Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Miss Maureen Loots and Plunders: Butterick 5997

Contain your shock, friends. For the second post in a row, I am wearing jeans. Don't blame me, blame the swingy blouses! A shirtdress (and a fun related announcement) will be up later this week, but in the meantime I'm still reveling in roomy, artsy tops.

This one, a silk cotton version of Butterick 5997, was my Mood Sewing Network project for September and actually predates my Zsalya blouse. I made it a couple weeks back, tried it on, and had a dreadful realization. It was so bad that, until late last week, the shirt lay unfinished on the bed in my sewing room, taunting me. I finally mustered up the wherewithal to fix it, if only to stop the pangs of guilt. Unfinished objects drive me crazy.

Let's begin the melodramatic tale of 5997, shall we? The blouse came about, because there really aren't enough blouses in my wardrobe. I have dresses aplenty, tons of skirts, piles of sweaters, but very few non-knit tops. In the wintertime, that's fine, because when I'm wearing jeans I'm also usually wearing a cashmere sweater. (Aside: Cashmere is my one great ready-to-wear indulgence. Last year, in the what I will forever call The Best Christmas Ever, all my parents gave me were cashmere sweaters and you have never seen a happier Mary. Soft things forever.) In the warmer months, though, I'm at a loss for what to wear with jeans. Sure, I mostly reach for dresses anyway, but sometimes I just want something easy! Knit tops are great with skirts, but I hate pairing clinging knits with tight denim. Damn it, I want to wear skinny jeans and I don't want to be self-conscious while doing so!

Enter the swingy blouse. Loose, interesting blouses in fancy fabrics are the key to this wardrobe conundrum. My love of these garments is directly caused by watching too many classic movies and TV shows, while growing up. There was a period in the late fifties to early sixties, when women would casually throw on smocks with their cigarette pants, for chic home attire. Admittedly, this was often in order to disguise a pregnancy, but whatever. This style has always stuck in my head as the epitome of casual chic. 

So, swingy blouses were going to be made. Initially, I bought McCall's 6991, the wrap blouse currently making the rounds through the Sewing Blog Community, with an eye on making View C. After Manju's gorgeous pink version, I had to have it! Just as I was about to cut into my Mood fabric, however, I spied Butterick 5997 on the internet and fell head-over-heels with View D. 6991 was thrown over, in favor of a shoulder pintucks and a stand collar. Plus, it had those dishy gathered sleeves. How could I resist a shirt with so many gorgeous details? 

Well, I couldn't! After making a couple of flat pattern adjustments--a very small FBA and narrowing the shoulder seam--I cut into this gorgeous silk cotton poplin from Mood. The color, a steely Wedgwood blue, is one of my all time favorites. So much so that, last summer, I insisted we paint half of our rooms the exact same hue. In my defense, Sam also likes the color and I was the one doing all the painting, because it's his least favorite home maintenance task ever. My lovely younger sister came up and we painted and painted and painted blue for days. That I still like this color after that is a testament to its beauty, don't you think? So, yeah, this fabric was awesome and the shirt was going to be even more awesome, because pintucks are the most awesome. The end.

Or so I thought. After finishing most of the shirt, including doing a hand-rolled hem, I set in the sleeves. Joyful at the prospect of my almost-finished shirt, I trotted out to our hall mirror. 

And shrieked. 

This is what I saw:

Well, approximately. I swear I took a picture of the horrid sleeves in questions, but my phone seems to have (rightly) rejected the evidence. Trust me, I looked like a bloody pirate. I was one jaunty hat away from tearing through our neighborhood, looting and plundering the houses for rum and vintage fabric. Yoho

What looked like a perfectly reasonable, if billowy, sleeve on the pattern model, translated to a great, gathered monstrosity on my own blouse. I can only assume this is one of those things where they kept logically grading the sleeves up, along with the rest of the pattern, but PEOPLE REALLY SHOULDN'T WEAR TWO FOOT CIRCUMFERENCE SLEEVES, NO MATTER THEIR BODY SIZE

So, I stewed about it for a few weeks. Finally, I worked up the gumption to take both sleeves off, completely take apart their seams, and reduce their width by over six inches each. I then, just for good measure, chopped off three inches from the hemline and didn't gather there at all. The result is the blouse you see now, moderate bell sleeves and all. 

Reasonably sized sleeves!
Apologies for the wrinkles--we drove around for half an hour, trying to find a good photo location. We, as happens, ended up at the schoolyard down the block that I always go to anyway and I ended up with sleeve and back wrinkles. My mother was always adamant that seatbelts are a must, even if they ruin one's outfit!

I like it! The sleeves need some shape tweaking still, but the actual base of the blouse is pretty fantastic. I love the pintucks (so easy with an edge-stitching foot) paired with that mandarin collar. Even better, the blouse is saved from being a tent by clever side darting and that dishy deep V. Some people may not be a fan of cleavage baring shirts, but this is a totally tasteful hint of cleavage shadow. I like my bosoms and don't mind giving them some air, so it works. 

If you're thinking of trying this pattern yourself, I do have some suggestions. First off, check the sleeves before you cut them out. Maybe you like feeling a bit piratey on your day off, but if you don't, those suckers may be way too big. Also, staystitch and understitch every part of the neckline you possibly can. I make a policy of always doing these things anyway, but they're pretty glossed over in the instructions here. You don't want that V to distort! Staystitch as soon as you can! Additionally, if you're going to use a silk or rayon, I highly recommend using French seam where possible and hand-rolling the hem and sleeves, to prevent unraveling over time. It took some extra effort, but I'm so happy to have finished it properly.

Otherwise...this is a super easy, super straight-forward blouse pattern. I love its swingy hemline and all those fabulous details. I also, wonder of wonders, love wearing it with jeans. That's a win! Even better, this fabric is so, so soft and has a faint silvery sheen in sunlight. How wonderfully fancy. 

Now, I'm off to plunder some booty. Ahem, I mean I'm off to sew a shirtdress. Yoho!  

Incidentally, the title of this post was inspired by one of my dear writing friends, New York Times Bestselling Author* Maureen O. Betita, who writes a rollicking series of pirate romances. If ever there was a woman who could pull off a pirate hat and sleeves, it's the lovely Maureen.

*When one of your friends hits the NYT List, you're contractually obligated by The Rules of Writer Friendships to always mention it with her name. It's a very well deserved, very big deal.

Note: This fabric was provided to me, free of charge, as part of the Mood Sewing Network. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Selfish Sewing Week: Kate & Rose Zsalya Top


It's that time of year again, my dear goslings. Not autumn, which has yet to reach us here in Texas, but something just as exciting. Happy Selfish Sewing Week! Twice a year, the lovely Rachael hosts a week long celebration of that most joyful kind of sewing: that which we do for ourselves. 

If you've read my blog for long, you know that this is the only sort of sewing I do. For me, sewing is pure relaxation. It's an opportunity for me to revel in luxurious fabrics, interesting patterns, and indulge my love of pretty clothes. I'm proprietary about my sewing time, because it's exactly that. My time. So, it should come as no surprise that I'm a big, big fan of Selfish Sewing Week. We should all get to revel in that indulgence, from time to time...to time. 

This week, I chose to make a pattern I've long had my eye on. The Zsalya is a beautiful yoked blouse and dress duo, from Kate & Rose patterns. There are two sleeve variations, one short and one long, each with embellishments that echo the blouse's subtle crossover v-neck.  It reminds me of the classic artist's smock, a look that lends itself well to such modern updates.

Y'all, this pattern is precisely what I love in a blouse. Each detail, from the crossover yoke to the shaped sleeve band, is thoughtful. This isn't a blouse you could easily recreate with a Big 4 pattern, but a work of true design insight. It's loose, without being shapeless. It's interesting, while flattering one's figure. It works beautifully in all those flowing fabrics we love so much: silks, lawns, and challis.

For this first Zsalya, I chose the green polka dotted cotton voile that was leftover from my long ago Anna Dress. With a bit under 2 yards, I had just enough to make the short sleeved version of this blouse. No, the sleeves did not actually make the final product. We'll get to that...

To begin, let's talk about construction. This blouse was an absolute blast to make! Honestly, I can't remember the last time I had this much fun sewing up a pattern. The Zsalya construction is a bit like a Choose Your Own Sewing Adventure. In the instructions, there are two ways to do all the hardest steps, depending on your skill level and current motivation. Instead of the Quick and Dirty, which I appreciated from afar, I chose to do everything the Clean and Fancy route. 

Of course. My love of fancy is so well-documented, it's in this blog title. 

This particular fancy method involved a series of pattern flips that ensured a lovely inner finish. The crossover yoke's seams are faced and top-stitched, just as pretty inside as out. For a relatively quick project, the techniques involved in getting a perfectly finished yoke made for a mentally stimulating bout of sewing. Each step was well explained, well diagrammed, and easy to accomplish. The instructions hold your hand every step of the way, if you're worried about the geometry involved. This is more than your average pattern, for sure. 

The back: I love the curved yoke, but the fit here is a bit odd. Next time, I will be making some adjustments there, as well.

Naturally, I made a few adjustments to this pattern. Going in, I imagined this blouse paired with skinny jeans, for those nights when I just can't be bothered to put on a dress. That doesn't happen often, admittedly, but pretty casual blouses are a hole in my wardrobe. To make it more suited for that purpose, I lengthened the blouse by three inches and omitted the sleeves. 

Well, I eventually omitted the sleeves. After attaching one short sleeve, I tried the blouse on and was unhappy. In any other fabric, they would have been so, so cute. Combined with the longer length and mass of polka dots, however, they just didn't work. I was overrun by dots! With the trusty seam ripper, I took them off again and finished the sleeves with self-fabric bias tape. 

My other alterations were fairly minor. When you have a generous rear end, as I do, longer tops can end up blousing in unfortunate manners. With the added length, that was something to worry about, so I added a four-inch slit at each side seam. Not only do they give a greater range of movement, but the slits preserve the draped quality of the original pattern lines. Additionally, I made a small (1/2 inch) full bust adjustment, then rotated the dart back into the pattern's original gathers. So easy! 

In the end, I adore this blouse. In fact, I already a have long-sleeved Liberty version halfway sewn up! I took a rounded shoulder adjustment on that one and left the original length, in my new quest to perfect the Zsalya. This top is exactly the sort of garment I love for chillier months. It dresses up beautifully with skirts and boots, but can be smartly casual with jeans and a cardigan. Plus, you know, it's super fun to sew. The Zsalya has tried-and-true Mary pattern written all over it. 

If you're interested in winning a copy of Zsalya, or any of the other patterns featured in Selfish Sewing Week, hop on over to Imagine Gnats. Rachael has a fantastic giveaway ending tonight, which will have forty-one lucky winners. How fantastic is that? In the meantime, check out the other featured stitchers and indie designers participating in Selfish Sewing Week. Happy sewing!

Featured Stitchers

Featured Indie Pattern Designers

Note: The Zsalya top was provided to me, as part of participation in Selfish Sewing Week. The opinions herein are my own and completely unbiased. Though, let's be honest, I chose to sew this top because its style is right up my alley!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Miss Isla Makes a Toast: Simplicity 2648

There are a few universal truths about a woman's late twenties. Friday nights will increasingly be spent watching Netflix and drinking champagne, family members will start to gossip about the impending doom of her eggs, and she will attend eight-hundred-and-two weddings a year. Roughly.
Or, at least, those are the truths of my late twenties. Yours may be defined by never-ending balloon rides and the sudden ability to play the mandolin. Me? I'm all weddings, all Orphan Black marathons, all the time. This fall, specifically, is jam packed with wedded bliss. Sam and I have five invitations decorating our fridge right this second.
Kicking off the Season of Personalized Cocktail Napkins, one of my dearest friends from high school was married earlier this month. There is no trickier event to dress for than a September night wedding, in Texas. Anything is possible, from freak cold fronts to hurricanes. My solution: a cocktail dress, a cardigan, and a large purse filled with emergency ponchos/granola bars.
Unfortunately, I don't own many summer-appropriate cocktail dresses. Most of them are silk or velvet--lovely fabrics, but not coming near my skin before October. Luckily, Hancock Fabrics had one of their mega pattern sales in August, with Simplicity, Butterick, and McCall's all priced for 99 cents! Much of my pattern buying has been indie-focused in the last few years, so I came away with quite a haul. Among the trove was Simplicity 2648, an "Amazing Fit" princess-seamed cocktail dress.
Y'all, I know we talked about this with McCall's 6696, but cup-sized pattern sizing is genius. This particular pattern goes up to a size 24 and D cup size. Considering how annoying princess seam bust adjustments are, I am just going to pause for a happy dance.

Right. So, there's just one question. How well do these Amazing Fit patterns actually fit? I set out with two yards of stretch floral cotton sateen to find out. To fit my 46-34-46 frame, I traced a size 22-D for the bodice, graded to a 20 waist, then graded out to a 22 curvy for the hips and skirt. The result, as you can see, is a pretty amazing fit, indeed.
The way Amazing Fit patterns work is at once brilliant and infuriating. Not only are the bodice pieces based on your cup size, but almost every seam has a one inch seam allowance, rather than the standard 5/8th inch. In order to find your personal fit, Simplicity has you baste the entire dress together, take it in or out where you need, then stitch everything together permanently. For those with hard-to-fit figures, this is a welcome, if time-consuming process.
For me, the standard sizing ended up being an almost perfect match. The armscye was taken in about an inch, but everywhere else is as-is. All of my skirt and side seams were one inch, which is much larger than I prefer, when sewing up princess seams. It can be really difficult to ease that much fabric together. I ended up trimming them all down to 1/2 inch, after the basting fit check.
The rest of construction, as Simplicity would have us do it, is super easy. One invisible zipper, a machine-stitched hem, bodice facings, then you're done. You know, of course, that I didn't let any of that stand. Three cheers for making things more difficult!
Okay, I did keep the neck facing, which I under-stitched and tacked to the shoulders. I then finished the armscyes with self-fabric bias tape, catch-stitched to the inside of the dress. The invisible zipper was subbed out for a hand picked lapped zipper--metal, because that's what I had in stash--and the hem was hand-stitched up. Apparently, I'm a glutton for hand stitching. I don't know when that happened, but I suspect the aforementioned Netflix marathons are to blame. It's such a mindless, soothing thing to do while watching TV murders. I love it.
Dress back! Note: Lapped zipper, lack of pattern matching.

Dress guts! All seams were serged to finish. I used a mix of black and white thread, because the dominant color outside is black, but the inside is white. I opted for black anywhere it could show on the outer fabric.
The only quibble I have with this dress is the fabric. This large scale watercolor floral was bought a zillion years ago from Gorgeous Fabrics, and really is the perfect end-of-summer cocktail print. Unfortunately, the stretch of the fabric and the huge scale of the print made this simple project a bit more intense. With the amount of fabric I had, print matching along seams was not an option. The repeat distance was well over two feet! Instead, I settled for matching by color group, when possible. It actually turned out pretty well, thanks to the amorphous quality of the flowers, but I was terrified it would end up a mess.
Stretch came into play in two areas--easing the princess seams and choosing foundational garments. Stretch is totally awesome for close fitting dresses, but it can encourage a fabric to pucker. There is some small bubbling over the bust seams, thanks to this very thing. After the second attempt at easing, I invoked the privileges of a wearable muslin and called it good enough. As for that other issue... let's just say that Spanx are a total necessity, with this dress. This cotton wants to cling to everything it touches, both girl and garter. It's either suck it in all night or girdle up. Wearing this for a night out definitely made me appreciate all those full-skirted day dresses!

In the end, I adore this bodice. There is a high, rounded neckline than I'm dying to try with a fuller skirt. I'm actually wondering, if cutting a size larger in 2648's own skirt wouldn't make this pattern much more wearable for day-to-day dressing. I love the way Alana's version skims out a little bit, instead of hugging every curve. It's less a wiggle dress, that way. Oh, the possibilities...

No matter what future style changes I make, this dress is a perfect cocktail piece. I actually didn't quite finish it in time for the wedding, but I've worn it since and loved it! The wedding itself went off without a hitch. The outdoor ceremony ended up between two thunderstorm cells, which is much better than it sounds. It was cloudy, sixty-eight degrees, and perfectly breezy. Such lucky weather for a Texas September! It was a lovely night for the loveliest of couples. Bring on more wedding marches!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Miss Odette Jazzes Things Up

Guten tag, kittens!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend. My own was gloriously lazy. Between travels and visitors, Sam and I haven't had a weekend to ourselves in months. We slept late, ate dreadfully unhealthy food, took a couple of long walks, and reveled in not having to be anywhere.  To cap it off, last night we watched the first episode of Ken Burns' new documentary series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, while I edited a few posts worth of pictures. As an official Eleanor Roosevelt fangirl, this was the perfect end to our lackadaisical weekend. If you're in the US and missed it, the next six episodes will be playing each night this week. Set your DVR! If the first episode was any indication, Ken Burns has another documentarian masterwork on his hands. 

Back to the real topic at hand, though. Part of the editing spree featured pictures of my favorite dress from this summer. I am so excited to finally share my test version of Blue Ginger Doll's Odette Dress!

When Abby sent me the above line drawings of Odette, I jumped at the chance to test her. Odette is a classic bateau v-necked dress, with a gored circle skirt, waistband, and coordinated button insert for visual interest. These are all of my favorite things in one dress! As an hourglass, I live for sewing waistbands and flouncy skirts. Immediately, I imagined this dress in pink and black, which drove this version.

While I can't officially review the pattern, since I've only sewn the test version so far, I can say that Odette lived up to my expectations. The sizing, like all of BGD's new releases, goes up to an Australian 24 (50'' bust), is drafted on a D-cup, and is a very close fit. Knowing this, I cut a straight size 20 bodice, blending to an 18 waist, then back to a 20 at the hips. It's a shockingly good fit. The waistband nips in at the perfect place and the skirt swirls about me in such a fun manner. When I tested the fit halfway through construction, I ran out into our living room and demanded Sam look at how tiny my waist appeared. That's always a good sign in a dress, right?

For fabric, I used a hot pink cotton shirting from Fabric Mart that's been in my stash a few years. It's pretty lightweight and wrinkles like crazy, but is also really soft and has a beautiful drape. For the insert, I used a plain black linen also from the stash, and attached it with plain black buttons. For future versions, I'll probably flip these weights and do a heavier main fabric, with a lightweight underlay. The linen is just a bit bulky under the shirting, but the color combination is spot on. I know it's ridiculously girly, but I will always love pink and black together. 

Of course, a shockingly good fit isn't a perfect fit. As you can tell from the side view above, I probably need a small FBA for future versions, which makes sense given I'm a larger cup size. I'm thinking a 1-inch overall adjustment, but we'll see! When testing a pattern, I try to make as few changes as possible, so that the integrity of a draft's fit remains. 

As for construction, everything was very clever, which is a hallmark of Abby's designs. The black underlay is an insert that's secured with four coordinated buttons underneath. There is a full lining in the bodice and an invisible zipper running up the center back. Since this fabric didn't ravel, I pinked all the insides and finished the hem and lining by catch stitch. 

Originally, my version also had short sleeves, but they were driving me crazy. I was running out of fabric, so had to cut them on the bias, and they just didn't set in as smoothly because of it. They came off again a few weeks later and I hand sewed the lining to the armholes, turning View B into View A. If you'd like to see sleeved versions of Odette, both Heather and G Marie have beautiful versions. 

Dress guts! Woohoo!
Notice: fully lined bodice, the additional insert, and the hand-stitched hem.
Ignore: The "I wore this all day!" wrinkles.

There's really not much else to say, since this is a test version of the dress. Honestly, I just adore this pattern. Abby's design aesthetic and sizing really, really work for me. I'm already looking forward to making more versions of Odette. Wouldn't it be lovely in a plaid flannel for fall? It makes me itch for chilly weather! Jazz hands for Odette

Note: As part of testing, this pattern was given to me free of charge. All opinions and the decision to post about it, however, are entirely my own. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Miss Clara and the Many Happy Returns: McCall's 6696

Hello, kittens! As promised, today I'm back with another version of McCall's 6696 and the furthering of my shirtdress obsession. Though this is my third iteration, this is actually the dress that kicked off the Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses. When I ordered this fabric, a Ming green tufted voile from Mood, I knew its fate lay in buttons and collar stands.

This pattern is explicitly designed for light, translucent fabrics like eyelets, lace, and Swiss dot. Along with all the pieces you need for a shirtdress, 6696 also includes instructions and pieces for a bias-cut slip to go underneath. Perfect for my semi-sheer voile! My MSN project for September was an easy decision, with this pairing.

Construction-wise, there really isn't anything new to say about this dress. The only major difference from my previous iterations is the addition of sleeves Other than a small wide bicep adjustment, this is the original sleeve pattern, complete with a slightly puffed sleeve cap. In a sturdier fabric, I would probably remove a bit of ease from the cap to lessen that poof, but with such a drapey fabric like voile, it's a really soft look.

What's lovely about this fabric is that every design element looks softer. The pleats float around my hips, the back is gently gathered, and the collar turned beautifully. Of course, the fabric also wrinkles like crazy with one look, but that's voile for you. What you get in billowy, summer goodness, you exchange for shape retention. It really doesn't phase me at this point!

To finish the main dress off, I chose translucent white buttons for the closures. Simple, easy, and classic! Meanwhile, the yoke and waistband facings are done in the same tufted voile.

Ignore the weird sleeve happening on the right back, my dears. I spent this whole shoot with that sleeve unknowingly hiked up! Shite happens, no?

As for the slip, that was such an easy project! It's two pieces, front and back, plus straps. Everything is cut on the bias and perfectly skims over the body and under the dress. I had some green bamboo voile in my stash, which was the perfect consistency for the slip. It's slick like charmeuse, but breathes beautifully. Even better, it was the perfect color to go under this voile--just a bit brighter and deeper, to enhance the color.

Unfortunately, I also didn't hem it quite short enough for breezy Texas days. You can check out a peep of the slip in the photo below! Since that first foray out into the world I've hemmed it an additional two inches for safety's sake.

In the end, this is such a perfect end-of-summer dress. I love the fabric weight, the little tufted dots, and the way it swirls about me as I walk. Plus, it works beautifully with my light gold wedding shoes! I haven't been able to wear these since last December, but I love how retro they look with this dress. In fact, this is the exact outfit I'll be wearing at my birthday dinner tonight! What better way to ring in 29 than in my new favorite dress and my all time favorite shoes?

McCall's 6696, you continue to make me so, so happy. Perhaps a full-sleeved version is due next? For this week's sewing project, I've got my eye on Jennifer Lauren's newest, the Dalloway dress, but after that it may be a return to the Land of Shirtdresses!

Note: The fabric for this project was provided courtesy of Mood Fabrics, as part of the Mood Sewing Network. Thanks, Mood!