Friday, November 26, 2010

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! 

Since my family does dinner really late, I had plenty of time to sew in the morning.  I finished the zipper on my fuschia holiday dress and made another dress from the "Old Blue" pattern.  I found this fabric at Jo Ann's, and it reminded me of a 1960's dress.  It's pure polyester, but it was cheap and I liked the print.

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I cut out my pieces and started on the curved bodice seam, and whoa, silky polyester is HARD to sew with.  It was sliding all over the place and bunching like crazy.

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I had plenty left because I always buy too much fabric, so I cut a second bodice.  This time I went extremely slow and used about 20 pins to hold everything in place.  It's still not perfect, but bettter.

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Next up I had to gather my sleevelets,

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And attach them to the bodice.

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Here's my completed bodice. I was worried at this point that it was looking like a cheap, poly monstrosity. It was puckering like crazy and it wouldn't steam out. Polyester gets hot too! I burned my fingers on the fabric a couple times. I think I'll stick to natural fibers from now on.

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My skirt pleats and darts went smoothly this time, and I left out the back vent altogether.

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And here it is! I think it turned out nicely for how much trouble I had with the fabric. I can definitely see myself wearing it to work with tights and a cardigan.  It still needs to be hemmed, and I'm going to keep as much of the length as possible. 

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I also completed my holiday dress, with the exception of the hem.  I think I'm going to go a few inches shorter, to my knee or right above.

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I'm pleased with how both turned out, but did they replicate the magic of Old Blue?  I would definitely have to say no.  When I put on Old Blue, no matter how many times I've worn it, I feel beautiful.  It's a feeling that definitely can't be replicated.
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Have a great rest of the holiday weekend! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Continuing work on the Holiday dress

Last night I started on the skirt portion of my Christmas dress.  Having only ever made full skirts, I'm not too familiar with pleats and darts and vents.  Sizing was also a concern.  With full dresses it doesn't matter, as long as the waist fits. 

My first step was to make the two inverted pleats on the skirt front.  I marked the lines with pins.

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Then I folded the pins into the center pin, creating a pleat. I pressed it and prepared to baste it into place.

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My sewing machine had other ideas.

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Can someone please get me a new sewing machine for Christmas?
What is this? Why is my thread catching like this?

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A million test pieces and tension adjustments later, along with winding a new bobbin, it was sewing like normal.

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I successfully basted my pleats into place.

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The next step said to "edge finish" the sides of the back slit. I was terrified, but my machine cooperated. At this point, I also wished I had done a better job selecting the color of thread, but it turns out you can't see this seam once it's finished.

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The next step I need help with.  It said to clip the corner, which I did, but then to fold the vent to the left and baste to the stitching, as shown.  The diagram showed me nothing, at least nothing that made sense.  I played with it forever and gave up.  I think I need to check if there's any dresses in my closet with back vents and see how it's done.  I could easily walk and sit in the dress, so maybe I don't even need the vent.
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Finally, I sewed my skirt to the bodice, careful to match up the seams with the pleats and darts.

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All that's left is the hem and the zipper!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Favorite dresses and a holiday dress

Readers, meet Old Blue:
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Old Blue is without question, the best dress I have ever owned.  Purchased for a mere $40 from Banana Republic in 2008, it's been worn to everything from weddings to work.  It's seasonless, too - she's as gorgeous paired with sandals and a straw bag in summer as with boots and a cardigan in the winter.

I ordered this pattern because I liked the mix-and-match ability of the pieces, and so far, I've only made things with full skirts.  I thought I'd add a straight skirt into the mix.  When it arrived, my husband looked at it and said "that yellow dress in the middle looks like Old Blue". 

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It sure does.  I was already planning on making a dress to wear for Christmas dinner this year, so I ordered some festive floral silk and sought out to replicate the magic of my favorite dress.

The fabric arrived on Saturday and was not as "holiday" colored as the picture on eBay looked, but still gorgeous.  It's 100% silk and has a raised floral print.

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It took me no time to put together the two curved seams of the bodice. After my last project, I'm a pro at curved seams.

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The back had two darts. Now, darts are not my friend. I never, ever do them correctly. I'm not even sure HOW you are supposed to do them. I use the highly scientific method of marking the lines with a pin, and then using a pencil and the cover of my sewing machine manual to trace the line.

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Things were going well until my machine decided to be a jerk and ate my sleeve. I'm serious, it mowed it right down!   What the hell, machine?

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After switching the needle, playing around with the thread tensions, and sewing a LOT of test pieces, I continued with the rest of the bodice.  I forgot to put my stitch length back to normal after gathering one of the sleeves, so it's sewn on with a basting stitch, but oh well.  It seems attached and my machine didn't destroy it, so I'm leaving it.

Here's the finished bodice.

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And a closeup of the curved bust seam and cap sleeve.

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Later I'm going to start on the skirt, which not only has darts, it has angled front pleats, too!  Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Donkey Dress

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Two years ago, right before the election, my sister came across this dress on eBay.  I knew instantly - I HAD to have it at any price.  Custom made for a friend of Lyndon B. Johnson's in 1964, I thought it would be the perfect dress to wear when I voted for Barack and headed off to celebration parties.

Problem is, when it came, it measured at a modern 16.  I'm an 8, so I was completely swimming in it.  I took it to a tailor who said he could make it fit me for $120, or make it "passable" for $50.  I chose the cheaper route.  On election day I proudly wore it, but the fit was still off.  I had to clip it in several places and wear a cardigan.

I still think I was the best-dressed Dem on election day.

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A couple days ago, I got the brilliant idea to tailor it myself.  I figured, I've got a grasp on construction, I can take it apart and put it back together.  Besides, I never liked the sleeves, which got hopelessly and uncomforably bunched under my cardigan. 

So.....I grabbed my seam ripper and took it apart.  Then I realized it was going to be a lot more complicated than I orginally thought.  Not only was the fabric was really thin and delicate, the lining was sewn to the bodice.

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Then I rememebered that I had a ton of black silk shantung leftover from my orchestra dress, so I would just make a new bodice.  The skirt is the best part of the dress anyway, right?  So I cut out my pieces. 

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If you're thinking it looks like New Look 6723 again, it's because it is.  I swear I own other patterns and won't just make this dress over and over in different fabrics.  I just wanted to use something tried and true when fixing this delicate dress.

Since this is the fifth time I made the bodice of 6723, I put it together in less than an hour. (Aside from the two I blogged, I made it two other times in summery cottons.  One turned out 50% messed up, but the other may make a guest appearance at some point.)  Those 8 curved seams that seemed so daunting the first time I used the pattern are now old news.

I know have a new bodice, and a clean, handwashed skirt with a brand new hem.

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Then it was time to attach the skirt to the bodice, and I ran into all sorts of issues.  The new smaller bodice doesn't line up with the seams of the larger skirt, but I can't take it in any smaller because of the placement of the donkeys.  My choices are to take the darts out and make them larger (ugh) or to baste a gathering stitch across the top and make it a pleated skirt.  While it's true that I never met a full skirt I didn't like, I don't think this particular dress is right for it.

So, the dress is on hold until I can muster up the motivation to re-do the darts.  The fabric for my holiday dress arrived in the mail yesterday, so I've shifted my focus to that.  The pieces are cut out and I will have an update on my progress tomorrow!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Thanksgiving dress is ready for some turkey!  Having finished the bodice on Thursday, I was ready to work on the skirt and the sleeves.

First up, I sewed the back center and the side seams of the skirt.  Then I selected the closest match I had on hand from my stash of vintage hem tape.  I sewed that on.

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Having completed the skirt, there was no putting it off any longer - I had to go to sleeve town.  I set my stitch length to the longest stitch, and basted twice across the top.  This makes the fabric curve and resemble a sleeve. (I swear I am not drinking at 9:00 a.m!  The glass is from yesterday.)

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I did the same to the other sleeve, and then sewed the underam seams.

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It's very important to press seams open.  It keeps your garment from looking homemade, and can smooth out minor imperfections or puckers.  If I learned one thing from the sewing portion of Home Ec class, it's "steam is your friend".  I use the Euro-Pro Shark Steam Iron.  I also burn my fingers a lot and I'm sporting a nasty burn on my forearm that looks sort of like a worm.  You have to respect the steam.

My completed sleeve is ready to attach to my dress.

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It's important to match up the seams on the underarm, and then you just pull up the basting stitch threads to fit, and pin into place.

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I got a pucker on the front of the dress that was impervious to steam. I ripped out a little section and re-stitched.

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My sleeves are attached!

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Finally, I finish my waistband with some double-fold bias tape, and put in my zipper.

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You'll have to wait until Thursday to see the dress on me!  I'm feeling (and probably looking) a little sick today and wasn't in the mood to model.

Next up, I'll show you how I ruined, and then fixed, a very important vintage dress.  Vintage purists, look away!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving dress and eBay finds

Today I received the most delightful package in the mail - a box stuffed full of vintage sewing notions!  Even better, I got all this on eBay for around $8.  A package of bias tape runs $2 at Jo Ann Fabrics, and I just got 16, plus 4 zippers, and a couple other goodies for a fraction of the cost.

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Tonight I started on my Thanksgiving dress.  I'm making New Look 6723 again, but I've adjusted the bodice in size and lowered the neckline.  For fabric, I scored this piece from my friend MaryLee's seemingly endless cabinet of vintage fabrics.  There's SO much, at least five yards.  I have plenty leftover and I want to make a blouse out of it when the right pattern comes along.

The selvage says "Copyright Gallery Div. of Couleur Int. Ltd".  I wish it had a date.
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I laid out my pieces, not following the cutting layout printed on the pattern.  I find New Look patterns to be really wasteful with fabric.  The first time I made 6723, I had enough leftover to make a whole another dress.

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It's amazing how much the pattern pieces match my ugly carpet.  It was there when we moved in and it's on the list of things that need to be replaced.

My pieces are cut out, and I started on the bodice.  Wine is a necessary component of my sewing projects.

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And here's my finished bodice.

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It's time to call it quits and settle in with an episode of Mad Men, don't you think?
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One of my first ideas when I started sewing was to make a dress to wear for orchestra performances.  I play the cello and I'm a member of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Community Orchestra.  We have two concerts per year, and the dress code is black, black, and more black.  Sleeves and a "tasteful" neckline are also required.

Since I never wear pants, and very rarely wear a skirt and top, getting dressed for this event has always been interesting.  Since the cello goes between your legs, I require a full, at least knee-length skirt.  Several times I've worn things that were not quite appropriate, like a black 1970's disco dress with white polka dots or a sequined evening gown.

I selected New Look by Simplicity 6723 and purchased 2.5 yards of black silk shantung and started on View A.

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I had never made a sleeve before, so I made a muslin.  My machine doesn't have a sleeve arm, which made it a little difficult but not unmanageable.  I just had to go slow and manuever the fabric so I didn't get puckers.

Look, I made a sleeve!
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In total, the dress took me about 6 hours.  I'm a lover of vintage clothing, so I wanted to add vintage touches like a hand-sewn hem and a metal zipper.  The zipper took three tries to insert, but ended up looking great.  It's disappointing my local Jo Ann fabrics only carries metal zippers in black or natural, and only two sizes.

The finished product!  It's a little snug in the bodice, so I will have to adjust the pattern the next time I make this dress.  The neckline is higher than I'd like, but it's okay since I can't really have cleavage during a performance.  Overall, I'm impressed with how it turned out.  My first hand finished hem, my first sleeve, and my first metal zipper, all in one dress.

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