Apr. 15th, 2013

vom_marlowe: i made the quilt and the icon (quiet)
Work is going through a massive reorganization right now.  I've been mostly absent for a bit, and, I'm sorry to say, I'm going to continue to be AWOL for a while.

I've been doing some sewing in order to relax, and I thought I'd share some of my progress.  In the past, I've made a few skirts, some pj pants, and the occasional ill-fitting top.  This last winter I took a class on sewing curves with my beautiful new machine, which I still love.  Unlike my 1960s Singer, the Brother has a bunch of fancy stitches, including an overcasting stitch, a stretch stitch, easy-to-do basting stitches, and so on. 

I love pretty dresses, but I have a hard time finding ones that fit me well.  Classic busty hourglasses may show up in illustrations, but they sure don't show up in most clothing lines!  I have a couple of April Cornell bias-cut dresses and a couple Holy Clothings and a best beloved bias-cut 1940s style silk and silk-lined dress that I've owned for twenty years (it is now far too big but I'm not getting rid of that puppy). 

So I bought a copy of Colette's Sewing Handbook, a couple of Burda and Simplicity patterns, some sale fabrics, and got to work. 

The first thing I learned was that I now remember why I hate homemade dresses: facings.  I loathe facings.  LOATHE THEM.  For those who don't know, facings are these weird flappy little bits of semi-lining that are supposed to make it possible for you to have smooth seams at necklines and arm-bands.  They do not work for me, and I find them scratchy and messy. 

My Burda style dress remains half-made, as I wrestled hard with those suckers.  I will finish it, eventually, but I set it aside in a fit of pique.

I moved on to the first project in the Colette handbook--the little scallop-edged skirt called Meringue.  I didn't much care for the scallops, but I wanted to learn the techniques.  The book itself is quite interesting, and the instructions are often well-thought out and interesting.  Unfortunately, I think they're an odd mixture of skipping basic steps (with darts should you cut them or not?  Patterns vary on this step!) and too basic (showing that fabrics come in stripes, dots, patterns of various depths). 

I needed a full yard of fabric less than the pattern called for, which was disconcerting.  But I followed the steps and made my skirt, and discovered that I should have used a much heavier weight.  I used a shot-cotton shirting, which has lots of drape, but the skirt's scallops were too soft.  I'd followed all the rules about fit, but I found the skirt's fit to be only 'OK'. 

So, I moved on to the Taffy blouse.  This silly confection is bias-cut and pretty, but kind of absurd.  It's intended to teach a new sewist about making French seams and working with fancy fabrics.  I decided to make an actual muslin to perfect the fit, and I'm glad I did. 

See, according to Colette's patterns, she drafts based on a C cup, where most pattern manufacturers do a B cup.  The Taffy blouse is a fairly loose generous cut (as her patterns go) with just a simple bust dart and shaping provided by the sides and two ties in the back.

My measurements fell quite nicely on her pattern measurements, so I made the regular size.  Except it did not fit.  At all. 

I'm not experienced enough to understand exactly what the problem was, but I can tell there was one.  It fit over my head fine.  In fact, the neck was floppy and too big, and the seams showed my bra straps all around (I hate that). 

The stomach was oddly poochy, even though mine is nicely tucked in.  The shoulders slid around.  The arm area was sort of...poochy?  And the hips were really really tight.  It was deuced odd.

In fact, you can see similar fit issues on the model!  See how the armpit area has several folds?  Strange, huh?  And there are folds at the stomach as well, because the shirt can't really keep moving down over the model's hips (and mine are much much larger than hers).  She has a fairly straight shape (similar sized shoulders, waist, hips, I mean) so if it was a bit odd shaped on her, imagine how it was on a La Curved Out shape like me.  Not good, let's just put it that way.  Here's another version on a dress-form.  I didn't want to directly criticize anyone else's fit, and certainly not their shape, so I didn't point out more.  Personally, I just don't think the fit on this blouse was well-crafted.

Compare the fit to this April Cornell blouse, which is very similar in basic construction (three pieces of fabric, made of a lightweight woven fabric).

While the Cornell blouse isn't 100% perfection, it's also not a bespoke garment!  The whole point of making fitted blouses from a fancy pattern is to get a good fit (or to use things like silk voile, ahem).  If Colette herself can't sew a beautifully fitted blouse for her models, how am I to sew myself a well-fitted garment, even with adjustments?

Here is another example of the well-fitted garments from her book.  Um. 

So, in the midst of struggling with the supposedly best new thing since sliced bread (aka Colette patterns), I succumbed to the Washi dress.  I wanted a nice comfy housedress to wear on the porch for post-gardening naps. 

My first go I made a wearable muslin from loud mumu-like quilt cotton on sale.  I made it maxi length and swapped in bias binding for all the stupid and senseless facings.  I also swapped in elbow length sleeves for the cap sleeves.

Imagine my surprise when, a couple hours later, I had a well-fitted attractive dress that needed only a bit of help with the hemming (it's hard to pin hems yourself).

The bust looked right.  The sleeves fit.  Everything went together without pain.  I don't care for pure-shirring, so, like others, I made an elastic casing.  It worked fine.

Feeling confused, I decided it must have been an aberration, so I made another one.  In plaid navy-black flannel.  This time I chose my own neckline (to be more modest and make sure my bra wouldn't show).  Despite this change and despite it not being on the bias, it still fit over my head, laid beautifully flat, and looked good. 

When I wore it to work, several people stopped me and asked where I had found such a stylish dress!

I made one in Amy Butler Love at tunic length for spring.  I adjusted a larger size for my mom and made it maxi length and sleeveless from an organic cotton sheet trimmed with white bias binding and with a pretty applique flower patch for style.  I made it again in tunic length in cream-floral with shot cotton bias binding.  I made it in ankle length, elbow-sleeved walking dress style in blue-green shot cotton. 

Even now, four yards of expensive Japanese double-gauze are whinging its way to me.  That'll be in a probably-sleeveless version for summer.  The lovely Art Gallery linen-cotton will get made into a short sleeved maxi length for my mom.  Another four yards of navy-blue voile will be made into a probably princess neckline version.  The black-white chambray weave linen blend is going to be an elbow length version with wide black bindings and, if I can manage it, some Alabama Chanin style embellishments. 

As will a selection of additional shot cottons, vintage sheets, spare old sheets, new organic cotton sheets bought on the cheap, and Kona cottons of various colors and combinations, as well as voiles, and, I suspect, a smidgen of French silk. 

This week, I decided to branch out again.  I picked up a pattern by Kay Whitt from Serendipity studios.  You can see some nice variations here.  (I also picked up the modkid kimono dress/tunic, but reaaaaaallly didn't like the construction instructions.)  I'm making the kimono's muslin from a sale Anna Marie Horner cotton voile in rich spring greens.

However, I do continue to ponder the issues with those Colette patterns.  Maybe I was doing something wrong?  Maybe my shape is really weird?  I don't know.  I know I would like to sew a well-made fitted dress or blouse, because it's so versatile, but....not like that. 

I bought a couple of additional Colette patterns when I was still on the high from reading (but not, alas, trying) the patterns in the book.  The instructions seemed so clear and the idea behind the patterns seemed so good (bust sizing up, yes!).  But now that I have examined them, I'm really not sure I want to make that wrap dress with its odd poky-out sleeve 'caps' and the deep V in back (it would probably show off my bra, ugh).  Peering closely, it doesn't look so great on the model, so.....

Should I even try the Pastille dress or should I assume she's not drafting to my shape?

Does anyone else think the fit of these patterns is off?  Do you have alternate pattern recs?

I have a couple Simplicity Amazing fit patterns, but they don't speak to me.  It's probably a fault in me, but it's all so fussy the way they lay it out, like you're marshalling armies instead of sewing seams, and instead of straightforward instructions, it's all very complicated tissue fitting and moving things around. on faith/trial and error And no, I'm not going to make the damn dress with facings three times, rip out the seams, and do it again.  Give me some guidance beforehand!   I did make a nice Khaliah Ali shift in Kaffe Fasset rayon challis, I should add, so I probably have my mumu needs covered.  What I'm looking for is guidance on making fitted clothes that actually fit.  The current trend seems to be making fitted clothes that wrinkle, pucker, or pooch.  Thank you, but I can buy that off the rack already. 

Speak to me, fellow sewists or clothing enthusiasts!


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