a style that is (comparatively) modest without being matronly. Even better, the pattern is a free download!

a brave new (serged) world

Mere months ago, I was talking dismissively about sewers with fancy, modern machines. I was just fine with my vintage Kenmore straight-stitch machine, thank-you-very-much!


shows how much I know. I love the look of fabulous tailored clothes, and I've definitely been trying to integrate more dressy items into my everyday wardrobe, but realistically, most of the time I'm a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl. So it makes sense to sew with knits. And my last adventure sewing with sweater-knit on my Kenmore yeilded, at best, a mixed result.

So I caved and bought a serger. (Actually, it's my Christmas present--thanks Mom & Dad!) I did a good bit of online research, since I know nothing about sergers, and I don't know anyone who owns one. I read reviews and compared prices. I also found guides to serger sewing published by university extension services, like this one from the University of Missouri. The advice I found on forums really varied--people swore that both Singer and Brother machines were terrible, although I'm always a bit suspicious of broad, ranting critiques like that. It did seem, however, that people who bought bottom-of-the-line machines of any brand were rarely satisfied with them. Finally, this is what I decided on:

Its a factory-refurbished Janome 3-4 thread serger, and I bought it on ebay. From what I could tell, this was a mid-range model, but because it was refurbished, I was able to get it for under $200. For someone on a budget, I figure it was a pretty good investment.

Having never used a serger before, I'm sure I have a lot to learn. I've read the extension service guides, watched some of youtube videos, and I'm planning to check out a book on serger sewing from the public library. But so far, I'm really happy with the machine. It took me and the Mr. (who has a knack with machines) 30 minutes to get it threaded. And I've only tried one stitch--the standard, 4-thread stitch. But I love the polished results I was able to get on my Mom's jacket by serging the seams, then top-stitching them with a double needle stretch-stitch on my Kenmore.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

a week of sewing

This week I'm on vacation, and despite fighting a cold, I've made good on my plans to spend most of the week sewing. Much of my time so far has been spend on Christmas gifts, including a fleece jacket for my mother based on Jalie 2679. But I've also finished the green dress (stay posted for pictures soon!) and sewed a failed pair of yoga pants. Right now, I'm working on this dress from the June 2009 Burda WOF

Because I've been doing so much sewing this week, we've also made some improvements to my set-up. My "sewing room," aka our living room, has no overhead lighting, so here's the task lighting that the Mr. rigged up for me:

These lights are ultimately destined for our kitchen counters, but for now, they've been mounted in a piece of cardboard and tacked to the top of the window-frame. The rig only temporary, and it isn't pretty, but the extra light has been a big help, especially with all the dark-colored fabrics I've been sewing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

it's a good thing I don't design bridges...

...or skyscrapers. Or anything upon the construction of which lives depend. Because clearly my spacial sense is not the best.

Here's what I tried to do with my green dress project. It's a basic sheath dress with cap sleeves, and its the second pattern I drafted from my sloper. With right sides together, I sewed the lining to the dress at the neckline. Then I understitched it. So far so good. Then, with right sides together...

...I sewed all the way around the armhole. Yes I did. And if you've ever sewed a lined sleeveless dress before, or if you have a modicum of spacial sense (which I clearly don't), you realize that a dress sewn this way can't be turned. Believe me, I tried.

Here's the armhole seam that I tried to sew.

Not one to give up easily, I checked out the armhole on a similar ready-to-wear dress. It's clearly constructed in the way I had in mind: The lining is machine-sewed to the dress, and then understitched on the lower edge.

So what secret did the folks at BCBG know that I didn't? Things became clearer when I checked out the instructions from a pattern in my stash, Butterick 5147, which includes a fully-lined sleeveless dress. Here's how they pull it off.

First, you sew the dress and the lining, right sides together, at the neck and armhole edges. At this point, the center back and side seams are still open. This is critical, and I never would have though of it on my own.

Then, you turn the dress right-side out by pulling the two back pieces through the narrow openings between the neckline seam and the armhole seam. Again, I never would have thought of this.

Finally, you open out the lining and sew the side seams of both the lining and the dress in one go.

The Butterick pattern has you installing the zipper "the home-sewing way," but I don't think there's anything stopping you from sewing it Kathleen's way if you leave the edges of the neckline seam open at the center back until the zipper goes in. I admit, I won't be finding out for this project, since I'm planning on hand-sewing my armholes. But at least I'll know for next time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

a meditation

Three ways that sewing is like writing a dissertation:
1. at the start, you may not realize what you're getting yourself into
2. everything takes at least 50% longer than you imagine it will
3. you don't always recognize a mistake until after you've made it

Three ways sewing is not like writing a dissertation:
1. it is a form of self-expression that many people understand and identify with
2. aesthetic considerations are as important as practical ones
3. the process is sensory and tactile, and the results are tangible

recent projects

I've known how to sew since I was a kid, but until recently, I've never been able to sew clothes that were genuinely wearable. Either the fit was off, the construction was shoddy, or the design was ill-conceived. But this fall, I decided it was time to up my game and signed up for a pattern-making class at Haberman Fabrics in Royal Oak.
Here are some of the projects I've been inspired to try since then:

the belted jacket

This jacket is based on Simplicity 3631. I tried to sew this jacket last year, but wasn't pleased with how it came out. This time, I used 100% wool, which made a huge difference, and I narrowed the sleeves to make the flare less extreme. I also used french seams for the first time, thanks to this helpful tutorial from the blog Sew, Mama, Sew!. By the time I finished sewing the jacket, I had more or less missed the season for it. But it's one of the first garments I've sewed that didn't look or feel "homemade," even on the inside.

the yellow cashmere coat

This was an ambitious project for me, and it was definitely a learning experience. I used Butterick 5145, and fabulous yellow cashmere coating from Haberman's that I absolutely adore. There were a lot of firsts for this project: first time sewing with coating, first time using shoulder pads, first time sewing a lined jacket of any kind. The finished product definitely has some issues, but I think it's still wear-able, and I really like some of the design elements, like the ribbon I used to attach the buttons.

the funky wool skirt

This skirt is the first pattern I've drafted myself after creating a sloper in my pattern-making class. The pattern is based on one of my favorite ready-to-wear skirts, which is a real go-to in my winter wardrobe.

I did make a few changes to my pattern, like adding a wider waistband, which I think is both more comfortable and more flattering than the original. I love the way it fits, especially in the derriere.

I also tried a new technique for inserting an invisible zipper, which looks very clean and professional on the inside, and, well, invisible on the outside. Thanks so much to Kathleen and her blog, Fashion Incubator, for this excellent tutorial, and to Johanna for pointing me towards it.

Now we're caught up, stay tuned for more projects in the works!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

hello world!

This is a test of my brand-spanking-new sewing blog!