Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Miss Petra and the Rose Clones: BGD Violet Dress

Good afternoon, my darling wombats! Today, we're going to discuss that most beloved of all sewing projects: the comfort sew. Personally, I am a total creature of comfort. I adore cozy things anyhow, but times of emotional upheaval have me reaching for favorite books, baked goods, teas*, and--yes--sewing patterns. Sometimes, all you want is a happy ending, whether in literature or a guaranteed success of a dress. 

While March has had some wonderful happenings, it's definitely been an emotional month. Amid the excitement of filming two classes for Burda in Colorado and visiting our dearest friends in Nebraska, we were also coping with my brother's hospitalization back home. He's fine now--Thank heavens and Xarelto!--but his diagnosis had some potential health ramifications for my whole family. Consequently, some big decisions (namely: timeline des bébés) rose up last week and demanded immediate attention from Sam and myself. Add into all that a gravy of food poisoning, writing deadlines, and potentially needing a new roof, then you come to my mental state, these past few weeks. We're not even going to talk about how my best friend/soulmate of fifteen years is moving to Chicago**, or else I'll turn into a blubbering mess. 

*Books: Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Baked Goods: Pumpkin Bread in the fall, Lemon Blueberry Cake in the spring
Teas: Yorkshire Gold from Taylors of Harrogate

**Moment of bragging: Steph got a FABULOUS promotion and was plucked from Dallas by very wise people, indeed. She's going to be brilliant and completely conquer the Windy City, armed with beautiful coats, two delightfully quirky cats, and an indomitable sense of adventure. Plus, Sam and I are going to visit all the damn time. Chicago sewists, I may be inflicting a lunch/fabric shopping adventure on y'all this summer, if you're game. 

Obviously, a comfort sew was needed. 

Last fall, I pattern tested the BlueGingerDoll Violet dress for Abby and was instantly smitten. The curved v-neck and blocked bodice are such pretty, interesting variations on the basic knit dress. My test version was basic black, but I knew more colorful iterations were in my future, with the final pattern release. Last week, while contemplating The Fabric Closet of Doom, my eye was drawn to this cabbage rose jersey from Girl Charlee and the possibility of a Violet swirled out before me. Is there anything more comforting than secret pajamas made up in a large scale floral print? I think not. 

There are only a few Girl Charlee fabrics in my stash, ordered in a fit of knit excitement last spring. They were such a mixed bag, quality wise, that I haven't braved another order. My turquoise Bonnie dress has held up shockingly well, however, and this rose fabric was washed twice with no ill effects. It's a medium weight cotton jersey, with good stretch in one direction and moderate stretch in the other. The ends curl like the devil and its recovery isn't the greatest, but it also doesn't bag out after a day's wear. Plus, well, ROSES. Enough said. 

The cutting out of this dress was, shall we say, eventful. There may have been a horrific rotary cutter incident, in which my front skirt piece was completely cleaved in two. I then may have screamed in horror, thrown a pincushion in disgust, and flounced out of the sewing room in a tantrum. Maybe. After some pinot noir and an episode of The Mindy Project (Stephen Colbert's guest appearance as Danny's new priest was my everything.), I returned to cut another skirt front. I was just able to eke out the new piece, but there wasn't enough fabric to prevent those rose clones around the waistline. Sam claims it doesn't bother his eye and I'm going with it, because this dress is otherwise lovely. Besides, it's a comfort project, remember? I refuse to be hypercritical of this dress, kittens. 

The construction, luckily, was an absolute joy. I switched back and forth between my serger, for major seams, and my sewing machine, for the more fiddly bits. A lightning stitch, which is easier to control than serging, is my modus operandi for sleeves, neckbands, and other areas that need extra care. Violet's curved v-neck is formed by subtle gathering at the center bodice front and darting on the neckband, which was a blast to construct. Like I said above, this isn't your average knit dress! 

The shoulders, waistband, and gathering are all stabilized with clear elastic, to prevent stretching over time. I took a pretty narrow hem--a half inch--which was turned with fusible knit tape for stability, then top-stitched with a twin needle. The sleeves were also turned and twin-stitched to finish, which brings me to an esoteric wondering, friends. What is the ideal look of twin-stitching on a knit? I've been experimenting with my tension, trying to find that perfect balance between security of thread and minimal channeling. However, I don't even know that channeling is verboten. Sometimes, in the secrecy of my sewing cave, I admit that it actually looks cool on a solid hemline. Neither my mother nor my grandmother sewed with knits, so I've come to most of my knowledge later in life, from the internet. Most knit tutorials end with "then top-stitch with a twin needle!" That's great and all, but my science background insists on more detail. Does channeling make a hem wavier? Does low tension make the hem weak over time? What would happen, if we zig-zagged a hem instead?

I swear, some days I'm tempted to pull a Christopher Kimball and turn this blog into America's Test Sewing Room. Sewing tutorials and books so often tell you how to do something, but rarely why. I crave the philosophy behind these actions, the nitty gritty details about what happens if you do something else. Does backstitching dart tips really increase the chance of bubbling? By how much? Which is truly better, tying them off or narrowing your stitch and clipping the ends? Do these answers change according to fabric type? I suspect tying off is always better on silk, but I wonder if backstitching is a-okay on medium-weight cotton. These are the musings of my overactive mind. 

Oh, right. We were talking about this cute dress, before I devolved into the sewing mysteries that keep me up at night. Let's forge ahead! I'll try not ramble about whether or not to baste across and down pleats. 

If you ignore the brief cutting mishap, this really was a comforting project. Fit-wise, everything is spot on for me, thanks to a narrow shoulder adjustment and some grading between sizes. Abby drafts on a D-cup, so I usually trace off a size based on my full bust measurement, which is a novelty indeed. This one is a size 20 through the bust, grading in to a 14 at the waist and out to an 18 at the hips. Why, yes, my proportions are ridiculously dramatic. I wonder why RTW dresses never fit me correctly? Curious...

In the end, I adore this dress, rose clones and all. It's right in my sweet spot, style wise: the perfect mix of comfort and pretty fabric. Black background florals are, hands down, my biggest fabric weakness. I want to buy them all! Fingers crossed that this particular fabric launders well, over time, because this dress is destined for heavy wardrobe rotation. You will also see Violet again, in the near future. There are a few woven projects on my sewing table right now, but then I'm going to play with a polka-dotted version of this dress. Bring on the warm weather sewing!

Note: The Violet pattern, from BlueGingerDoll, was given to me in exchange for testing the original version last fall. This post assesses the final pattern, not that tested version. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Miss Barbara Goes Her Own Way: Vogue 9023

Good afternoon, friends! Today's dress is not one I'd planned on blogging. While I don't mind reading about wadders on other people's blogs, writing about failed sewing projects is not my favorite thing. It's bad enough putting all that time, effort, and fabric into a dress I abhor, but to then spend an hour rehashing it all? Egads. I'd rather be eaten to death by carnivorous snails. 

Yet, here we are. Talking about this damned pink dress. There are two reasons for this: 
  1. There is no review of this pattern, Vogue 9023, anywhere on PR or in the blog world. When considering a pattern, I always look at available reviews, so it only seems right to catalog my knowledge of a mystery dress. 
  2. I love a timely and amusing comeuppance, even at my own expense, so couldn't resist posting a dress that can only be described as "unflattering." The universe has a wicked sense of humor, doesn't it? 

Alright, let's discuss the Pink Dress of Horror, Terror, and Mild Dismay. How did this happen? What was I thinking? Well, as we've discussed, I'm going to be on camera soon and it was requested that I wear long-sleeved, solid colored clothing, not in black, red, or navy. Unfortunately, I'm a prints girl and, on the off day I don't wear prints, I'm wearing--you guessed it--black, red, or navy. Something had to be done. 

That something, my brain decided, was ordering three lengths of ponte from Fabric Mart. I ordered the same fabric in cobalt blue, mint green, and this watermelon pink. That was my first mistake. Ponte is not my favorite fabric on the best of days, as I find the label too liberally applied. Ordering ponte online can result in anything from a matte, unstretchy, almost scuba-like fabric to a shiny, drapey, stretchy fabric that you would swear was jersey. Then, we have the incredible variance in fiber content. This one is on the poly side of ponte at 89% polyester, 7% rayon, and 4% spandex. Seriously, y'all, what was I thinking? Heavily polyester ponte is dreadful, especially when you live in Texas. This particular one is shockingly lightweight, doesn't breathe at all, and shines like a disco ball. Its only saving grace was the price: $4/yard. 

When it arrived, I had to chuck my plans of a pretty Burda dress, meant for stable knits. Despite being a two-way stretch fabric, it's just too drapey for such a pattern. So, I went pattern hunting and came up with Vogue 9023. Here, we have my second mistake. 

I swear to you, that hemline is not curved. The camera angle + my posture are doing strange things. 

First off, Vogue 9023 is a legitimately cute pattern. It's a knit dress (obviously), with underbust gathers, an empire waistband, pleated front skirt, short and long sleeve options, and the choice of a jewel or vee neckline. In my quest to be a Grown Up, I was taken in by the pattern illustration. Look at that woman above! Doesn't she look professional? This pattern, my brain insisted, would be an effortless work piece--secret pajamas, with a tailored, office appropriate design. I had struck pattern gold!

Never mind that I look dreadful in empire waists. Or, conversely, that the ponte I bought was so thin that it would show every line underneath, from booty lumps to facing edges. This dress was going to be bangin'. In a mature, professional way, of course.

Ha! To quote the grand Horowitz, "As if." 

There is a fairly substantial slip under there and still those lines show.
Run away! 

In my doggedly optimistic way, I cut into the pattern and fabric. Based on a bit of flat-pattern fitting, I performed an FBA and did a substantial narrow shoulder adjustment. Thanks to the magic of knit patterns, the FBA was terribly easy: I just added 1.5 inches to the underbust curve and tapered it back up to the side seam. This was going to be fantastic! I was going to have the best dress ever! 

Construction was beautifully easy. The details were done on my sewing machine, with a ballpoint needle, and the seams were serged together. The neckline is finished with a facing, while the sleeves and hem were stabilized, then twin-stitched in place. Everything came together wonderfully, in just a matter of hours. The sewing gods were on my side. 

Then, I tried it on. Despite under-stitching, the neck facing rolled like the devil. The shoulder was still too long, thanks to the excessive stretch of the fabric, and all the careful pressing in the world could not keep my hem from waving. Worse yet, the waist was impossibly big, but somehow the fabric clung to my butt, like a rabid squirrel on a pecan tree. I tried it on with a slip, which marginally helped it, but then the fabric showed both the facing lines and the slip's hemline. Curses!

I showed Sam and he tried to be diplomatic, really he did. A few quotes, for reference:

"It's very pink! You look good in pink."
"You have arms and it shows that!
"Once you cinch in the waist, I'm sure you'll like it better, love."
"Why, look! That's a squirrel over there, clinging to a pecan tree. It reminds me of something."

This is the face of pain. Why am I wearing watermelon polyester? What have I done?
Look at your life! Look at your choices! 

Back to the sewing room I went. Brandi Carlile's new album was played at a very loud, very ranty volume. 

I took a total of four inches out of the waist, top-stitched the facing in place, and steamed the hem and side seams to death. Victory! Well, sort of. The bodice fits much better, but the skirt pleats pull, after being taken in. The hem was less wavy, but still not up to my usual standard. 

It's really a bit dreadful. This pattern would be so cute on someone else, but it's just not for me. Empire waists emphasize my magnificent bosom, sure, but they also make me look like I'm all hips below that. My waist, being so much smaller than everywhere else, is absolutely lost. In the end, this dress is an almost success. The color is great, but the fabric clings. The neckline is really lovely on me, but the skirt portion is, yes, unflattering. The whole thing is perfectly fine now, as you can see in pictures, but I still actively loathe it.

This dress is simply not me. 

Also, small rant: This fabric wrinkles really easily, which completely defeats the purpose of a knit dress! I should not be ironing ponte all the time. What the hell, polyester? Are you actually good for anything?

In retaliation against this dress, I have finished another shirtdress and cut out three circle skirts. Vengeance is mine! Luckily, there was one other thing that took my sartorial pain away...

I saw Fleetwood Mac in concert, last weekend!

As a graduation present, my wonderful Aunt Beth and Uncle Jerry bought me a ticket to the show, and I tagged along with them on Sunday. It was a phenomenal show, y'all. My lifelong lady crush on Stevie Nicks was magnified by fifty. A tambourine has never looked so glamorous! Poor Sam has been forced to listen to Silver Springs at least a hundred times, in the days since.

Meanwhile, I now want a really dramatic black dress.

And a top hat.

And a tambourine.