Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Miss Vivienne Finds the Spot: 3/4 Circle Skirt

Good evening, friends! As with every other Wednesday this semester, Sam is teaching a late night capstone class (The Allegory of the Cave: Rhetoric and Film*) and won't be home until after nine. While I miss the bearded one, this means my Wednesday nights are filled with sewing, blogging, and catching up on The Paradise. There are worse ways to spend an evening!

Tonight, and many nights recently, I've been musing over personal style. My thirtieth birthday is later this year and I keep catching myself saying things like "This dress feels too young for me" and "That's a lot of pink, yo." While I think the ageist way we approach style is ridiculous, I do find myself naturally gravitating away from certain pieces of my youth. (Not florals. Florals for life!) I'm craving saturated colors, a little more sex appeal, and heightened glamour. Hell, I've even been building a Pinterest board and stalking my style icons (specifically: Heather and Ulrika) for inspiration on the matter. 

What's more, in March, I'm spending three days on camera and was specifically told to wear business casual outfits in solid colors. So, of course, I just sewed a polka dotted circle skirt. Nothing says adult glamour and business casual like GIANT POLKA DOTS OF DOOM. 

Nope, there's nothing super twee here. 

*Doesn't this class sound fascinating? I helped brainstorm the film screenings and readings for it, which was a blast. Tonight, they're discussing An Education and a piece by bell hooks, as related to feminism and educational inequality. Undergrad Mary would've been ecstatic over that pairing. 

Who am I kidding? Polka dots will always be welcome in my wardrobe, increased attention to glamour or not. Some loves you can't and shouldn't outgrow. Polka dots are timeless! This particular fabric was bought, at least, seven years ago at Hancock Fabrics and is a non-stretch cotton pique. My original intention was to make a pair of retro shorts with it, but I never ever wear shorts, so it sat in the fabric closet instead. When I decided to make a quick 3/4 circle skirt last week, it seemed the perfect choice. 

Unfortunately, it was printed just a hair off grain. With any other fabric, this wouldn't be such an issue, but the eye notices dots that have gone askew. That would have driven me insane! To mitigate the matter, I cut the skirt itself mostly in line with the dots, while the waistband is completely on grain. Trust me, there is nothing more uncomfortable than an off-grain waistband! No pattern placement is worth that sort of twisting. I did a two-piece outer waistband, so that the dots wouldn't march off quite so horribly and it turned out pretty well. An untrained observer, so used to RTW shenanigans, wouldn't even notice! Or so I'm assuring myself, anyhow. 

I didn't have quite enough fabric to perfectly match those side seam Vs. Circle skirts are such fabric hogs. 

After figuring out how to finagle those dots, this was a cinch to sew up. There is nothing easier than a circle skirt with a straight waistband. I've become so accustomed to the complicated rigors of shirtdresses that this almost felt like cheating!  There's an invisible zipper at the left side seam and the insides are all serged in dark gray, as a finish. I even took the quick route on the waistband, securing the inner facing by top-stitching the outside. So easy! 

The hem is also machine-stitched, instead of my usual handsewn finish. If a fabric betrays me by being printed off-grain, I'm not spending two hours catch-stitching an endless hem on it. Plus, this pique is pretty damn hefty and took the machine stitches beautifully. Woohoo!

There is some sick part of me insisting that navy-and-white polka dots are so classic that they're basically a neutral. I don't need the rationalizations, however. I really love this little skirt and its grandiose polka dots. It goes fabulously with my collection of bright sweaters and the coral Keds I'm currently obsessing over. Besides, my kid sister turns 18 this weekend (Happy Birthday, Lainey Love!), so clinging to my youth is an expected reaction. I'll ride it out a little longer. 

My chicer aspirations can attack the box of pretty, bright pontes that just arrived on my doorstep. I'm contemplating a few versions of this 11/2014 Burda dress, but we shall see...

Note: If you, too, would like a 3/4 circle skirt, check out Devon's new tutorial over at Miss Make. It's an exquisitely detailed guide to drafting something similar. (I use a side zip, instead of a center back.)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Miss Clara Predicts an Early Spring: McCall's 6696

Hello, lovelies! Perhaps you thought that, with the end of 1000 Shirtdresses, I would be finished with McCall's 6696. However, spring looms in Texas. That means the lighter, brighter fabrics in my stash are demanding buttons and collars of their own. While I do have many other things on the docket, I made two shirtdresses in late January, especially for those warmer months: one floral and one plaid. Even better, I finally photographed one of them! 

This pastel cotton lawn has been in my stash for five or six years. With Liberty-like softness and all those pretty purple flowers, it's ideal for a sweet, springy shirtdress. (God, that's a lot of alliteration. Forgive me, friends.) Unfortunately, it was also really, really narrow. With four-and-half yards, I was just able to squeak a sleeveless 6696 out of it. 

After five previous iterations of this pattern, there shouldn't be more to say about it. However, I went for a different finishing route with this one. After all that sitting around in a closet, this particular fabric deserved extra flourish. With such a dainty print, why not throw in a few pretty techniques, as well? 

Instead of my usual shirtdress methodology of Topsitching All The Things, I instead hand-sewed all the details. The button bands, waistband, yoke, and hem were secured in place, using simple slip stitch. Meanwhile, the armholes were finished with self-bias tape and a catch-stitch. It all made for a beautiful, clean finish. Woohoo for unnecessary attention to details! 

One certain detail really makes me swoon over this dress, however. Instead of picking clear buttons, or contrasting ones, I covered eleven half-inch buttons with the same floral lawn. Sure, they blend in in these photos, but they add a lovely, feminine touch, in person. My fingertips hurt for two days afterwards, but it was worth it! Oh, sewing...

There's not much more to say about this dress, dear ones. The only fit change I made was to raise the armholes another half-inch. So interesting, no? In the end, this is a fabulous dress for spring. The colors come off a little washed out, in the winter light of these photos, but they're quite pretty in real life. It's going to be cute with a coordinated cardigan and espadrilles. 

Best of all? Next week, our temperatures hover around 70 degrees. It's always nice to actually wear the dress you've recently spent five hours hand sewing! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Miss Mavis Goes to the Opera: Vintage Simplicity 5238

Good evening, friends! Tonight, we're going to talk about three things: vintage patterns, sewing with velveteen, and loving the monsters. Let's deal with the monsters first, shall we? You know the ones I'm talking about--those flawed garments that we love anyway. The dresses with wonky darts or holes from seam ripper "incidents" that see heavy rotation in our closet, nonetheless 

This dress is one such monster, I'm afraid. I love it, but it's definitely not perfect. You've been warned.

It all started with a pattern. I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I would like to use more vintage patterns this year. I've collected them for eons, but was excessively lazy about sewing them up, during grad school. Tracing, grading, and making multiple muslins wasn't my idea of blissful sewing. Imagine that! Now that I have more free time, however, the prospect of a long process isn't nearly so grim. 

First out of my stash: Simplicity 5238. This cocktail dress from 1963, a favorite of Erin's, seemed like a painless way to reenter the world of vintage. It's a one dart bodice, with a box-pleated skirt and two sleeve options, long or short kimono sleeves. Even better, my copy was a size 40, which aligned pretty well with my high bust (40 inches) and waist (35 inches). One FBA and I should've been good to go!

So, I was. Three bodice muslins later. Oh, vintage ladies, your undergarments provided such amusingly improbable dart locations! During the course of my alterations, I:
  • Added a side bust dart, through a two-inch full bust adjustment (Muslin 1)
  • Moved the front waist dart one inch toward the center seam, lowered the side dart (Muslin 2)
  • Curved both darts, to make up for some underbust pooling (Muslin 3)
  • Adjusted for a sway back (Muslin 3)
  • Changed the shoulder slope angle (Muslin 3)
I also decided to eliminate the skirt's center seam, since it's just a pleated dirndl. With this particular dress, I actually changed the pleat orientation entirely, to better preserve the fabric's pattern. 

Then, we come to the velveteen. That's right, the velveteen. Heaven forbid a fabric this pretty be reserved for rabbits contaminated with scarlet fever. When I saw this black cotton velveteen, with its swirling copper floral pattern, I snatched it up for a Mood Sewing Network project. It was originally going to be a blazer, then a Kim dress, then a coat. When I looked at the suggested fabrics for Simplicity 5238, however, velveteen was first on the list. Sartorial kismet!

Of course, this pattern does have a center front bodice seam and a bias-cut back bodice. I cut the pattern out in one layer, to match those seams in an appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the skirt pieces were really wide, when compared with the 46'' fabric, so I had to center the skirt on a different line of the floral. It doesn't bother my eyes, looking instead as if the pattern builds, as we go toward the hem. That's pure, dumb luck, y'all. 

Center front pattern matching, like a boss!
Center back seam!
The back bodice matching isn't quite as on point, because trying to find a visually
agreeable bias origin point is a pain in the ass. 

When it comes to construction, velveteen is finicky. Pressing it incorrectly can cause the pile to crush and seams can't be unpicked, then altered, because sewing will make permanent lines on the fabric. To make everything easier, I used a towel draped across my ironing board, to prevent a crushed pile. Similarly, I used a very light hand with the iron itself, paired with heavy steam. (More tips on sewing velvet and velveteen can be found in Elisalex's recent blog post.) 

My other major velveteen tip? Don't wear nice things, while sewing it up. Velveteen frays like the devil, while you're sewing, and the pile turns into fluffy balls of doom. Fluff gets on everything. I serged those seams, as soon as they were sewn, and faced the hem, sleeves, and neckline with silk organza, to combat it. I was still covered in the stuff. 

Silk organza not only lends more structure to those areas, but prevents fabric deterioration. Woohoo! I sewed the velvet and organza right sides together, flipped the facings to the inside, then catch-stitched them down. Similarly, the zipper is a traditional zip, hand-picked in place. This particular piece involved quite a few hours of watching Phryne Fisher solve murders, while hand stitching all those bits in place.

Silk organza hem facing! I like visible catch-stitching, instead of blind stitches. Don't tell my grandmother.

Everything seems alright up to now, doesn't it? I didn't crush the pile or accidentally misalign my center seams. How does this dress deserve monster status? Well, check that bodice fit, kittens. The weight of the velvet, paired with a little bit of stretch, means that my perfectly fitted muslin didn't translate over. The whole thing is a touch big and those darts refuse to lie flat. With any other fabric, I could probably steam them into submission, but that's not an option here. There is some bubbling on the front, which definitely wasn't there in my final muslin. Alas, I've discovered the problem with sewing a velvet garment toile out of easy-to-please cotton...

Here's the thing, though. I really love this dress.

Rationally, I know that the bodice is imperfect and that the whole thing looks like an ill-fated attempt to upholster a blonde, but whatever. It's soft and warm and the fabric is gorgeous. There's something so delicious about wearing yards of lush, dramatically printed velveteen. My judgment may be twisted from reading about that rabbit as a child, but I adore this fabric and this dress. Perhaps I'm not completely batty, however, because Sam agrees with me. He's plotting to buy tickets to some fancy theater event soon, so that he "can dress up in a three-piece suit and take me out to show off that dress." You've got to love a man who loves your monsters, don't you?

Note: Fabric for this dress was provided by Mood Fabrics, as part of my participation in the Mood Sewing Network.