Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Miss Peggy Walks in the Woods

Happy Thanksgiving week, friends! Or, my dear international ones, Happy Week of American Friends Posting Pictures of Turkey Dinners on Instagram! This week has been much busier than expected, with family coming in early and wedding plans demanding attention, so my promised princess seam FBA post will have to wait until this weekend. In the meantime, I'm going to channel Macy's and parade out some giant balloons finished objects.

First up. we have my wearable muslin of the Peggy Skirt from Bluegingerdoll Patterns. 

This fall, I've made a point to sew up more separates. It would be easy to sew up dress after lovely dress, but in the chillier months I love having layers to pile on. A skirt that works with sweaters and boots is priceless! Ergo, when Abby from Bluegingerdoll released the retro high-waisted Peggy skirt, I bought it the same day.

The Peggy skirt comes in three waistband variations--straight, curved, and sweetheart--with eased-in faced pockets and optional waistband tabs. For this first one, I used inexpensive polished cotton leftover from my Elisalex muslin, so I went with the simplest construction possible: a straight waistband and no tabs.

The Peggy skirt was my first Bluegingerdoll pattern to sew up, though I own both the Mae blouse and the Billie Jean dress, and it was a joy to create. One of my favorite things about sewing with indie patterns is, of course, the packaging. Bluegingerdoll added some great personal touches in this arena: heavy weight pattern paper, a pretty Kraft paper envelope, and a twine closure. Lovely!

Even better, the pattern itself is a mentally stimulating project. At every step, there is something to differentiate it from a Big 4 straight skirt. There are two small tucks in the front--which not only add visual interest, but increase the ease of movement--in addition to darts in the back, the aforementioned bagged pocket, a lapped zipper, and button waistband closure. While all those details don't make it an ideal beginner's pattern, I absolutely loved them. 

The only true weak spot of this pattern is, in my opinion, the instructional insert. Perhaps it's because I began sewing with Simplicity patterns, but I prefer exhaustive directions and these were a little skim. Like some other indie companies, the Peggy instructions periodically referred one to online tutorials, instead of providing all the directions right at hand. If you don't already know how to do a lapped zipper, for example, have your computer at the ready!

For the pocket, specifically, I wish things had been clearer. It was such an unconventional construction that, without a really great diagram, I ended up sewing my first one incorrectly. Though it doesn't show on the outside, my pocket facings are inside out, as a result. If this wasn't a muslin, I probably would have re-done it, but my first rule of muslin-making is not to be a perfectionist. I absolutely love how the pocket turned out, however, gaping just the right amount to be cute and hold my cell phone perfectly.

Fabric wise, the polished cotton I used for this Peggy is a classic red with tiny white polka dots. It wrinkles like crazy, as you can see from these photos, and was a quickly regretted sale purchase. Y'all, I bought five yards of this stuff for some unknown reason. Five yards of icky-feeling, slippery, polka dots. Thank heavens for muslin making! This is no longer staring at me from the stash and I've actually ended up liking both garments I made with it.

There weren't many changes to make for this skirt either, just a few pesky fit adjustments. As the pattern was drafted, I was between two sizes, so I cut the larger one and graded down at the waistband by three inches. Aside from that, I took a much larger hem than instructed -- a little over five inches, in the end. The Peggy skirt is designed for a vintage-inspired length, with the hem falling a few inches below the knee. This skirt length can look adorable on some people, but I'm decidedly not one of them. So, I indulged myself and took a deep hem instead, which put it at the top of my knee. Much more flattering!

In the end, this turned out to be such an adorable skirt. I absolutely love the high waist, which seems to work better in this skirt than my other autumnal love, the Zinnia, and could wax poetic about these pockets for days. I won't, though! Instead, I'm already making another one for Thanksgiving day, in a large scale wool plaid. This is the perfect pattern for a TNT cozy skirt. If the Peggy is anything to go by, Bluegingerdoll Patterns is an indie to keep an eye on. I can't wait to try out Abby's other designs!

The details...

Things I Loved:
  • The pocket! It's a genius little design, once you have confidence in the method, and adds a really special detail. 
  • The pattern! I love when indie pattern companies opt for thicker pattern paper. It's so much nicer to trace and cut around. 
  • The waistline! High waists can be uncomfortably restrictive, but because of the front pleats in the skirt, the Peggy is delightfully comfortable. 

Things I Changed:
  • Cut a smaller waistband.
  • Took a very large hem - over five inches. 

Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Add the tabs! I love this design detail and will definitely implement it next time around. 

Notions & Fabric:
  • 8 inch zipper
  • 1 vintage button
  • Two yards of cotton - $8
  • Fusible Interfacing

Construction Time:
  • Three hours, including the hand-sewn zipper and hem.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Miss Elisalex Finds Something Blue

Hello, my darling dears! I am late to a party, but that's fashionable, non? The party in question is not, it should be said, a rollicking Wednesday night wayzgoose, but rather a year-long internet fĂȘte for By Hand London's Elisalex dress. People love this dress.

People, it turns out, have excellent taste. The Elisalex is a flirty little frock, with her extravagant skirt lines and perfect princess-seamed bodice. She's just the pattern to reach for, if you need a fancy date night dress to knock his/her socks off.

As for me, the Elisalex was just the thing for my date with destiny. 

Destiny and loads of presents are the same thing right? I made my second Elisalex (the first a wearable muslin of sorts, to be blogged shortly) in Italian cotton brocade, for my bridal shower this past weekend. Thrown by my two best friends, maid and matron of honor, I was given specific instructions to do nothing but show up to the shower "in something fabulous." A brocade Elisalex, paired with my new blue Seychelles heels, fit the bill nicely. 

This blue-and-white cotton brocade has been in my fancy fabrics box for about a year, after I impulsively bought it from Fabric Mart. It was $24/yard on sale and, with a buttery soft feel and surprisingly soft drape, was worth every penny. They had a least a dozen colorways of these brocades, but this blue set my heart fluttering. I had to have it, despite not knowing what the heck I'd do with it. It was an auspiciously good buy, because this fabric screams fancy bride at her fancy bridal shower. 

It also, of course, frays like the very devil and doesn't hold stitches terribly well. Why must the beautiful things always be evil? Just once, I'd like a party fabric that's easy to sew up or a purple tree frog that doesn't secrete toxin. 

To be fair, I wasn't exactly easy on this fabric. Despite doing not one, but two, Elisalex muslins before starting this project, I still took a few fit adjustments mid-construction. There were princess seams to tame (after a six inch FBA, which we'll get to in a second) and whimsical skirt proportions to nip the whimsy out of. The seam ripper got quite a lot of usage during this project. 

When muslining the Elisalex, I knew the skirt was going to be problem. It's all very well and good for wee tiny sylphs to wear Marie Antoinette proportioned tulip skirts, but I was skeptical about how one would translate onto my viking warrior princess build. The skepticism was well placed. My hips would have looked right at home participating in the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. So, for this version, I took four inches out of the length and used a size 10 skirt, instead of the size 14. 

It was still too wide. Thanks to the body of the brocade, those hip curves went out for days. I took an additional four inches out of the side seam curve apexes, after sewing it all up. The result is still a pegged tulip skirt, but one of more modest proportions. I dig it. 

Thanks to all the taming I did on the side seams, I also made the executive decision to do tuck pleats at the waistline, instead of the box pleats prescribed by the pattern. They just fit the new silhouette more. Woohoo for massive structural changes, while working with delicate fabric! 

The other major pattern adjustment was the aforementioned full bust adjustment. There is a reason I don't often work with princess seams, y'all. Namely: the six inch discrepancy between my bust and high bust measurements. An FBA for princess seams is already finicky, but adding three inches to a curved pattern piece turns a pleasant, challenging fix into a Herculean labor. My resultant pattern pieces only resemble their foremothers, in that they are on pattern paper and say "Elisalex" on them. 

My center front (charmingly spelled "centre front" on the pattern) still needs a bit of tweaking, but I was too impatient to sew this up last week. It's just a bit too wide at my underbust, which causes a crease, after hours of wear. One more muslin, it is!

If you have a large bust and are looking to do an FBA on a princess-seamed pattern, By Hand London's own tutorial is a great resource. The only caveat is that it will be more complicated for you. There are extra bubbles to deal with and more lines to true up. By the end, you'll have two pieces that you truly doubt the usefulness of. How can a center front piece need six extra length inches? It will work. You just need to have faith...and perhaps a glass of bracing champagne. 

Or, if that fails, tune back here next week. I'm planning a step-by-step princess seam FBA tutorial for large busts. The whole time I was doing mine, I was wishing someone else had told me what to expect. We'll make sure you're not as surprised! 

Original pieces on the left, my darling monsters on the right.

Once again, I'm not super impressed with By Hand London's directions. They definitely assume that the reader has dressmaking experience. For the box pleat, the instructions literally read: "Form the box pleat now." Which is great and all, unless you're a novice who hasn't formed a box pleat before! If you haven't, a quick Google should sort you out. 

As for the pattern itself, it was a breeze to sew up. It's not something I'd recommend to a beginner, thanks to the princess seams and instructional vagueness, but it's a fun little dress pattern. Elisalex is a very chic, modern design, which is what I'm coming to expect from BHL patterns. They definitely have a bead on what young sewists want to wear! 

The Details...

Things I Loved:
  • The fabric! Italian designer brocade. Just the words make me feel a swoon coming on!
  • The bodice! Once you fit them correctly, princess seams are so fun to sew up and so lovely on the body. 

Things I Changed:
  • Cut a smaller skirt, took in the side seams an additional four inches each. 
  • FBA to add six inches at the bust
  • Did a hand-picked metal zipper at the back. 

Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Not much! Now that the fit is down and I've tamed the skirt panels, this is a fabulous pattern.

Notions & Fabric:
  • 18 inch metal zipper
  • Two yards of brocade - $48
  • One yard of white cotton shirting for the bodice lining - $6
  • Cut a US size 14 bodice, with an FBA, and a US size 10 skirt. 

Construction Time:
  • Including muslins, eight hours. 

Note: I've switched commenting formats from the clunky Blogger system, to the new and improved Disqus. Woohoo! It should be easy to navigate and loads of other great bloggers have already implemented it, but if you have any issues below, shoot me an email and let me know. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sewing the Curve: Thoughts on Size, Patterns, and Body Image

Today, there is no finished object. This weekend was a glorious whirlwind of wedding activitiesa fabulous bridal shower, wedding ring shopping, and introducing Sam to my out-of-town loved oneswhich left minimal time for photographing the lovely dresses I made. (Spoiler alert: I'm the latest Elisalex convert.) This break in sartorial presentation does give me a chance to do something else, however: start a conversation.

Since returning to this blog in September, I've been confronted again and again with an issue that I'd long ago laid to rest. Namely: the size of my body and what that means for my wardrobe. I am in a somewhat unique position within the realm of fashionone of those odd consumers on the Venn diagram between straight sizes and plus sizes. There are plenty of stores that I can walk into, pick up a cute piece, and leave with it, but there are also plenty which I've been sized out of. Ann Taylor Loft is always a hit, while Anthropologie can be an exercise in frustration. The arbitrary nature of ready-to-wear sizing is one of the main reasons I began sewing, honestly. It was emotionally taxing to always have Fashion-with-a-capital-F telling me what I was and wasn't allowed to wear, by the simple act of disallowing me a choice in the matter.

So, I began sewing. And it was a wonderland. Not only was I in charge of my own wardrobefrom fabric to patternbut it always came in my size.

Or, so I thought. The rise of independent pattern companies has put a damper on that freedom. My first foray into indie patterns was with Colette, whose size range I'm comfortably ensconced in. On the larger end, sure, but happily involved in the party. Then along came Salme Patterns, whose Sylvia dress is adorable, but whose sizing chart is suspiciously out of whack. At least they tried to include larger sizes, however, unlike Deer & Doe, Megan Nielsen, or Paper Cut Patterns, who all stall out around a RTW size 12 (UK 16). This is not only much smaller than the offerings from the Big 4 patterns, but conspicuously just shy of  traditional plus sizes.

What's worse is that many of the indie patterns I regularly useBy Hand London and Colette, included-stop just a little larger than my size. There are precious few pattern companies who tread into truly plus sized waters. Instead, larger sewists are forced to grade and slash and spread to even get a baseline pattern. It's as if the designers don't simply ignore this population, but actively discourage association with their brands. That, quite frankly, blows.

If you spend any time in the comment trails of this blog, you've probably noticed a recurring theme. With every project I post, a smattering of other sewists will comment about how lovely it is to see a pattern on a woman of my size. When I first started blogging again, I thought nothing of it, but the more blogs that are added to my reader, the more I begin to wonder. Why aren't there more women of a size blogging? If statistics hold true, 40% of western women are a size 14+. So, where are they?

I suspect that, not unlike RTW fashion, plus size sewing bloggers have been sized out of the conversation altogether. How are they supposed to participate in this community, when there are limits on their involvement? It's easy to say that designing for plus sizes is just too hard or cost prohibitive, as Colette did in their (in my opinion, disastrous) recent blog post, but that doesn't address the problem at hand. There is a market demand for large sizesjust look at the readership of this blogbut most designers seem as happy to ignore that population as their ready-to-wear counterparts are. So, a size 22 woman not only can't find a cute dress at the department store, but she can't make one herself without considerable effort and pattern alteration know-how.

In the end, plus sized women are confronted with a whole slew of road blocks to sewing blog bliss. Not only must they fight conventional beauty standards by posting pictures of themselves not labeled "before," but they don't have the same opportunities as straight sized women. Rare is the pattern they can pick up and learn to sew with. Rare is the cute, modern company that is designing with their proportions in mind. Since most pattern models are at the lower end of straight sizes (another commonality with RTW fashion), it can also be a total guessing game to judge how a pattern will translate, once the grading process ends. With each hurdle, less and less women are inclined to create and share. How can our community not be weakened by the loss of those voices?

Writing for this blog is, hands down, one of the most empowering things I've ever done. With each picture I post of myself, with each positive comment received, my own inner critic shrinks. It could easily go the other way, but sewing for my supposedly problematic body and chronicling those adventures here, makes me all the more confident that I am lovely and chic, no matter what Fashion thinks. That other women are denied that confidence, by the very pursuit that instilled it in me, breaks my heart.

If there were any spare time left in my day, I'd take a pattern drafting class tomorrow and start fixing this mistake myself. As it is, I implore you to give it some thought. If you're a plus sized sewist who has been reticent to start a blog, please take the plunge. We need your creative energy, if the sewing community is to be more inclusive and body positive than its mainstream counterpart. If, by some stroke of happenstance, you're a pattern designer or future pattern designer, consider the market. Speaking from experience, I'd pay more for a size-inclusive independent pattern than the cheaper, boring Big 4 alternatives. There is no way I'm alone in that.

I would be remiss if I didn't end this post with a couple of positive shout outs. Despite the major gap in the plus sized sewing community, there are bloggers and designers proving that this is a vital market which deserves to be served. Some of my favorites are Cake Patterns, Alana from Lazy Stitching, Laurwyn from Quirky Pretty Cute, and Carolyn from Diary of a Sewing Fanatic*. If you long for more plus sized sewists in your life, please check out their fabulous sites! Even better, if you have suggestions of other lovely plus size resources and bloggers, leave them in the comment trail, along with your thoughts on sewing, size, or body image.

Pictures are all of Hilda, the iconic 1950s pin up girl, illustrated by Duane Bryers.
*all bloggers mentioned have self-identified as plus size

Note: I've switched the commenting system to Disqus, so the comments for this post are now not linked to author profiles. I'll be compiling and posting a list of the bloggers mentioned in this post, so that people who would like a reference will have one! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Miss Zinnia Solves The Case

Hello, darlings! It's finally, finally getting chilly in Texas. Today is a blustery 48° Fahrenheit--I can hear your cackles, Dwellers of the North!--and the perfect weather to wear my favorite cozy new make: a wool Zinnia skirt.

Not going to lie, this skirt was entirely inspired by shoes, as the best garments often are. When Colette first released the Zinnia pattern, I took one look at it and thought "That is a skirt made for penny loafers!" Conveniently enough, I happen to own four pairs of penny loafers. That's right, four. My favorites are a pair of Bass Weejuns acquired at a sale this summer. They have tassels, a perfect penny slot, and are made from the loveliest maroon leather. They are, quite frankly, shoes for girl detective.

Nancy Drew has always been my style icon. I live for tassels and cardigans and perfectly pressed pleats. Luckily, Zinnia fits that last qualification to a tee. With sixteen sewn-down pleats and a floaty circular hem, it's just the skirt for a girl detective on the move.

My last version of the Zinnia has actually been given away to my mother, because the waistband was entirely too big for me, once it was worn for a little while. It ended up sitting in that awkward middle area between my natural waist and hips, which I don't love in a full skirt. As a result, I tweaked the fit of my second version a bit.

Made up in a maroon wool-cotton challis, still available from Fabric Mart, this Zinnia is a delightfully warm little skirt. Because of those previous fit issues, I sized down at the waistband for this iteration, but then graded back out a size at the hips. It sits right at my natural waist, then gently flairs out into the full skirt. Perfect!

Originally, I had planned to line this version with Bemberg rayon, but I loved the drape of this challis when it was unlined. Because of the cotton content in the fabric, it doesn't attract static electricity like other wools can, so it works really well as is. I absolutely love this color, a perfect winey maroon, which pairs well with most any sweater in my wardrobe and is perfect for brisk Aggie game days! Not that I suffer through football games any more, but you know, in theory it's great for such affairs.

It's funny, the Zinnia skirt really got mixed reviews in the blogosphere upon its release, but I'm starting to love this pattern. It's simple, yes, but that's what makes it a great winter wardrobe staple. It does so well with those slightly heavier, warmer fabrics which can weigh down other full skirt patterns. Don't you long for one in a nice plaid flannel? This silhouette just begs for a romantic bonfire date!

Or, of course, a mystery.

Yes, I do own an antique magnifying glass. Themed pictures, ahoy!

 Tennis balls are showing up mysteriously chewed to pieces. Can Miss Zinnia unmask the culprit?

The details...

Things I Loved: 
  • The fabric! It's perfect for these chilly fall days we're getting. 
  • The pleats! So classic and lovely. 
Things I Changed:
  • Switched the invisible zipper to a hand-picked zipper. If you're curious about this technique, I recommend Tasia's tutorial
  • Graded down a size at the waistband.
Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Nothing. Now that I've got the fit down, it's an easy enough pattern to sew up. 
Notions & Fabric: 
  • 3 yards of claret wool-cotton challis: $30
Construction Time:
  • Four cozy hours
Is that a clue? A curiously dug hole!

The culprit is unmasked! The shepherd did it, of course.