Thursday, May 27, 2010


We're off on our vacation today, so no sewing for a couple of days.  I won't have my Friday Frock done by Friday--I never got around to doing the buttonholes.  Oh, well!

But I do have something to show for myself today.  Late last night, when I finally got around to wrapping the wedding gift, I realized I didn't have any ribbon!  The paper I used to wrap it was beautiful, but it needed something more.  So here's what I came up with: I ripped a narrow strip of white poly charmeuse from my stash, and used that as ribbon.  I think it's a neat, rustic-chic look--at least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Have a wonderful week!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Brunch Dress Finished

Here's the brunch dress, which I actually like even more than the WGD.  It's simple and comfortable, and certainly more versatile than the fancier dress.


Here's my fabric layout, which ran diagonally the entire length of our living room!  I bought enough fabric to cut the skirt on the bias, but I decided, for simplicity's sake, to cut it on the straight grain.  Now, I kind of regret that decision, since the skirt blends in to the waistband more than I might like, and I think the bias-cut skirt would have given the whole thing a bit more drama.  But as a trade-off, I have enough fabric left over to make another BurdaStyle Ute blouse, which is turning out to be a great wardrobe-builder, and I know the blue paisley will work well in my spring/summer wardrobe.

The dress itself is printed cotton (I can't remember now if it's voile or lawn), and I lined it with white pima cotton lawn.  The lining fabric was definitely an extravagant purchase--it cost more than the fashion fabric!  But it was really and truly what I wanted, and it feels so luxurious when you're wearing it!  I decided to line, rather than underline, because I love the look and feel of a fully lined dress, and both fabrics were so light-weight, I didn't worry about bulkiness.  I both lined and underlined the waistband, to give it extra stability, since the fashion fabric was so delicate, and I think that was a smart choice.

Initially, I had some trouble with the bust-fitting for this dress, but the changes I made to the pattern had exactly the desired effect: the waistband fits close to my body under the bust, giving the dress a flattering shape.   I'm really pleased with the results, which you can sort of see here.  (It's also just a nice picture!)

In these pictures, I've accessorized the dress as I probably will for Angela's wedding brunch, with metalic strappy heels (because everything looks better with 3-inch heels) and my beloved-but-underutilized, paisley-embossed Hobo clutch, which I carried the day of my own wedding.  (My unhealthy obsession with Hobo bags is certainly the subject of another post!)  But the dress also works well in my casual wardrobe, paired with my new navy wedges and my favorite summer jacket.

Seriously versatile dress, right?  Want your own?  Well, stay tuned, because over the next week or so, I'll be writing up a series of posts describing how to draft this dress from a personal sloper or basic dress pattern.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Draping vs. Flat-Pattern: A Meditation

Last night, I attended part of an introductory seminar on draping.  (Unfortunately, I ended up having to leave early.)  At this point, I've done a fair bit of flat-pattern drafting, but no draping, so here are my admittedly uninformed thoughts on the two methods.

Clearly, draping is sexier.  I mean, come on, it's just cool.  Draping a garment on a dress-form totally makes you look like a slick fashion designer.  Beyond the coolness factor, it also seems that draping gives you more control over your design than flat-pattern drafting.  Because you're manipulating the fabric on the form, you can evaluate things like balance and dart placement as you go, rather than waiting till you prove your pattern in muslin to see whether you like the results.  That seems like a real advantage to me, especially with more complicated designs.

That said, draping seems just as inefficient as flat-pattern drafting: in both cases, you have to create a design, copy or transfer your finished pattern pieces to paper, then prove the pattern in muslin and make adjustments from there.

And it also seems to me that draping has some real disadvantages for the home sewer.  First of all, the dress-form seems like a real limiting factor.  A good one is expensive, not to mention difficult to store.  And, unless you have a custom form created to match your specific body, the fit of your garment is always going to be an approximation.  Depending on how wonky your own personal shape is, you might or might not be able to find a form that matched your dimensions well.  And, having bought that form, god help you if you change size or shape appreciably any time in the next ten years or so!

So, I could be way of base here, but this is the impression I got: Draping is cool, but it's much more useful if you're doing Fashion Design, rather than sewing for yourself.  If you're a Designer, you'll want the added control and flexibility that draping on a form will give you in creating your designs.  And you'll probably also be creating prototypes, rather than garments designed to be worn by a particular person with his or her own unique shape (to my mind, runway models don't count).  But if you're sewing for yourself, you'll probably be needing more pencil skirts than pleated evening gowns, and you'll want them to fit you impeccably.  You also might find yourself unwilling to integrate an expensive, person-sized inanimate object into your already cramped apartment.

So at this point I'd say that, if you want to become a Fashion Designer, buy yourself a form and get draping!  But if your goals are modest and your resources are limited, like mine are, flat-pattern drafting is way to go.

What do you think?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drafting: A Convertible Collar

Here are some instructions for drafting a convertible collar--I made this one to complete the pattern for my Friday Frock, a shirt-dress from Bernina that's missing the collar piece.

Just a quick reminder, for anyone who isn't a regular reader of this blog.  I use Norma Hollen's book Pattern Making by the Flat Pattern Method as a reference for all of my drafting, and I want to credit her appropriately.  If you're interested in drafting, her book is an excellent resource.

Here's the definition of a "convertible collar": Unlike a regular, or "full-roll" collar, a convertible collar is designed to lie nicely if the collar is left open, and not buttoned all the way to the top.  To accommodate this, the neckline edge of the convertible collar is angled slightly, so it matches the curve of the shirt's neckline edge.  Since women's collared shirts are rarely buttoned to the top, when we think about a "shirt collar," what we usually have in mind is a convertible collar.

To begin, we'll draft a full-roll collar, which is ridiculously easy.  Then we'll modify it to create the convertible collar.

First, measure the neckline edge of your garment.  (I'm holding my tape measure on it's side so it will go around the curve better and give me a more accurate measurement.)  Here, I just used the Bernina pattern before I added the seam allowances.  My neckline edge measured 7.5 inches.  Really that's only half of the length, since the yoke piece is cut on the fold.  But since the collar will also be cut on the fold, that's exactly what I want. 

Then, draw a rectangle that is the length of your neckline edge measurement (here 7.5 inches) and 3 inches wide.  Measure the distance between the Center Back and your shoulder seam, and mark it on your collar.  To create the point of your collar, extend one of the long edges of that rectangle by about an inch (more or less, depending on the pointiness of your desired collar), and draw a diagonal line connecting it to the corner of the shorter edge.  That's it!  That's your full-roll collar.  In this picture, the lower (shorter) edge is the neckline edge, where you attach the collar to the shirt, and the left side is the center back, cut on the fold.

Now, to make the convertible collar, we want to create a slight angle in the neckline edge of our collar.  To do this, measure 3/4 inches up from the lower right-hand corner, along the diagonal edge of the collar.  Then draw a line from this point to your shoulder seam mark.  The lower edge of your collar should now be angled slightly upward.  As a consequence, it will also be slightly longer, so you'll need to adjust it.  To do so, measure your new, angled neckline edge, and mark your desired length (in this case, remember, it was 7.5 inches).  Shorten your collar by re-drawing the diagonal edge, beginning from the point you just marked and running parallel to the original line.

So, here's what your finished convertible collar should look like:

Of course, you still need to add seam allowances.  And remember, the collar piece we've drafted gets cut on the fold, and you need to cut two of them: an upper collar and an under-collar.

Frock by Friday: I'm In

I recently discovered the blog Grosgrain and the "Frock by Friday" series.  Basically, the idea is for readers to join in and sew a dress together by the end of the week.  The first frock was Elaine's Coffee Date Dress.  I've already made one myself, and unfortunately, it was in the days before I understood much of anything about fit or fabric choice, so it's not really wear-able, although it is still hanging in my closet.

The next frock, which is a free download from Bernina, is super-cute: a summer shirt-dress that would be perfect for my upcoming beach trip.  So I'm in!

Here's the fabric I bought yesterday for the project: a lightweight textured cotton with an orange stripe and solid orange for the contrast pieces on the sleeve, collar, placket, and belt.  (Sorry about the wrinkles--this fabric is straight from the drier.)  And how cute are these buttons!

Unfortunately, the pattern is missing the collar piece.  (There was some debate about this in the comments, but I'm pretty convinced now that it's the collar, and not the sleeve, that's missing.)  So I'll be drafting my own collar, and I'll write up a tutorial to share with other Friday-Frockers as soon as I'm done.

Finally...The Wedding Guest Dress!

Finally, the weather complied, and the Mr. and I were able to take some pictures of the wedding guest dress!

Sewing this dress definitely took some effort.  If you remember, I drafted the pattern myself based on a RTW dress I liked.  The muslin was promising, but my first attempt to sew the dress with poly charmeuse was a total wadder.  I tried again with a heavier-weight satin, which was much better suited to the design, and I was much happier with the results.

I shared my progress on this dress with the other participants in the PR Formal Wear Contest, but unfortunately I'm ineligible to enter, since I haven't been a member for long enough.  Oh, well, maybe next time!

I also got lots of great suggestions on the construction of this dress from the ladies at the SE Michigan PR meet-up.  At Lynelle's suggestion, I did a hong-kong finish inside the bodice--I like the contrast from the purple satin ribbon, even though no one will see it.  And a special thanks to Therisa and Elnora, who sat on the floor to mark the hem for me!

Wearing the dress feels amazing!  I love the flowy bias skirt--it just feels elegant.  And although formal wear tends to languish in my closet, I know I'll have at least two chances to wear this dress in the next year: Cousin Angela's wedding in a few weeks, and my friend Katie's wedding in November.  Coincidentally, both ladies have dark blue as one of their wedding colors, so I'll fit right in!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Curvy Girls Need Curvy Darts

I finally finished a draft of my dissertation chapter yesterday, so hurrah, I have a bit of time and brain-power for sewing again!  I know I owe you pics of the WGD, but we keep having lousy weather on the weekends.  (My friend Thom, who just bought a convertible, says: "What do you call the first sunny day after two days of rain?  Monday!")  So you'll just have to wait for mother nature to accommodate a photo-shoot.

In the meantime, I've been working on a muslin of my brunch dress.  My first draft of the bodice was all wrong--so wrong, in fact, that I can't actually post photos online.  For my second attempt, I increased the width of the waistband from 3 to 4 inches, which yielded a more balanced shape, a more tasteful neckline, and less of the unfortunate droopy look that characterized the first version.

I still wasn't thrilled with the fit, though.  The back was great, and the waist measurement was correct at my natural waist, but the front still seemed kind of baggy under the bust.  Then, I had an epiphany...

...curved waistline darts!

When I originally fitted my sloper, Gwen explained that I needed to sew curved waist darts.  Instead of the traditional triangle-shaped darts, these darts have more of a tear-drop or lozenge shape.  The length of the dart is the same, and its width at the widest point is the same too.  The only thing that's different is where the fullness is released by the dart.  (If you've ever taken calculus, think about the difference between a line and a curve--the rate of change.)

Once I wrapped my mind around the idea of a curved dart, I was amazed by the difference it made in the fit of my garments.  Instead of bagging weirdly, they fitted much closer to my ribcage, which created a slimmer look overall.  Understandably, this alteration is common for (ahem) "full-figured" women.

I used curved darts to great effect in both of my sheath dresses, but I didn't even think about it when I was drafting the brunch dress.  Empire waist-lines are supposed to be flattering for curvy girls because they fit close under the bust, so I was confused when my muslin didn't.  But pinning out the equivalent of my standard curved darts made all the difference!

Here's the dress before the adjustment:

And here it is with the darts pinned--what a difference!

Here are the adjustments I made in my pattern pieces to reflect this alteration.  For the bodice, I increased the width of my bust dart one inch at the waistline seam, maintaining the same length of the original dart.  For the waistband, I removed an inch on the upper edge to match the adjustment in my dart, then tapered down to nothing at the waistline, which already fit correctly.

This made a significant difference in the shape of my front waistband piece, which is now much less curved.  (The old waistband is on top in this picture, and the new one is below.)

I'm confident enough with the changes I made in my muslin that I went ahead and cut my real fabric today.  Hopefully I'll have a dress to show you soon!  I'm also pleased, in a geeky way, that I diagnosed this fit issue and was able to make the changes I needed to fix it.  You never know, but I might be starting to get the hang of this sewing thing...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Made by J from Head to Toe

Here I am on my way to a party/BBQ this past weekend, dressed entirely, and inadvertently, in Made by J clothes.  I'm rocking my BurdaStyle Ute blouse and my Schnittvision jeans.  (The shoes are navy patent peep-toe wedges from Target--too cute!)

Hopefully, as I keep sewing, this will happen more and more!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Polling the Audience

Ok guys, I need your help.

Google Analytics tells me that I there are a few of you out there.  (Some of you even live in exotic places like London and Adelaide, which I think is just too cool, but I digress.) I'm desperate for your advice!

First of all, there's the matter of the brunch dress, which has literally been keeping me up at night.  When I went back to Haberman's looking for the perfect lining, I got talked into buying some divine pima cotton lawn that cost more than my fashion fabric, but feels incredible, and it was really, in my heart-of-hearts, what I wanted.  So now, the $64,00 question is: to line, or to underline?  The paisley fabric is opaque enough that I could either.  But neither method seems perfect.  Here are the pro's and con's as I see them.

  • Pro: I can sew and under-stitch the fabric to the lining at the neckline and armholes, which I think yields a really slick, polished finish.
  • Pro: I can do Kathleen Fasanella's slick zipper installation...almost
  • Pro: I'm a sucker for the polished effect of a fully-lined dress
  • Con: The surplice bodice poses logistical problems with attaching the waistband.  Since the dress fabric and the lining overlap at the CF and CB, I can't simply sew the waistband seam separately for each layer of fabric (ie. fashion fabric to fashion fabric and lining to lining).  But if I sandwich all 4 layers right-sides-together and sew a single seam, that doesn't leave the lining free for the zipper application.  That said, the Slapdash Sewist has faced a similar problem, if I understand her correctly, and she managed to make it work.
  • Pro: Underlining will stabilize my lightweight fashion fabric.  It might also be less bulky, and I'm told the finished dress will wash better.
  • Pro: It's arguably easier to sew.  I can finish all the raw edges with my serger and still get a nice, tidy look inside.
  • Con: I would probably do a rolled hem on the neckline, and I'm not sure how I feel about having a row of stitching visible there.  
  • Con: I have no idea how I would finish the armholes with the side zip.  Can you use a bias binding in this situation?  Again, that would leave me with a row of visible stitching that I'm not wild about.
So readers, I'm stumped!  I'll keep working on the drafting in the meantime, but please weigh in with your expert advice.

My next quandary is a more familiar one.  So tell me: should I buy this fabric?

It's a light-weight rayon-lycra knit from EmmaOneSock, and I'm thinking about using it for this dress from Patrones no. 284.

This dress is without a doubt one of my favorite patterns in this magazine, and I've been hunting for the perfect fabric for it for months.  I think it needs to be a print rather than a solid, and a geometric print would be best.  But it also needs to be something that will work with all the pleats and the tie collar without looking too busy.  Do you think this fabric would work?  It's vaguely similar to what the Slapdash Sewist used, and I love her version.

Just to complicate matters, do you like the abstract lines more or less than this windowpane print from Fashionista Fabrics?  It's less austere than the abstract lines, but also busier.  So I don't know what to do.

I've been close to taking the plunge and buying fabric for this dress a number of times, but I keep losing my nerve at the last second. 

So, dear readers, I place myself entirely in your hands.  Clearly, I need all the help I can get!