Sunday, December 14, 2014

Miss Clara and the Seasonally Inappropriate Christmas Dress: McCall's 6696

When planning a dress for the holidays, a certain aesthetic comes to mind. This is the season for plaid taffetta and long-sleeved wool sheaths. This is, most assuredly, not the season for lightweight poplin printed with hot pink roses. No Northern Hemisphere woman in her right mind would sew such a thing right now. 

Except, apparently, me.

I couldn't help myself. While musing on Christmas dresses, this Liberty cotton lodged itself in my mind and wouldn't budge. I've hoarded four yards of this poplin, in the pink Carline print, for years. Not only is this my favorite Liberty print, but it's also maddeningly discontinued. I have another two yards in blue, awaiting the perfect blouse pattern, and an Ebay alert set up for the red colorway. Carline is my fabric white whale. 

This particular length was bought with a shirtdress in mind. Of course. Since then, McCall's 6696 has come into my life and my collar-making skills have improved tenfold. Not only would this be an ideal Christmas shirtdress, I decided, but I probably wouldn't ruin it in the process. Score! It was time for Carline to have her day. 

True to form, I couldn't leave well enough alone. Heaven forbid, I take the easy way and make an unaltered, perfect-as-she-is 6696. That would be too easy, too stress-free! Instead, I decided to turn my beloved shirtdress pattern into a half-shirtdress pattern. I would use the bodice of 6696, paired with a straight waistband, full, gathered skirt, and side zip closure. 

Despite my dramatics, this is actually a straight-forward pattern change. There was some basting involved, to get the waistband just right, but otherwise, it's a simple matter of planning. Let's walk through it, shall we? Note: I didn't set out to make this a tutorial, but rather a guideline of my process, so this isn't a fully photographed explanation. Writing it out, the instructions ballooned in size. I explain everything thoroughly, however, and photographed the two weird parts. If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section!

1. Cut both skirt pieces on the fold. I decided to use the original skirt pieces from 6696, but gather them like a traditional dirndl skirt. You could, similarly, cut two rectangles for a real dirndl skirt, as in Gertie's tutorial. Either way, since we're moving from a front button closure to a side zip, you're going to cut those skirt pieces on the fold, so that you don't have a seam running down the front.

2. Trace a new button band. For a half-shirtdress, you only want a button band the length of your bodice pieces. So, measure the length of your bodice center fronts, then mark that length on your button band piece. Trace that portion of your band and--voila!--new bands.

3. Measure your waistband. Your impulse for this project will be to add the length of your button band to your original waistband, to create a slightly longer one. This is actually not the way to go. Full shirtdresses have more ease around the waist than a half-shirtdress, to prevent button gaping. How much ease you want at the waist will be up to you (standard is 1'', but I prefer 1/2''), but it's likely that 6696's waistband will work as-is, without lengthening. Put the pattern piece around your natural waist and try it out! Does it feel comfortable, when you sit? Is it secure enough to add definition? Add or subtract length, based on this decision, and remember to factor in a 5/8'' seam allowance on each end.

4. Mark side seams and centers of waistband. Because we're gathering our skirts in, you'll need to mark your center front, center back, and side seams, so that your skirt is even all around. Begin by adding your seam lines to each end at 5/8'', then measure in from one end at 1/4th the length (Center Front), 1/2 the length (Side), and 3/4th the length (Center Back) between those lines.

5. (Optional) Reduce gathers on back bodice. While the blousing in the back of this dress doesn't bother me, you may want to streamline the back in this version. To do so, simply trace the back bodice piece, then remove your desired amount from between the center gathering marks, in a vertical strip from top-to-bottom. I recommend leaving some gathers in, for ease of wearing, but removing one or two inches from the pattern piece will lessen that blousing quite a bit.

6. Leave the left side bodice open, 3.5 inches from top. We're going to insert an invisible zipper on the left side, so construct your bodice normally, but only sew down part of that side seam. There's no exact science to this, but it should be enough that you'll be able to get into your dress comfortably! Remember to back-stitch, at each end. Construct and finish the rest of your bodice, as usual. 

The left side of my bodice, after leaving it open. 

7. Add button bands, then overlap the right bodice onto the left bodice. After sewing your bodice as you would normally, attach your button bands! Once you have them on and top-stitched, put the right bodice over the left bodice, lining up the bands, then baste them into place. Finish both the collar and the sleeves now. Leave the buttons and buttonholes until the end of dress construction, so you can accurately mark placement, with the skirt attached.

8. Sew the waistband to the bodice. Begin pinning with the left side, still leaving that open, and pin your waistband to the bodice. Align the centers of your front and back bodice, with the marks on your waistband, then baste them together. If you're happy after a fit-check, then sew everything in permanently! Note: you may find that you want to take the waistband in further at this step, or even raise it a little. The proportions of a half-shirtdress are just a bit different from a full, so these changes are natural. 

Overlapped bodice bands attached to the waistband. 

9. Sew the right skirt seam. We're still leaving that left side open, so sew and finish the right skirt seam only.

10. Gather and attach the skirt. Sew two rows of gathering stitches, at 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch, around the entirety of the skirt waistline. Once you've sewn, push along these lines and create your gathers. Match the skirt center front, center back, and side seams to those of your waistband, and even out the gathers across the skirt. Stitch into place. 

11. Insert an invisible zipper. Finish the entire left side of your dress, from bodice to skirt, using your preferred finishing method. (I serged everything, for simplicity's sake.) Then, insert the invisible zipper into the left side, with the top zipper stop aligning with your fabric opening. It's just like sewing an invisible zipper in a skirt or a dress, but the top zipper tape is going into an existing seam. Conversely, you can choose to leave the top left side entirely open beforehand, closing it only after your zipper installation. Either way, make sure your waistbands line up, and have at it!

Resulting invisible side zipper and a peek at my light pink bias tape armscye finish!

12. Sew the left skirt seam. Once your invisible zipper is in place, sew the remaining skirt side seam, below the zipper. Secure the bottom zipper tape into this seam, with a few hand stitches.

13. Buttons and hem. Add your buttonholes, buttons, and hem, as usual!

14. Dance a jig, in your new half-shirtdress. 

Of course, you could also just use an existing half-shirtdress pattern. There's the new wrapped half-shirtdress from McCall's, M7081, and the Lisette Traveler Dress from Simplicity. I didn't use either of these, because the McCall's was just published last week and the Traveler doesn't have a traditional collar construction, which drives me crazy. I figured, the 6696 already fits in the bodice, so why not go with the one I already love? A good design alteration is creatively exhilarating, anyhow!

It's okay to just nod at me, as if I've gone mad. You should use an existing pattern, if you've got one stashed away. 

Apart from the construction techniques above, there are a few little extras in this dress. As is my wont, everything is top-stitched, including the button bands, collar, collar stand, and the waistband. Not only does it cut down on the hand-stitching, but it adds a bit of definition to the busy floral pattern. The armscyes are finished with light pink single-fold bias tape, which goes with the palette nicely. I was going to make self-fabric tape, but couldn't bring myself to waste the Carline. I actually have just enough of this fabric leftover to make a sleeveless blouse. Joy!

The buttons on this lovely are jade green plastic, from Hancock's, and match the green of the rose leaves exactly. Honestly, y'all, as much as I love Carline, those buttons might be my favorite part of this dress. They glow like little emeralds against the rose pattern, don't they?

Of course, I'm wearing this dress with my favorite emerald cardigan right now. It's been pretty mild lately, but things are going to turn chillier this week! We're actually headed to New Orleans next weekend, to spend the holiday week (and our first anniversary!) there with my family. It's not a Danielson Family Christmas, unless we're in some far flung location, eating Chinese food and using a coat stand as a tree. What can I say? We're heathens, the lot of us. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Miss Kimberly Paints in Watercolors: BHL Kim Dress

Perhaps I've watched Indiana Jones too many times, but I'm a big believer in the quest. Whether it's hunting down just the right Christmas present for Great Aunt Myrtle, or searching for the perfect set of long-lasting, colorful pens (Ahem: Triplus Fineliners), I love a good mission! To that end, I'm often sewing with a quest in mind, trying pattern after pattern until discovering my platonic version of a garment. I've found the classic shirtdress, conquered the A-line skirt, and--most recently--sewn the perfect party dress.

That last one really shouldn't have been so difficult! Yet, as a plus size woman, party dresses have forever been the thorn in my sartorial side. Your ready-to-wear shopping experience may differ from mine, but buying basics isn't that much of a trial for me. It still sucks, admittedly, but I at least have success. If I'm going to buy RTW, I know that Loft carries my favorite jeans, Talbot's stocks the coziest sweaters, and Asos Curve produces my favorite coats. Fancy dresses, however? I have no go-to. Inevitably, dresses for plus size woman are boring shifts, overly embellished horrors for mothers-of-the-bride, or ill-fitting polyester disasters. It was shopping for a party dress that led me to sewing, in the end. I just couldn't take one more bout of shopping for something pretty and ending up with another black dress.

Nowadays, I sew a ton of dresses, as you know. After years of settling for mediocre RTW pieces, I can't get pretty fabrics and floofy silhouettes out of my head. Every time I put a handmade dress on, it's striking a personal victory against the body-shaming, unwelcoming fashion industry. Unfortunately, my number one battle remains the cocktail dress. Striking a balance of sexy and sophisticated proves a continuing challenge. Inevitably, I sew a silk wiggle dress, love it in photos, then never reach for it when an event comes up. If I analyze why, a simple answer emerges. I want to be sexy, sophisticated, and not horribly self conscious all night. I hate worrying about panty lines or squeezing myself into some stretchy torture device disguised as shapewear. Y'all, I would throw a bonfire just to burn my Spanx and roast marshmallows over their stretchy corpses. The easiest way out of this conundrum would be to use a luxe fabric, with my tried-and-true dress pattern, Simplicity 1873. Yet...I long for extra details and a bit of sass.

Enter By Hand London's newest pattern: the Kim dress.

When BHL reached out to their testing pool with this pattern, I squealed out loud in delight. There are two Kim variations: a square-necked princess seamed bodice with a tulip skirt, and a sweetheart princess seamed bodice with a gathered, pin-tucked skirt. Jenny actually sent me a message not long after, making sure I'd gotten this e-mail, because the gathered view just screamed "Mary." She was right. So, so right.

Y'all, this is the party dress of my dreams. Not only does it mix sex appeal with sweet design details, but it has a fairly expansive size range. The Kim dress goes up to a UK 20, which translates to measurements of 45-38-48 inches and 114.5-96.5-122 centimeters. That puts me (46-35-46) at a base size 18, so I jumped at the chance to test this baby.

Today, I'm sharing with you that first version of this pattern. Usually, I keep my tested versions of a garment on the down low, because I prefer to blog about finalized patterns. However, since most of the testing pool loved Kim's fit, there aren't substantial changes between this version and one that comes in BHL's envelope. Ergo, I can review it like a real dress. Huzzah! Of course, because this is a quest, my Kim isn't perfect quite yet.  For testing purposes, I sewed as close to the original pattern as possible, which meant choosing a size 18 and performing an FBA, but nothing further. Thus, there are some changes I plan on making the next time around, but we'll get to those.

First, let's talk design, shall we? As you can see, I chose my initial love: the poofy-skirts, divinely feminine View A, sweetheart neckline and all. The bodice is lined in jade cotton batiste and there is a 22'' invisible zipper at the center back seam. Honestly, I was trepidatious about the princess seams of the bodice. Though I'm now to the point where they turn out well, I still find the fitting and sewing of princess seams to be in an utter pain. All that clipping and pressing and smoothing! Egads! Scarier yet, Kim's princess seams didn't come in from the armscye, as is most common, but from the sweetheart neckline itself. This, it turns out, was actually a plus. Since the curve of vertical princess seams is less drastic, the FBA was infinitely easier. After moving the bust point down just a hair, the whole process was a breeze and my pattern pieces didn't distort whatsoever. Considering the end results I'm used to, that was a miracle!

Fabric wise, I chose this beautiful watercolor floral from Hancock Fabrics. It was lovely, had a nice weight, but fluid drape, and was 100% polyester. I usually sew with natural or semi-natural fibers, but couldn't get this gorgeous print out of my head. Each time I visited the store, I would pet it a little, wishing it were silk. So, I bit the bullet and bought it anyhow. It proved really easy to sew up, except for one step: those pintucks. That's the only area of Kim that really gave me fits. I spent hours marking and sewing those pleats, friends. Part of it was the fault of the fabric, which wouldn't hold a crease at all, but the other was the sheer expanse of the gathered skirt. It goes on for eons.  The directions suggested marking certain points, then eyeballing it and using the grainlines to make sure each pleat was even. Call me a perfectionist, but I couldn't handle the unknown. Instead, I marked straight lines in chalk across the entirety of the skirt, and used them as exact guidelines. It worked, but I needed a few glasses of wine at the end of the night.

The rest of Kim was a total cake walk, thank heavens! All the pieces joined beautifully and came together with zero fuss.

Fit wise, the Kim is pretty great for practically out-of-the-pattern. It hits my waist at the right point, hugs my bust in that lovely princess-seamed manner, and is a great hem length for a fancy dress. Next time around, I do plan on making a few changes, though. The neckline is just a hair wide on me, showing a bit too much bustline for comfort, if you catch it at the wrong angle. I'm all for sex appeal, but would like to not worry about scaring children, you know? The shoulders also have a tendency to slip, which is partly a fabric issue, but something to be addressed. So, my game plan: move the straps in by a half-inch and raise the entire neckline by another half-inch, then shrink the armholes a hair. That will keep the sexy silhouette, but make wardrobe malfunctions much less likely.

On the whole, I'm inordinately pleased with the Kim dress. All those little design details really elevate it from the usual fit-and-flare dress. It's the ideal mix of sexy and sophisticated--just the dress pattern I've been looking for! The best thing of all, however? No Spanx required. That requires a happy dance, y'all. So, tell me, what is your go-to party dress pattern? Will you be making one for the holiday season, this year? I just ordered some of this damask velvet from Mood, for a wintry Kim, because I couldn't resist another fancy dress.

Note: This pattern was given to me free of charge, in exchange for testing it and providing accurate feedback. In addition, this post originally appeared on the Curvy Sewing Collective, but I like a record of my projects on Idle Fancy.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Miss Melinda Needs Longer Arms: Grainline Archer

Good afternoon, my dear chickens! For those of you in the United States, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. My own was filled with perfectly made apple pie (a first!), tons of family, and a lower back injury. Apart from the oh-my-god-I-can't-move back spasms, it was an idyllic holiday. Sam and I really enjoy cooking for masses of people and it was a blast having both of our families at the same table. 

That being said, I have missed quiet weekends. Right before Thanksgiving, we were in Chicago for an academic conference, and the weekend before that was our (newly) annual trip to the Renaissance Fair with Sam's family. We counted it up and it has been over two months since we've had a weekend without travel plans, visitors, or familial obligations. The first two weeks of December, however, are blessedly open. I plan on using the next two weekends to conquer my backlog of sewing projects. Woohoo! 

As far as blogging, I have quite a few unposted pieces to share. It's rare that I photograph projects, without immediately posting them, but life has continually gotten in the way these past weeks. First up on that list is a mixed-bag project: my first long-sleeved Grainline Archer

Autumn in Texas is a funny thing. Our high temperatures can hit anywhere on a forty-degree spectrum, from the bitter chill of the thirties to the lovely, mild seventies. (0°C to 25°C) As such, layers are essential. I love a patterned button-down, because they work solo and layered under a cashmere sweater. Unfortunately, my wardrobe is a bit slim on buttoned shirts. I keep telling myself to make more of them, but if I'm going to spend time fiddling with collar stands and buttons, I'd rather make a shirtdress!

Shocking, right? However, as part of my quest for the perfect shirtdress, I realized my vision lacked something: sleeves. Though it is wonderful in every other way, there isn't a true long-sleeved option for McCall's 6696. To my mind, a perfect long sleeve on shirtdress has a placket, buttons, and cuffs. 
Enter the Archer.

Combining sleeve patterns is one of the easiest changes to make. Swap out the sleeve cap on your foundation pattern for the one on your desired sleeve and--voilĂ !--a perfect new sleeve. I had high hopes for the Archer sleeve, but didn't want to count on it with precious shirtdress fabric. I also have no time for unnecessary muslins in my life right now. I knew the Archer body worked on me, so I grabbed some polka-dot cotton from my stash and threw caution to the wind. I'd make up an Archer, see how I liked the sleeve once and for all, then decide whether it would work for my frankensleeve!


This did not go well. As it turns out, the larger sizes of the Archer have sleeves fit for Amazons.

On the statuesque side myself*, I've never particularly worried about sleeves being too big. If anything, I usually have the opposite problem. Not so with the Archer. The sleeves on this baby are a good three inches too long and four inches too big around the wrist. Instead of lightly hugging my wrist as a cuff should, these slide right on down my hand and land on my knuckles. It's like I've transplanted sleeves meant for Dwight Howard onto an otherwise reasonably sized shirt.

I'm going to fix this, of course. In fact, I considered doing so before posting this blog and glossing over the whole thing. However, if you were coming to Idle Fancy for perfectly muslined, aspirational garments, you would have stopped following long ago. You deserve to see these sleeves. Why, with my arms down, my hands are barely visible! It's a new trend sweeping (the floors of) the nation!

*5'8'' (172cm) and with what my mother calls "healthy Viking bones," my wrists are decidedly larger than the average woman's. Bangle bracelets are but an optimistic pipe dream and cuffs are rarely this big. 

Eventually, I'm going to pick the cuffs off, shorten and narrow the bottom sleeves, then try the whole shebang again. For my plaid shirtdress, I'm also going to add a tower placket on the sleeve, in lieu of the narrow, banded one of the Archer. 

If you ignore the sleeves, this shirt was an uneventful project. For the bodice, I used my original altered Archer, which added in a bust dart during the FBA. It's a base size 16, with four inches added to the bust line, and the shoulders narrowed by a 1/2 inch. The polka-dotted cotton was printed horribly off-grain, but it worked out. I cut out according to grainline, instead of vertical dot lines, and the scattered pattern hides the flaw well. For buttons, I used plain black ones from the stash and they're the perfect contrast. Once the sleeves are fixed, this will be a fantastic layering shirt! 

In the meantime, I'm trying to convince myself that my arms aren't abnormally short. This is the only problem with sewing, y'all. Adjusting patterns makes over-analyzing your proportions all too easy! Perhaps I have time for full muslins right now, after all...