Sunday, June 26, 2016

Miss Irene and the Yankee Doodle Dandy: McCalls 7351

In sewing, mistakes are inevitable. Perhaps you accidentally clip a seam allowance and the seam, or you decide to skip interfacing this one time. Some overzealous scissor wielding or a too hot iron and a whole project can be ruined in seconds. Kittens, I've been there. 

Personally, my most regrettable mistakes all involve fabric. Whether choosing a knit with too little stretch or blindly ignoring something's polyester content, I've done it all. The worst, however, are the projects which paired beautiful lengths of fabric with mediocre, ill-fitting patterns. Most of those were before this blog started, but there have been some doozies even in the last six years! The one I look back on with genuine sadness is actually my very first shirtdress, the Sally Shirtdress from 2014

Despite that post's optimistic ending, it did not get a ton of wear. I wore the dress twice more, before consigning it to the back my closet forever. Both times, I couldn't wait to get back home and take the damn thing off. The buttons pulled constantly and the fabric bunched in odd places. Despite the luxe chambray and beautiful vintage buttons, it was a total disaster to wear. The pattern didn't work for me, simple enough.

And yet, I still loved the style. Dark blue chambray and red buttons are such a classic American combination. There's no garment more appropriate for a summer BBQ or 4th of July parade, unless you actually swath yourself in star spangled banners a la Pollyanna. 

Pollyanna: Taking cheerfulness and a theme too far, since 1913.

While the patriotic body bag was a tempting look, instead I decided to have another go at that chambray dress. This time, I armed myself with a better pattern and two more years of pattern fitting experience. Even the fabric got a little nicer, with this dishy Rag & Bone indigo cotton chambray from Mood. Thanks to a plain weave and strategic thread patterns, the fabric looks like a true denim, but has the lightweight feel of a drapey shirting. There's also a soft iridescence to its face, which changes the blue in different angles. 

For the pattern, I opted for my new go-to shirtdress pattern, which you've all heard about to death. This is McCall's 7351 (surprise!) with my altered narrow silhouette, which added waist darts and hip ease to View A. This is actually one of those dresses from my furious batch sewing binge, back in May. The other two didn't photograph as well, after a month of wearing and washing, so will have to make their debuts on Instagram at some point. 

Why, yes, I am dying to snip those errant little threads on the collar. 
While I wanted to use the vintage embossed buttons from my original Sally Shirtdress, fate had other plans. In my manic closet cleaning, this spring, that dress accidentally ended up in a charity pile instead of the refashion box. Somewhere, I hope someone is greatly enjoying those gorgeous buttons! This dress had to settle with plain red plastic buttons from JoAnn Fabrics. Their color pops off the dark chambray beautifully and matched some stashed thread, so it all worked out rather well. 

The construction details of this dress are exactly the same as my previous versions, down to top-stitching all the things and self-fabric finishes. However, if you squint at the picture above you can see a special little change. All the top-stitching thread is red! It's more apparent in real life than in pictures, but I adore it. Coordinated stitching is something that I love in ready-to-wear designs, yet rarely do myself. There's too much room for error, when every stitch is that obvious. This dress seemed worth it, though, and the extra time for perfectionism paid off. The collar and button bands look gorgeous. 

And that, my dears, is victory. The dreadful mistake is finally undone! I love this dress. It feels wonderful to own a version of this style that I will actually wear. There's no unsightly bunching or pulling, here. It's all perfectly fitting, perfectly comfortable chambray goodness.

Even better, that's my outfit sorted for our annual 4th of July party, next month. Now, I'll spend the next week deliberating varieties of pie to make, instead of what to wear. Apple and cherry are a must, but blueberry mascarpone or chocolate cream for the third? Decisions, decisions... 

Let's be honest, much like shirtdresses, I'll probably just make them all. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Miss Delphine Meets Her Match: McCall's 7351 Variation

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Mood Fabrics Italian Batiste-4883

Kittens, meet my white whale. 

For the entirety of my adult sewing career, I have longed for the perfect button-front shirt. This is, obviously, a running theme with me. I believe in the platonic version of every garment. It's the entire reason I picked up sewing again, as an adult. I wouldn't just go shopping for a cute sundress, I would go shopping for the perfect sundress. Inevitably, I'd mentally design a garment in such specific detail that it became impossible to find in stores. The color wouldn't be quite right or the cut would be wrong. Given my proportions, even if I did find my perfect piece, it rarely fit. 

Buttoned shirts were the worst. If they fit my bust, the sleeves, shoulders, and waist were comically large. I ended up looking like a toddler wearing her dad's work shirt. Unfortunately, this hasn't improved much with sewing. 

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Mood Fabrics Italian Batiste-4913

Grainline's Archer shirt, which worked beautifully on some of my favorite bloggers*, was all wrong for me. Even after adding a dart, the style was too boxy, losing my shape in swaths of fabric. I muslined Sewaholic's Granville, but at the end of the day, it took too many alterations to make a pear-specific pattern work for me. Most Big 4 options lacked my favorite details, Deer & Doe's patterns didn't come in my size, and Burda's plus size shirts gave billowy a new name.

Admittedly, I could've just drafted one from my sloper or made 800 alterations to any of the above patterns. Alas, I'm lazy and wear dresses most of the time anyway. Every so often I would try out a new button-front pattern, be nonplussed by the results, and dive back into the safety of floofy dresses. 

That could not stand. These days, I'm wearing jeans almost as often as dresses. Waco is much more casual than my hometown, Austin, and it's had a simplifying effect on my wardrobe. Unfortunately, my sewing hasn't really gotten that memo yet. While I wear and love all of my dresses, I also need more summer tops in the mix. Pieces that can tuck into skirts or float loosely with jeans are in heavy rotation right now. Me being me, the definition of "simple" still involves fancy fabrics and loads of tailoring details. You can take the girl out of the city...

*See: Heather, Amanda, and Sallie

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Mood Fabrics Italian Batiste-4950

Unlike my more desultory attempts at button-front shirts, this time I had both gumption and a plan. Instead of using an existing shirt pattern and tweaking it to high heaven, I took McCall's 7351 and turned it into my go-to button-front blouse. The bodice already worked brilliantly as a shirtdress, with a nicely fitting collar and gape-free button band, so it was a cinch to translate those features to a shirt. 

Armed with bee paper and a legion of tracing implements, I set to work. Five changes turned beloved shirtdress into favorite blouse: 
  1. Lengthened the back and front bodice pieces to my fullest hip point + 5/8 inch for a hem. This erased my added waist dart and added eight inches to the bodice pattern. On the back, this also straightened the sharp curve inward at the waist.
  2. Lengthened the button bands to match the bodice. 
  3. Flared out the hip curves, to put a little swing in the blouse. 
  4. Added a split at the side seam, for ease of movement. 
  5. Curved the final hems into a shirt-tail shape. 

Voila! My platonic shirt pattern materialized. 

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Mood Fabrics Italian Batiste-5003

The fabric for this first blouse is an Italian cotton batiste from Mood, bought as part of my monthly Mood Sewing Network allowance, in a riotous floral print. I love all those hot colors on the bright blue background, though this fabric also comes in a dishy fig/light pink/light blue colorway and an autumnal orange/yellow/black colorway. I figured that the tailored lines of my blouse would be a good match for such a large scale print, since the top-stitching and details break up the gigantic flowers. It doesn't overwhelm my figure, as it might made into a dress, but instead is a nice, bright summery piece. 

The construction details are a hodgepodge of my favorite shirtdress and flowy blouse techniques. Collar, collar bands, and button bands are all interfaced with fusible interfacing and sewn by machine, while the armscyes and yoke are finished with self-fabric. There's matching blue top-stitching all over the place, including the side seams, which are turned under and stitched. Black buttons finish it off, further grounding the loud print. The back is a bit blousy, so I may add some very small double-ended darts there in its next iteration. 

Y'all, I love this blouse. 

Love, love, love it. I want to wear it everyday and dance around and tell complete strangers that I made it myself. So, I'd call this experiment a win. It hugs my body in just the right places, moves really well, and isn't drowning my figure in fabric. To prevent it falling apart at the seams from overuse, I am going to make a few more in fabrics picked up on our eastbound adventures. I have a white and black polka dot shirting that would be so sweet in this pattern, with little black buttons marching up the band. 

Also, thank you so much for all your kind words, last week. June is definitely a better month than May, around here. Sam is hale and hearty, our house has yet to explode again, and I'm spending an inordinate amount of time in my sewing room. Summer is shaping up rather nicely, after all. 

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Mood Fabrics Italian Batiste-4893

Note: The fabric for this project was given to me by Mood Fabrics free of charge, as part of my participation in the Mood Sewing Network. I picked it out, however, and all opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Miss Irene Lights up the Night: McCall's 7351

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Japanese Lantern Cotton-1-2

There are times when sewing is more than a craft. 

In graduate school, this hobby was something I could conquer and control within a set time frame. That last part was particularly important. My dissertation was a year-long process of frantic writing and re-writing, but a few hours was all it took to make a well-fitting dress. Such quick project resolutions were a godsend, especially in comparison to the graduate work that wouldn't end. 

Nowadays, sewing tends to be a more practical part of life. I sew, because I don't really buy ready-to-wear anymore. Other than jeans, sweaters, and lingerie, everything in my closet is homemade. If I want a new dress, or a cute off-the-shoulder blouse, I raid the fabric closet and make it myself. It's fun, but it's rarely a case of true mental self-care. 

Until last month, of course.

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Japanese Lantern Cotton-28

Sam and I had a week from hell, y'all. Right after school ended, we were supposed to embark on an epic road trip of the Southeast. Instead, the night before our trip began, the plumbing in our mid-century house went haywire. Our master bath flooded, all plumbing in the house became unusable, and it took plumbers four days to show up and fix the problem.

Meanwhile, poor Sam came down with a vicious stomach bug. The universe has a damn fine sense of humor, kittens. 

So, our trip was put on hold and we were landlocked. First, in a hotel room, then finally back at our own house, as the beloved recuperated. Sewing became a matter of sanity preservation, once again. In that one week, I cut out and sewed four more variations of McCall's 7351. While there are other patterns in my queue, I wanted solace from my sewing. I needed to make pieces that would definitely work out and would instantly fit into my wardrobe. Shirtdresses were a guaranteed win on all fronts. 

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Japanese Lantern Cotton-42

I'm going to combine the other dresses into one big post, but this first one deserved special attention. Not only is the fabric a beloved piece, but this dress was a template for the other three. After my last version of M7351, I changed the pattern to better suit my preferences. 

While I loved the casual elegance of that straight skirt, it wasn't terribly comfortable to wear. It felt more restrictive than I'm used to and made me long for a pair of Spanx. In order to make the straight skirt silhouette work for me, I made a few crucial changes: 
  1. Widened the skirt by four inches. 
  2. Changed the shape to a slight A-line. 
  3. Added four darts at the front and four darts at the back, for a better fit at the waist. 
The end result is a dress that has the same casual feel of the original design, but skims my lower body more. It's still a much different silhouette than M6696 or the full-skirted M7351. With the shirt-tail hem and A-line shape, it's almost like an elongated man's shirt. You know, with that all important waist definition. 

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Japanese Lantern Cotton -- back and front

It's funny, I'm still calling this McCall's 7351, but I've certainly veered away from the original pattern. The silhouette may be similar, but between bodice and skirt changes over multiple versions, the pattern pieces themselves look radically different. I've somehow turned a simple, two dart shirtdress into a project with twelve darts! Mary Danielson Perry: complicating the issue since 1985. 

I love where the fit has ended up. The waist lays closer than the original and the bodice fits so nicely that I've already turned it into a button-down shirt pattern, as well. The experiments won't end there either. I'm currently testing how this pattern looks with the pleated skirt of M6696. I'm guessing it's going to be winner, as well. This pattern is such a great canvas for design alterations. 

This fabric, as mentioned, is a favorite of mine. It was a gift from my mother, for my thirtieth birthday, last year. That comes as no surprise, if you've met her. My love of bright novelty prints on black backgrounds comes honestly, friends! This is a Japanese cotton print from B&J Fabrics, but no longer available on their site. It's a lightweight broadcloth with a crisp hand and, as you can see, is covered in lovely, colorful paper lanterns. The color palette is a retro mix of earth tones and muted pastels, which balances the sweetness of the print in such a great way. Mom has awesome taste, right?

I only had three yards of fabric, so barely eked out this dress. To cut corners, I used a pale dotted yellow cotton batiste as the yoke lining and bias bindings. Apart from the under-stitching on the yellow, the whole dress was sewn and top-stitched with black thread. It breaks up the print enough to make the details pop. Huzzah!

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Japanese Lantern Cotton-14

McCalls 7351 -- Idle Fancy -- Japanese Lantern Cotton-39

Now, I know the whole world is posting shirtdresses right now. Between the McCall's sew-along and all the new patterns coming out, it's a great time to practice your shirt-making skills. You might be tired of all those collars and buttons marching into your feeds, but...I am probably going to keep posting them. I did once promise to make 1000 of the things, after all. 

This one, at least, did its job well. Not only is it on constant rotation in my wardrobe, but it was the perfect comfort project for that hellish week. Luckily, since then, things have looked up! We went on an attenuated version of that trip, safely made it through the Southeast to visit Sam's family, and returned home to delighted dogs and a perfectly working plumbing system. 

Small victory, but I'll take it!