Saturday, March 29, 2014

Miss Emilia Captures the Castle : The Mortmain Dress

Good evening, sparrows! Today, we had our first big spring thunderstormcomplete with window-rattling thunder and buckets of rain. All those ominous clouds had one lovely side effect, however: hazy, filtered lighting. Since getting my fancy new camera, I've developed a disturbing emotional investment in lighting conditions. I'm now throwing around phrases like "the golden hour" and dragging poor Sam hither and yon, in search of reflective walls. Luckily, I had a project all ready to document this afternoon, so I trotted out to indulge my photographic whims. 

This is the Mortmain Dress from Gather, an independent pattern company out of the UK. I'm shocked more of these haven't appeared in Blogland, because this dress is adorable. Not only does it have a waistband, which is a surprisingly rare design feature, but it was also named for the Dodie Smith's beautiful novel, I Capture the Castle. Ever a sucker for waist-emphasis and literary geekery, I couldn't say no to the Mortmain. I paid the international shipping and checked my mail compulsively for the three weeks it took to arrive. 

Once upon a time, Fabric Mart held a crazy clearance on all of their cotton shirtings. As a result, I have an inordinate number of small scale striped fabrics in my stash, including the navy-and-white one featured in this dress. I love using them for bodice muslins, because they make super cute linings, if the fit turns out alright. This one, however was destined for greater things. I thought it would make a perfect Mortmain, when paired with the leftover navy linen from my last Emery dress. Lo and behold! I was correct.

This is a wearable muslin, of a sort. I did a substantial FBA on the bodice, which turned out perfectly, then made the rest of the dress as prescribed. As can sometimes happen with FBAs, once the whole dress was put together the fit wasn't quite as perfect as it seemed. There's a tiny bit of stress on the waist darts, which is much more noticeable in pictures, but that I'm going to fix next time around. They need to be shortened by a good half-inch. Bodice fittings: always an adventure!

Despite little fitting things to figure out, I adore the Mortmain. This is such a well-drafted pattern. Everything fits together beautifully and the final product is just as adorable as the pattern envelope promised. Why don't more dress patterns have separate waist pieces? One of my biggest challenges, as a plus-sized hourglass figure, is fitting both my bust and waist. Invariably what fits my bust is a little poofy in the area below. A waistband, however, fixes that problem and emphasizes my shape. Brilliant!

The Mortmain's construction was so easy, kittens. It's a very basic pattern: six darts total, simple box pleats, and an exposed back zipper, all finished off with facings. If you're a beginner who's looking for a more exciting dress pattern to try, this would be a great option. The instructions were wonderfully clear and easy-to-follow, as with most indie patterns.

Of course, this is me we're talking about. You know I didn't follow this pattern to a tee.

First off, there is no interfacing in this pattern, not even in the waistband. Waistbands tend to stretch out over time, so some reinforcement was necessary. In order to achieve that and omit those pesky facings, I fully lined the bodice and waist with more cotton shirting. Hmm...I wonder why the bodice is under unexpected stress? Surely not because I went rogue on the pattern plans! 

The only other change I made was to hand-pick the exposed zipper in, rather than insert it by machine. Hand-sewing is my absolute favorite thing to do, while watching television. This one was put in, while watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, one of my favorite book series turned into a small screen gem by the lovely Aussies. If you haven't watched them, the first season is on Netflix, while the second is already up on! I highly recommend them for other lovers of the 1920's and well-crafted mysteries. They're also a joy to sew along with, thanks to all that costume eye candy.

Back to the subject at hand, darlings. The Mortmain dress is an utter success! The size range isn't quite as broad as I would prefer--it only goes up to my waist size, a UK 18/US14--but it's worth the purchase, if you do fall within its range. The design is simple, but still different from the regular Big 4 herd, and ideal for beginners or advanced sewists looking for an easy project.

Personally, I'm already dreaming up ways to modify this pattern. With the side dart rotated back to the waist, it could easily turn into a gathered bodice reminiscent of 1950's shelf bust party dresses. It would also look killer with a collar, or a contrast waistband set off against a novelty print. Too cute!

The details...

Things I Loved:

  • The waistband! Such a fresh twist on the basic dress pattern.
  • The skirt! I love a box pleat. You will definitely see this skirt pattern adapted onto other bodices. 
  • The fabric! This linen continues to rock. 

Things I Changed:

  • Hand-picked the zipper in place. 
  • Fully lined the bodice and waistband. 

Things I Will Change, Next Time:

  • Lengthen the skirt by two inches. 
  • Shorten the bodice darts by 1/2 inch
  • Finish with bias tape, instead of the prescribed facings or lining as I did here.

Tips & Tricks:

  • I highly recommend that you reinforce this waistband somehow, whether that be through interfacing, underlining, or lining as I did in this version. If you want this fit to last, that baby needs help to avoid stretching out. 

Notions & Fabric:

  • Navy & white shirting - $5
  • Navy linen - Courtesy of Mood Fabrics
  • The Mortmain Dress Pattern from Gather - £13
  • 22-inch white zipper - $2.50

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Miss Emery Packs Her Bags

Good morning, lovely ones! Today's project is a bit of mixed bag, I have to be honest. While it's a perfectly nice dress, the final product is a lesson in almosts. It's almost exactly what I wanted. It almost fits correctly. It's almost the perfect spring dress. 

Let's start with the good first, though, shall we? For my Mood project this month, there was a challenge to meet. We were asked to pick a designer collection from the Spring/Summer 2014 runways shows, then sew a piece that could fit into the collection we fancied most. There were quite a few gorgeous collections this season, but I ended up choosing one of my stand-by inspirations: Orla Kiely

Kiely's collection is utterly delightful, filled with gorgeous linens, whimsical animal prints, and early 60's silhouettes. It's very Wes Anderson meets The African Queen. The S/S 14 Kiely girl is a twee, binocular-toting naturalist on her first safari after grad school. 

In order to properly channel this aesthetic, I ordered two lengths of linen in my favorite of Kiely's color pairings: navy and coral. Mood has an absolutely gorgeous selection of linens and these two are no exceptions. The navy is actually a Ralph Lauren fabric, lightweight and with gorgeous body, while the coral is a midweight linen-cotton blend with a sturdy hand. They are a really lovely pair. 

Initially, I had planned to turn these fabrics into a Hawthorn from Colette Patternsa simple navy shirtdress, with coordinating coral buttons and collar. It would have been gorgeous, but a shipping mix-up meant I didn't actually get these fabrics until last weekend, so the time just wasn't there. Instead,  I reached for the Emery Dress from Christine Haynes, determined to finally make a proper version. The collar variation was perfect for my Kiely-esque vision and the skirt was wide enough to take advantage of the flowy navy linen. Even better, I'd already fit the Emery bodice to perfection! What could go wrong?  

Well—contain your shock, kittensit turns out that linen and faille don't drape in the same manner. They are, in fact, polar opposites. Where faille holds any structure you can imagine, linen is much more loosey-goosey. It wants to float and blouse. That's why we love it, after all. It's the ideal summer fabric! Unfortunately, that meant that my perfectly fitted Emery bodice wasn't perfect at all. The armscyes gaped, while the underbust poofed. 

I took it in where I could, but the dress is still just a bit big those in areas. Not enough to bother me when wearing it, but enough that I still notice in these pictures. You can also totally see where my seatbelt crossed my chest in the car before taking these. Oh, linen. Won't you hide any sins? 

Let's circle back to the bright side, though! This fabric is lush, y'all. I've written three different analogies, trying to capture what it feels like, and one of them involved angel butts. The navy is slightly slubby in texture, as a good linen should be, and so breathable. When Texas summer hits, I'm going to wear the hell out of this dress. Usually, I give up on pretty clothes sometime in mid-August, instead wearing thin shapeless knit pieces and murmuring, "Whhhhyyyyy?" This year, I will have linen to cool my heat-stricken fashion senses. Joy!

 Now, onto construction details! The Emery was mostly fun to sew up. It's a very simple pattern, which makes it ideal for beginners, but could be embellished a hundred fabulous ways. There are eight darts, gathering of the skirt waistband, installation of the bodice lining, and an invisible zipper. From start to finish, this dress took me about six hours to sew, because I chose to sew the lining in completely by hand. 

There were a few things that gave me issues, but they were a cutting mishap and a thing I shouldn't have tried anyhow. First off, one of my back bodice pieces was just a touch wider than the other, which made installing the collar on that side an adventure. The other was the Fucking Invisible Zipper of Doom.

Holy banana slugs! Invisible zippers are worse than mayonnaise. No matter how precisely I measure or what tricks I use, my waist seams never line up properly. This one, I installed three separate times to no avail. Despite both back pieces being identical in length, the zipper decided the seams should be separated forever. Ugh. They're still like a centimeter off, but I don't even care. I am done letting that zipper toy with my emotions! My gut said to sub it out for a hand-picked zipper, as is my wont, but I wanted to stick to the pattern instruction for an honest Emery experience. 

So, that was a mistake. My next Emerybecause, I will conquer this pattern's fitwill have a traditional zip.

Overall, my review for the Emery herself is two thumbs up. All of these issues with this dress were user error. I think that, in the wake of some good news this week, the universe wanted to reinforce that I'm not Coco Chanel yet: "You can successfully sew with silk and sign on for A Cool Secret Thing, but I still have your number, Mary. Here, have a box full of invisible zippers for your trouble."

The Details...

Things I Loved:
  • The collar! Such a sweet touch.
  • The fabric! Mood rocks, as ever. I want to only wear linen and silk faille, because they've spoiled me so. 
  • The skirt! Swishy full delight. 
  • The skirt length! I didn't have to lengthen, in order to get the perfect hem length. Wonder! Awe!
Things I Changed:
  • 2.5 inch FBA
Things I Will Change Next Time:
  • Sub out for a traditional zipper, so that I don't turn into a fire-breathing sewing monster. 
  • Revisit that FBA on a size smaller, so that I can address the fit issues in drapier fabrics. 

Tips & Tricks:
  • If you hate invisible zippers, don't sew them. 

Notions & Fabric:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Miss Violet Takes a Break: Colette Violet

Hello, beloved sewists! Do you see a certain sparkle in my eyes? Or, perhaps, you detect a lightness in my typing? There's a reason for them both. We're on Spring Break! The week ahead holds nothing but sewing, time with my love, and the Veronica Mars movie. Thank goodness for it, because I've been at my wit's end, between dissertation deadlines and copy edits on Cairo. I feel behind on everything, but email, sewing, and blogging specifically. 

Luckily, time is now in abundance! (A week of it, anyway.) First up on the agenda was finishing a project from February. Colette's Violet blouse has long been a nemesis of mine. It was the first collared blouse I made, way back in 2011, and an utter disaster. I didn't know how to do an FBA, so just added width, and the collar was a mess of wonky curves. And yet...

I loved the pattern. It's everything I wanted a shirt to be! Loose fitting, but not boxy. Sleeved, but not clingy. Retro, but not dated. It demanded another attempt. 

Of course, I wasn't going to expend beautiful fabric on such an attempt. The Violet hadn't quite sold me yet, even after a proper FBA and tissue fitting. As if it were lingering for just such an occasion, I had an ink-splattered cotton voile in my stash. This is one of those fabrics that I just don't understand. Why did I buy it? It's fine, I suppose, but not remotely my style. I don't like abstract prints. Dots, flowers, and stripes are my jam, but amorphous splatters in cool colors? Meh. So much meh. Worse, I can't even blame early sewist delusions. 

I bought it in November, with a gift certificate. What a waste! I'm thrilled to have it out of my stash, not making me question my sanity. 

In order to combat my fabric indifference, I picked up some contrasting sapphire blue buttons from JoAnn's. Initially, I'd considered doing a collar in the same color, but decided against it. In retrospect, of course, that would have been awesome. I was aghast at my first try-on of this blouse. The collar completely blended into the shirt, thanks to these damned busy splatters, and I looked like a giant mass of ink spots. It wasn't a good look for me. This Violet would be damned to the back of my closet with its predecessor. 

So, I considered.

Remember how I wished for more embellished pieces in my wardrobe? It was the only thing that could save this blouse, without major surgery. Thank heavens for the blanket stitch! I bought some coordinating blue embroidery thread and spent two episodes of Almost Human (Which, by the way, is awesome. If you love good SciFi world-building with a side of social commentary, this is the show for you!) stitching a blanket stitch around the collar an sleeve hems. 

It was infinitely better! Suddenly, the details popped and outfit possibilities swirled in my head. In fact, the teal Peggy sitting on my sewing table will be perfect with this piece. Huzzah for saved projects!

Construction-wise, this was quite easy. There were some fitting issues to contend with, mostly due to Mary of the Past cutting this pattern, instead of tracing it. Were I to buy the Violet today, I would cut a size 12, then do an FBA. As it is, I had to contend with the straight size 16. Ergo, the shoulders were comically big, the back was too blousy, and my darts still aren't quite where I'd like them. They need to go another 1/2 inch in, to prevent bust pooling. 

Honestly, though, I'm happy. I have a perfectly wearable, practically cute Violet. Huzzah! 

The details...

Things I Loved:
  • The blanket stitching! Seriously, embroidery saved this project. That was a well spent pair of hours, kittens. 
  • The buttons! I love a button, always, and these pop quite nicely.
  • The collar! It's practically perfect in every way. 

Things I Changed:
  • Added an extra button, to compensate for the FBA lengthening. 
  • 1.5 inch FBA, though I should have done a 1 inch, honestly.
  • Took in the shoulders by 1 inch.
  • Took out 1 inch of sleeve cap ease.
  • Blanket-stitched the details.

Things I Would Change, If I Made It Again:
  • Reposition the dart.
  • Lengthen another two inches. 
  • Expand the back gathers, to prevent stress points.

Tips & Tricks: 
  • Interfacing is so important with this pattern. I used a featherweight fusible interfacing for both the collar and the facings, which stabilized the buttonholes and the under-collar. 
  • This pattern runs really short. I find all Colette blouses end uncomfortably high, but this one especially. If you have a long torso or prefer blouses to end below your pants waistband, plan on lengthening this one. 

Notions & Fabric: 
  • 2 yards of ink-splattered fabric
  • Seven 1/2-inch buttons
  • Embroidery floss
  • Featherweight interfacing

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Extravagant, Perfect Details of Alabama Chanin

Y'all, I have fallen down a rabbit hole of stitchery.

Last year, I posted about my wedding dress, which prompted tales of your own handmade and custom made dresses. Though they all sounded gorgeous, one left me utterly gobsmacked. Susan, who doesn't blog but is awesome, made her own Alabama Chanin style wedding gown.

Note: This is not Susan's dress. I saw pictures, however, and it was a cream-colored bit of perfection. Imagine a white version of the dress above and you're close. A-mazing. 

Did you just gasp in awe? If not, I can only assume it's because you're unfamiliar with the opulent, environmentally sustainable Southern fashion house that is Alabama Chanin. Dealing mainly in midweight cotton jersey, Natalie Chanin & co. hand make some of the most intricate garments on the continent. Each piece uses a combination of techniques, from reverse appliques to embroidered seams and beading, that can be called nothing short of wearable art.

Alabama Chanin pieces are stunning online, but more so in person. The aesthetic here is the opposite of modernist simplicity. Instead of clean lines and androgynous shapes, these are the clothes of deeply feminine, romantic wood sprites. The women of the Alabama Chanin collection look as if they're en route to a DIY wedding, held in a secluded meadow by Tolkien elves who now live in Regency England.

So, you know, I adore them. Ardently. Shall we ogle a bit?

Unfortunately for me, the labor involved in these garments and the ethical business practices of Alabama Chanin mean that they are priced, quite fairly, at a gazillion dollars. Until my first book hits the NYT list, they are a few stratospheres above my price range.

There is, however, a bright spot. Three of them, even! Natalie Chanin has authored multiple home sewing books, detailing in full color photographs, the Alabama Chanin techniques. The latest book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, arrived into my greedy hands tonight. After much hemming and hawing, I ordered it on Amazon, resolved to make my own opulent wood nymph creations.

The book comes with sewing patterns, up to a bust size 42'', and 175 pages of embellishment techniques. Each technique is explained beautifully and looks deceptively easy. I'm pretty sure that my first attempt will be disastrous, but I'm dying to try it out! When enumerating what I love in RTW clothing, charming embellishments are high on the list. I seldom add them to my own projects, however, which needs to change. This book is an excellent start.

Have you ever attempted reverse applique or running embroidery a la Alabama Chanin? Do you have any other small, handmade fashion company that you'd love to release a home sewing book? Do you just think I'm crazed for attempting such a thing?