Concept and Iteration

How did I arrive at a point in my life where I didn’t own a solid white or a solid black t-shirt? It’s certainly not because my wardrobe is dominated by prints—easily 90% of my clothes are solids. It’s also not because I eschew basics—I tend to buy staples like v-neck sweaters and button-up shirts in multiples, and I own few, if any, pieces I would consider “statements.” And yet here I was, lacking in the most basic of everyday garments (after underwear, of course).

The last few times I’ve tried to buy plain white and black tees, either short- or long-sleeved, I was deeply disappointed by the options available. I’m sure you’re all-too-familiar with the scene: racks of tissue-thin shirts that cling unflatteringly, bind up around the arms, and fall apart in three washes or fewer. No thanks.

I had plenty of white and black cotton/spandex blend in my stash, as well as a PDF copy of the free Tonic T-Shirt pattern from SBCC Patterns. I’d attempted the pattern before and wasn’t happy with the results, but I was determined to get it to work so that I’d have a well-fitting pattern at my disposal whenever I wanted/needed to whip up a new tee. (I also really want SBCC Patterns to work for me, because they’re specifically drafted for petites and I’d love to be able to support someone pitching my niche.)

As it turns out, my issue with the fit of the first attempt came down almost entirely to size selection. I’d sewn a small because I didn’t want the shirt to be too snug in the waist or hips, but that meant the finished bust was 1″ larger than my actual bust. Also, I must have taken my waist measurement on a day when I was bloated or something, because I’ve since re-measured at a slightly smaller size. These measurement issues, combined with a fabric that wants to mold rather than drape, made for an ill-fitting shirt that went straight into the recycling heap.

This time around, I cut out an extra-small (in white) in order to get negative ease at the bust and was much happier. To concentrate on neat, even sewing with no puckers or wavy seams, I basted everything with a zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine and then went back over everything with my serger. It takes twice as long, but it’s the only way for me to get a good finish. Maybe one day I’ll be able to zip everything through the serger without putting holes through the middle of the fabric, but today’s not that day, and tomorrow’s not looking good either.

I prefer to install my knit bands in the round rather than in the flat because I feel like I get a cleaner finish that way, and I had to cut off 1″ of the band in order to have a loop that was smaller than the neck opening. (I also prefer to sew my seams and then turn up and topstitch my hems for the same reason. So, I basically ignored the instructions and used the alternative method for every step. It worked out fine.)

With the proportions sorted out, I noticed two things: the hem has a tendency to ride up, most likely due to the amount of negative ease through the body, and the neckband was difficult to serge and topstitch down evenly due to its narrowness.

I immediately cut out another shirt (also in white), but lengthened the bottom hem straight down by 1.5″ and doubled the height of the neckband. I chose to add length at the bottom rather than at the lengthen/shorten line because the narrowest part of the shirt does seem to be hitting the narrowest part of my waist. This worked exactly as I planned, but for someone long-waisted, the lengthen/shorten line is the way to go.

I like the double-height neckband—it somehow has a more casual feel—but even with the previous alteration of shortening it by 1″ it was a little too long, and even after pressing it’s noticeably wavy. It’s no worse than you’d find in some ready-to-wear, but it’s something I wanted to fix on future versions.

With that in mind, I cut out a third and fourth shirt, both in black. For this iteration, I cut an XXS neckband instead of an XS and reduced the height of the neckband to 2 1/8″. This new neckband is now taller than the original but shorter than the doubled version, and it just might be perfect. I could probably shave a tiny bit more of the length off to get the band to lay completely flat, but I’m not sweating it.

At this point, I also lengthened my topstitch from 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm, which made the stitches a little more visible without being sloppy.

Below are the three version to give you an idea of what the differences look like in context. Black and white do not like to be photographed together like this, so the exposure/contrast is absolutely awful, but I hope it gets the point across.

Here’s a look at the necklines up close, so you can see the differences in neckband height:

One last thing I’d like to mention is that Steam-a-Seam 2 is the not the same as Dritz Wash Away™ Wonder Tape. At some point I had rolls of both in my notions collection, but I must have used up the latter on a previous project. I grabbed the Steam-a-Seam 2 thinking that it was designed for the same purpose and painstakingly applied it to the sleeve hems and bottom hem of my first t-shirt, only to realize after heat-setting it that it’s much stiffer than Wonder Tape. It seems to have softened a bit after a couple of washes, but I definitely wouldn’t use it again for stabilizing a knit hem while sewing. Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite might work for that purpose (I haven’t tried it myself), but I think I’ll stick with Wonder Tape.

I’m so glad to have these shirts in my closet. They aren’t glamorous, but they’re comfortable, and it’s nice to feel like even on an ordinary day I have something handmade to wear.

FO: Christmas Party Dress

In an effort to live up to the name I’ve chosen for this blog, I’m finally bringing out something pretty to share! This is my last finished project from 2016, photographed after the first (and very likely only) snow of the winter. Although the temperatures were hovering around freezing, the fresh powder was too pretty to pass up. And since we’ve had almost exclusively damp, grey days since, it was worth enduring 15 shivering minutes to capture these photos in a rare moment of natural light.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of December, when my company holds a Christmas party for all of the staff. They rent a small ballroom at the local university and, as our office is decidedly business casual throughout the rest of the year, many people take it as an opportunity to dress up. Last year I played it easy and safe and wore a dress that I had purchased last-minute to wear to a November wedding, but this year I really wanted to express myself by making my own dress.

I had it in my head that I wanted a swingy, buffet-friendly silhouette in a festive gold. For the pattern I picked New Look 6469 View A. My original plan for the fabric was something more champagne-colored and sparkly that I had seen while browsing JoAnn’s website, but sadly, my local store barely had enough on the bolt to make a placemat, and I’m not sure it would have been weighty enough for this look anyway—too much cling and not enough drape, you know?

I was in a bind, however, because I was shopping a week before the party and didn’t have time to look elsewhere or order anything online. Like Camille, I settled for a crushed velvet instead, and also like Camille, I harbored serious doubts about the success of this project. Imagine me standing in the aisles of JoAnn, frantically Googling “crushed velvet dress” and trying to find examples that did NOT trigger flashbacks to teen movies from the 90s. (My Date with the President’s Daughter, anyone?) I took a gamble and decided that if the project was a total failure, I still had the dress I’d worn the year before, as well as a couple of older dresses hanging in my closet that would work in a pinch.

Armed with pattern, fabric, and the impetus of a swiftly-approaching deadline, the entire thing came together over five carefully scheduled nights:

  1. Press the tissue and roughly cut out the pattern pieces
  2. Trace off the pattern and make adjustments
  3. Cut fabric
  4. Sew together body, sleeves, and collar
  5. Hem (and re-sew the collar, which was unplanned)

I cut a size 8 based on the finished bust measurement. The only adjustment I made to the flat pattern was to omit the back zipper and cut the back as one piece, since the fabric is a moderately stretchy knit. I basted everything together on my sewing machine using a zigzag stitch, then serged everything with a light tan thread that blends nicely with the underside of the fabric. I’d like to reach a point where I can assemble + finish knit garments in one pass on the serger, but I don’t have a good feel for it yet, so I’ve settled for doing construction in two steps to try to ensure the seams stay lined up properly.

After sewing everything up, I realized that the collar is drafted quite high and snug; I could barely pull the dress over my head and felt like I was being strangled once I did. I forewent any serious modifications to the neckline—because it would have no doubt involved cutting a new collar, which I didn’t have time for—and settled instead on serging around the neckline a second time, cutting off the previously serged edge. This had the effect shortening the height of the collar and widening the opening all the way around, which loosened the stranglehold somewhat. It’s still not the most comfortable thing in the world, but I was able to tolerate it for the few hours I was at the party.

I like that the sleeves have darts to help the shoulders lie smoothly, but I think the armhole is cut a bit too deep for me, or else the raglan seams aren’t quite the right shape for my torso, because I feel like the dress hikes up too much when I lift my arms up or forward. It’s certainly not enough to be indecent, but it’s something I’d want to tweak if I use this pattern again.

The sleeves are also annoyingly just too short, more of a bracelet length than a true full-length sleeve. It’s possible they only seem that way because of the aforementioned armhole depth and/or raglan shaping issues, but it’s worth considering, especially since I’m only 5’2″ and never have a problem with things being short.

The sleeve and dress hems are serged, folded under, and top-stitched down using a light golden yellow thread. Hand-stitching the hems probably would have had a nicer, subtler effect, but I didn’t leave myself enough time for that, and I don’t think the overall look is spoilt because of it.

Despite my fears, the dress garnered nothing but compliments all night, and it was plenty comfy for mingling, munching, and absolutely crushing at Texas Hold’Em. It’s also gained me a bit of a reputation around the office as someone who makes things, something I hope to cultivate with future garments more suited to day-to-day wear. With any luck, I’ll be able to coax a few sewists or would-be sewists out of hiding. 😉

FO: Pokémon GO Trainer

Knowing that Halloween in central North Carolina is usually chilly, especially after the sun goes down, I opted not to play the shorts-and-crop-top-clad Misty opposite Justin’s Ash Ketchum, and instead chose to be a trainer from the Pokémon GO mobile game. Specifically, my own avatar from the game:

Cute, no? And here’s my interpretation:

There are a lot of pieces to this outfit, and despite my best intentions, I wasn’t able to finish all of them before Halloween was upon us. So I consider my version more of a first draft than a completed cosplay. (Whether I ever go back to finish it remains to be seen.) But what I did accomplish is definitely recognizable, and might offer a few hints to anyone looking to do something similar, so let’s go with it.

When I looked for inspiration from other cosplayers and bloggers, I found that most had created their costumes shortly after the game had come out, and so they had largely assembled their looks from ready-to-wear or easy-to-sew separates. By the time I was getting on board, McCall’s had released M7556, a romper and cropped jacket pattern aimed at Pokémon GO players.

I snapped up the pattern, but quickly decided that while I would use the jacket, I just wasn’t interested in the romper. I understand that it was most likely designed with accessible sewing and forgiving fit in mind, but it just doesn’t look enough like the source to me. I briefly toyed with the idea of eliminating the princess seams to make it work, but I couldn’t get my head around it and wasn’t sure it was such a good idea anyway—seams and darts exist for a reason, after all—so I embarked on a journey of hacking and slashing to create my own design.

From what I can see in the screenshot, the trainer’s outfit is a kind of romper where the top part looks like a t-shirt and the bottom half is shorts; the seam between the two is directly under the bust. So for the top or “shirt” half, I turned to my copy of the Kitschy Coo Lady Skater Dress and a very stretchy medium-weight white polyester/spandex dancewear fabric that’s beefy enough to be opaque. For the bottom or “shorts” half, I grabbed Simplicity 1072 View A, a pair of straight-legged knit pants with crotch and side seams, and a heavy-weight quilted scuba knit in the perfect shade of boysenberry. (Thank you, Camille, for explaining the difference between scuba and neoprene!)

My approach—and it may not have been the best one, but it’s the one that made the most sense to me at the time—was to blend the two patterns together at the waist and then cut them apart again below the bust. It went something like this:

  1. Ditch the waistband from the pants.
  2. Determine how long to make the inseam of the shorts and cut off the excess (doing this now makes the piece easier to deal with).
  3. Take the top, which is designed to be cut on the fold, and add a seam allowance to the foldline equal to the seam allowance at the crotch.
  4. Blend the top and bottom together at the waist to create one piece. The CF is straight and parallel to the grain; the side seams have a pronounced curve.
  5. Cut the piece apart under the bust and add seam allowances at the new seam line.
  6. Eliminate the CF seam allowance from the top, allowing it to be cut on the fold as originally intended.

I figured that by doing it this way, I ensured that all of the seam lines would meet where they needed to, and I achieved the look I wanted, which was to have a CF/CB seams on the shorts but not the shirt.

I repeated this process on both the front and back pieces. To get what I hoped would be a dramatic curve from the natural waist out to the hips, I blended from my actual waist size out to the largest hip size. Despite adding about 5 inches of positive ease, the romper pulls across the hips. I suspect it’s the result of the shape and depth of the crotch curve and the fact that the CF and CB seams are straight, even though like most humans my profile is more kidney bean-shaped than rectangular.

The M7556 pattern is designed with a back zipper, but since my romper’s CB seam doesn’t go all the way to neck, I had to move the zipper to the side seam. I chose to put it on the right side instead of the left, even though custom dictates that it belongs on the left, because I don’t think it’s practical or comfortable to try to reach around my own body to do up a zip, and I refuse to slavishly follow a tradition that ceased making sense at least 100 years ago. My clothes, my way.

The decision to add pockets was a no-brainer—where else would I put my phone while in costume and on the hunt for rare Pokémon? I borrowed the pocket pieces from some dress pattern or other. I’d never worked with both an invisible side zipper and pockets before, and I relied on a StyleArc tutorial for assembly instructions.

Sadly, when I tried on the romper after the zipper insertion, I couldn’t actually get the slider past my waist, no matter how much I sucked in and pulled. Eventually I admitted that an invisible zipper was not sturdy enough for such a heavy fabric, and I ripped it out and replaced it with an all-purpose (i.e. polyester, non-separating, non-invisible) zipper. Fortunately, it’s a pretty good color match, because there’s really no good way to insert a regular zipper into a side seam, especially not when you throw a pocket into the mix, and my wobbly seam stitching means that the serging I did to finish the raw edges is visible above the pocket.

In order to make the side zipper more functional, I also left the right shoulder seam open, finished the edges by turning them under once and stitching down, and adding four sew-in snaps. I normally sew knit bands in the round for a cleaner finish, and that’s what I did on the neck and the left armhole, but because the right armhole was broken up by both the zipper and the snaps, I split the band into equal two pieces and sewed them in flat. All of the bands were attached on the inside, turned completely to the outside, folded under, and topstitched down with a twin needle—I used Sewaholic’s Dunbar Top knit binding tutorial for reference, though my binding is nowhere near as neatly done.

For the decorative appliqué on the front of the shorts, I drew the shape I wanted on tracing paper, then cut it out of the same the material as the top. Because of the complex shape and narrowness of the pieces, as well as the fact that the fabric is a knit, I didn’t bother with finishing the edges once cut. Instead I positioned them on the front romper pieces (before I sewed up the side seams) using Steam-A-Seam 2, pressed them with a steamy iron and a press cloth to fuse them on, and then stitched over the edges all the way around using a short, wide zig-zag.

For the trim on the legs of the shorts, I cut rectangular bands 10% shorter than the circumference of the opening, applied them in the round, and then topstitched the seams down using a twin needle so the bands wouldn’t flip up and the seams wouldn’t flip out.

The jacket was much, much more straight forward to construct. I chose View A, which has a neckband instead of a hood. I used a plain sweatshirt fleece for the body, sleeves, and sleeve accents, and a cotton/spandex rib knit for the cuffs and bands. To match the color between the body and bands, I dyed a portion of each fabric using Rit DyeMore in Apricot Orange, following the instructions printed on the bottle. Although the sweatshirt knit has a much higher synthetic content than the rib knit, I dyed them in the same pot for the same length of time, and I’m pleased with how closely they match. I will warn you, though, that even after washing and drying both pieces of fabric separately before assembling and wearing the costume, the body of the jacket transferred dye to the white part of the romper. It seems to have happened primarily under the arms and around the neckline, two areas where there was probably a bit more friction and moisture.

I made the jacket in size 10, and the only alteration I made was to shorten the sleeves from full-length to three-quarter-length. I should have sized up to a 12, because I forgot that even though sweatshirt fleece is technically a knit it doesn’t really stretch. As a result the jacket is quite snug in the bust, and it’s difficult to bend my arms, but it’s not unwearable.

The one thins I really don’t like is the zipper treatment. The pattern calls for a 12″ separating zipper, which is the shortest I could find at my local JoAnn’s, but the front opening on at least the smallest two sizes is shorter than that, even with the bands. You’re instructed to handle the excess by folding it over and tacking it down, with a strict admonition not to cut through the teeth to shorten it. Afraid that I’d ruin the zipper and therefore the jacket, I followed these instructions as well as I could without putting in any stitches that can be seen from the outside, and (somewhat predictably, in hindsight) the ends don’t stay put and want to peek out at the top, especially since I was wearing the jacket partially unzipped.

I’ve since learned that you absolutely can shorten a separating zipper, so don’t be afraid to do that! Also, plan to interface the front edges where the zipper attaches. It’s on oft-omitted step that keeps the edges from buckling/rippling, particularly when there’s a bit of strain. I didn’t do that on either the jacket or the romper, and now wish that I had.

To wrap up, let’s quickly touch on the accessories. The leggings are me-made but unblogged, because black cotton/spandex one-pattern-piece leggings are *the* most boring thing. The shoes are plain canvas sneakers that I intended to embellish with orange ribbon. My gloves, like Justin’s, are a cheap, plain pair that I cut the fingers off of and then melted the openings of to prevent fraying, also destined to have some ribbon trim. The choker is an orange ribbon with rare earth magnets Gorilla-glued to the ends; I would have folded the ends over and stitched the magnets into little pockets, but the ribbon wasn’t wide enough and I ran out of time to find a better solution.

The hat is a plain black ball cap that had red and white Pokéball pieces cut from craft foam attached to it with double-sided tape, but by the time of this photo shoot they would no longer stay stuck. In my fantasies I’d cut pieces from the remaining scuba knit I used for the romper and sew them to the sides and back of the hat, appliqué or embroider a Pokéball to a white fabric and stitch that to the front, then trim the whole thing in more orange ribbon.

I guess what I’m saying here is that ribbon expectations > ribbon execution. I also had plans for a belt and buckle that completely failed to materialize. Still, I think the spirit of the costume shines through clearly, even if a lot of the details are unfinished, missing, or don’t hold up to close inspection. In the end, Justin and all of our trick-or-treaters loved the Pokémon theme, so I’d say that it was worth it.

If anyone has any specific questions about the design or construction, I’d be happy to answer them!

FO: Bonus Shorts

Like any conscientious and/or paranoid sewist, I typically buy more yardage than I need for a project. Even though I’m on the smaller end of the size range, and I understand that cutting layouts and yardage estimates tend to be conservative, I also know my myself. If I were in the midst of cutting a pattern—because let’s be honest, I’m unlikely to spread out my entire yardage and lay out all the pieces first, before cutting into my fabric, because I use weights and a rotary cutter, not pins, and who wants to have to readjust and lay everything out again before doing my cutting—anyway, if I were cutting and I ran out of fabric, I know I’d go to pieces. So I’ll continue to err on the side of caution in my purchasing so that I don’t have to with my cutting.

Of course, this is directly at odds with my desire that every project use exactly as much material as I buy and my abhorrence of just-large-enough-to-feel-wasteful-when-tossing-but-not-really-big-enough-to-be-particularly-useful scraps. I’m working on it.

With the remaining aqua and pink athletic fabric, it seemed sensible to throw in a couple other pieces so that I can mix and match based on the weather, my mood, and what’s currently clean. I intended to make a plain t-shirt and a pair of bike shorts in each color. My attempt at cutting up an thin, holey, and all-around ratty t-shirt to turn into a pattern was a total bust, so I gave up on t-shirts for now and stuck to just shorts.

2016-09-23_01_aqua-shorts

Starting with McCall’s 6173, I:

  • Measured the length of a pair of RTW bike shorts I own and chopped off the leg of the pattern
  • Measured the front and back crotch length of a pair of RTW leggings I own and lowered the waist of the pattern
  • Marked the “outseam” (based on the location of the grainline), drew parallel lines on either side to create a 3-inch-wide stripe, cut along the stripe lines, and then added seam allowances to each piece

I sewed the contrast stripe to the main fabric first, and then assembled the shorts just as I would a pair of leggings.

2016-09-23_02_pink-shorts

For the aqua pair, I also attempted a crotch gusset to try to relieve some of the strain that can happen when you have two seams that meet in a “+.” I used Thread Theory’s tutorial for drafting a gusset and Sewaholic’s tutorial for sewing a gusset.

2016-09-23_03_crotch-gusset-detail

I’m not sure if it was worth it, to be honest. Although I tried drafting the gusset so that it wouldn’t make the crotch roomier, just ease the tension, I feel like the crotch is a bit baggy. And my attempts to follow the Sewaholic tutorial to install the dang thing were downright painful, despite basting on my sewing machine first and then serging to finish. It doesn’t help that the photo for one of the early steps doesn’t show an important snip into the seam allowance. In fairness, there is a note about this omission, and there is a photo much further down that does show the snip, but scrolling back and forth just added to my confusion about what direction to make the cut and how deep. Due to the intense wrangling needed to get the gusset to align with the legs, I ended up putting a hole in the crotch, which I had to sew up by hand, and all the seams came out undeniably wonky. I’m not put off sewing gussets entirely, but I think I’ll wait until I have a pattern designed for one before attempting it again.

And thus marks the end of my activewear sewing for a while. It’s been instructive and added some much needed gear to my wardrobe, but I’m ready to turn my attention to new fabrics, new patterns, and new challenges. Now that my machine is back from a brief stint in a repair shop, I can dive into a heap of Halloween sewing. I can’t wait to share what we’ve got planned this year!

FO: Pumped Up in Pink

At some point around the end of June or the beginning of July—that hazy time before the flood—I completed a second set of gym clothes using the same patterns as my first set (Top: New Look 6285 View C; Leggings: McCall’s 7261 View D). I had expected the first attempt to be something of a wearable muslin, and when it indeed turned out to be quite wearable, I had high hopes that with the second attempt I would skillfully incorporate all of those lessons learned, resulting in a nigh-on-perfect fit. Instead, I managed to create new issues while fixing the original ones, so that take two is more of a different fit than a better one.

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The first thing I set out to fix was the tightness of the pants. While I like my leggings to fit closely, there was some straining at the seams, especially when I was doing leg presses. No popped stitches yet, but better safe than sorry, right? So instead of using the pattern pieces I had traced off previously, where I had shaved off ¼” all the way around so that I could serge with a 3/8” seam allowance on the original stitching line, I traced off a fresh set of pattern pieces along the original size lines but serged with the same 3/8” seam allowance, effectively increasing the leg, hip, and waist circumferences by 1”. (Lengths were also increased, which I figured would be beneficial, and could be shaved down easily enough if needed.)  One inch ended up being a lot more than I needed, so I pinched out the excess and resewed the outseams, removing—can you believe this?—1/2” each from the front and back leg pieces, or a total of 1” for each leg. Somehow, this still resulted in an ever-so-slightly roomier fit, and now I can safely do lunges without fear of splitting a seam open.

2016-09-05_02_lunge

The other major change I made to the pants was the waistband. My first pair had a wide band but no elastic, so the band tends to fold or roll down on itself when I bend or sit. To prevent this, instead of cutting one folded waistband, I cut two waistband pieces, each with an extra 3/8” seam allowance on the top edge, and sandwiched the elastic in the top seam.

2016-09-05_03_front-waistband

In order to get the smoothest possible interior and exterior, my steps (to the best of my recall) looked something like this:

  1. Place waistband pieces right sides together.
  2. Lay ¾” elastic on top of the waistband pieces, aligning them along one long edge.
  3. With the elastic still on top, serge all three layers together. The waistband piece in direct contact with the elastic—the middle layer of the sandwich—will be the inner waistband; the other waistband piece will be the outer waistband.
  4. Turn the sandwich over so that the elastic is now on the bottom.
  5. Open the waistband pieces so that the right sides are visible.
  6. Understitch the inner waistband—the piece lying directly on top of the elastic, the middle layer of the sandwich—by using a narrow zigzag to sew the fabric to the elastic opposite the serged edge.
  7. With the inner and outer waistband pieces still opened up, fold the entire waistband in half to align the short edges—the center back seam—and serge.
  8. Wrap the outer waistband piece over the top of the serged edge of the elastic, placing the elastic in the middle of the sandwich and aligning the bottom edges of the inner and outer waistband pieces. (If you cut the waistband pieces the same size, they won’t actually align; you can either try to calculate how much longer one piece needs to be than the other and cut your original pieces accordingly, or do like I did and just trim the longer piece to match the shorter one during this step.)
  9. If the center back seam feels too pronounced, you can open the inner and outer waistband pieces back up, snip into the serged edge just above the elastic, and then fold the seam allowances in opposite directions before turning the waistband wrong sides together again.
  10. Attached the waistband to the top of the pants as you normally would.

The result is smooth waistband with a lot of more staying power.

Unfortunately, I’d completely clean-finished the waistband before attaching it and realizing that the pants were too big around. Since I didn’t want to completely disassemble the waistband to take out the extra width, I only went back as far as Step #7, cut off ½” from each short end, and re-serged. It saved time but meant that the bulk-reduction trick in Step #9 wasn’t feasible, and I can definitely feel the CB seam when I’m sitting with my back against a chair/weight machine. I had also clearly lost my motivation to line up my seams by the time I was attaching the waistband for the second time.

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On the bright side, other seams match up a little better this time around.

2016-09-05_05_leg-seam-detail

Seriously, is there a trick to this? Even with pins and a walking foot, matching seam lines is like spinning a roulette wheel for me.

Anyway, on to the top! I’m ashamed to admit how long it took me to change the essentially straight seam to the sweetheart one you see below, and it’s entirely down to the fact that when I tried to join the original yoke and body pattern pieces into a single piece that I could modify, I completely missed that some parts of the pattern are marked with a 3/8” seam allowance and others are marked with a 5/8” seam allowance. There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to this, and I definitely sewed the first top with 3/8” seams throughout. Once I got that sorted, it was easy enough to draw in my desired seam shape, cut apart, and add new seam allowances.

2016-09-05_06_yoke-detail

I didn’t quite get a point at the bottom of the heart, but using a ton of pins, basting, and then serging slowly made for a pretty smooth curve that I’m rather proud of. Then I forgot to topstitch the yoke seam. Again.

I chose to take the entire top up at the shoulders by an inch based on the fit of the earlier incarnation, but I wish I hadn’t: the armholes were a bit low before, but they’re definitely too high now. Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve caused back neck gaping that wasn’t there before. Live and learn, I suppose. If ever there was someone prone to overfitting, it would be me.

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All in all, it’s not the perfect fit I was hoping for, but I’ve increased my workout wardrobe by another 50%. Can’t complain about that!

 

2016-09-05_08_happy-face

FO: Active in Aqua

For Christmas 2014, Justin encouraged my renewed interest in fitness by gifting me a complete gym kickstarter kit that included a Fitbit, a Camelbak water bottle, and a pair of athletic leggings with matching wicking T-shirt. The clothes, which replaced the ratty cotton-spandex yoga pants and novelty tees I’d worn to the gym all throughout college, were a huge upgrade in terms of comfort and performance. They’re easily in my top 5 most used gifts, and they’ve held up really well over the last year and a half—in fact, they’re still going strong—but they have two drawbacks. First, the leggings are from Under Armour’s ColdGear line, which means they’re lined with microfleece for warmth and thus not the most suitable for spring/summer wear (even though that wear takes place in an air conditioned gym). Second, they’re just one set, which means I have to wash them at least once a week if I don’t want to offend fellow gym-goers with my rank aroma.

I’d been eyeing a few different options from major athletic brands online and crossing my fingers for a sale, until, on a quick trip to JoAnn to pick up some notion or other, I casually spied some pretty space-dyed polyester-spandex described as a quick-drying performance fabric (still available here at the time of writing; don’t trust the color in the shop photo).

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I tried to talk myself out of it, but in the process only managed to stumble upon the same fabric in another colorway (also still available here; again, don’t trust the color in the shop photo) as well as a complementary solid black (I believe this is the one). Deciding this was a prime opportunity to vote with my dollars and show JoAnn there’s a market for apparel fabric and specifically athletic fabrics, and also determining that this was probably the one time where it actually would be cheaper to make my own clothes rather than buy them, I brought home a couple of yards of each.

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Lightweight leggings and a fitted tank are perfect for the warmer days of spring. The tank top is New Look 6285 View C and the leggings are McCall’s 7261 View D.

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Let’s talk about the tank top first, since it was a much more straightforward project.

N6285 isn’t marketed as an athletic pattern, but the basic design works for both my casual wear and exercise needs, and the color-blocking possibilities immediately caught my attention. Coordinating gym separates are something I’ve longed for since my (broke) college days—who doesn’t feel more motivated by a matching gym set? It may not be readily apparent from the envelope art, but View C has an hourglass silhouette while Views A and B are straighter and looser. Since my current gym t-shirt is on the relaxed side, I thought it would be fun to try a more fitted top to see which I prefer.

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I cut a straight size 6 based on the finished measurements; a size 8 would probably work just as well, but cling a little less around the stomach. The pattern is drafted with 3/8″ seam allowances, which is perfect for serging. I jumped straight to assembling everything on my serger rather than basting/sewing with a zigzag on my sewing machine first, which resulted in three places where I failed to catch all of the layers. But a little hand-stitching followed by more careful topstitching made those places practically invisible on the finished garment. In fact, I’m pretty pleased with how steady my topstitching came out, even if the neckband is a little wavy.

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The top is a little longer than I expected, but the length combined with the negative ease keeps everything anchored nicely around my hips, even when I’m running, so I don’t think I’d shorten it on future versions. The straps also seem a wee bit long: the armscyes don’t quite expose my sports bra, but it’s close, and even though that doesn’t really bother me, I think I’d like to take them up a bit just so the yoke, the widest part of the bust, and the armscyes are sitting where they’re supposed to. I wish I had thought to topstitch the yoke seam, but I’d already sewn everything together by the time the idea occurred to me, so I’ve filed it away for next time.

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Now, let’s talk about those leggings. I’d made two pairs of cotton-spandex leggings using McCall’s 6173 View B (unblogged, because they’re vanilla black leggings), so I initially assumed that these athletic leggings would be built from the same block, and that I could simply transfer the minor fit changes I’d made previously to this new, slightly more interesting variation. A quick look at the tissue proved that this was not the case. In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that the M7261 leggings aren’t designed from a knit block at all, but instead use a woven trouser block. Based on the observations below, see if you agree with me:

  • M6173 is sized XS–XL, whereas M7261 is sized 6–22
  • M7261 has a completely different front and back crotch curve than M6173
  • M6173 is graded such that the sizes are nested with no overlap, whereas M7261 is graded with overlapping size lines
  • Most if not all of the reviews on Pattern Review complain that M7261 run large instead of being fitted like one would expect for a pair of leggings

Pretty fishy, right? Luckily, I had the two patterns to compare as well as the reviews to help me choose my base size and modifications. Unfortunately, McCall’s was not about to let me off that easily, as they did not see fit to include the finished waist, hip, or inseam measurement, nor did they mark the location of the hipline. I found myself muttering “Seriously?!” over and over as I tried to line up the pieces to determine the correct size. I cannot for the life of me figure out why none of this information is printed on the envelope, in the instructions, or on the tissue, since ALL of this information was essential to creating the pattern. Surely it’s in a spreadsheet somewhere?

I ultimately chose to make the size 6. Because I’m only 5’2″, I shortened the legs by a total of 4″; to keep the balance of the contrasting sections, I subtracted 2″ at the lengthen/shorten line and another 2″ from a line I drew on the bottom leg piece (specifically, a line drawn at the same distance from the leg seam as the provided length/shorten line is located). Since I’m not a fan of pants that sit at my natural waistline, I lowered the front rise by 1.5″ and the back rise by 1.25″ based on the fit of my RTW running leggings, which sit slightly higher than my regular pants and hit between my natural waist and the top of my hip bones.

Then, I painstakingly reduced the seam allowances of every piece from 5/8″ to 3/8″. Ostensibly this was for ease of serging and because I hate waste, but in reality I might just be some kind of masochist. I’m not sure if I redrew some of the notches in the wrong places, or if I made the mistake of matching edges when I should have been matching notches, but my seam intersections are hit-or-miss.

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The verdict on all those fit changes? Good, but not great. As soon as I pulled on the finished leggings I could detect a bit of camel toe happening in the front and a valley forming along the center back seam. It’s not terribly noticeable to others, but I can definitely feel it. The obvious solution will be to copy the crotch curve from my other pairs of McCall’s leggings, which don’t have these issues. The fit is also a little too snug throughout, especially around the bum when I squat/do leg presses, but I think this can be easily solved by tracing off the size 6 with its 5/8″  seam allowances, but sewing them at 3/8″ instead.

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A few people on Pattern Review noted that the waistband doesn’t stay put. I didn’t think it would be a problem at first, but when I move around, it definitely has a tendency to roll. I thought maybe it was just a result of using a very light material under too much tension, but after re-inspecting my RTW running leggings, I realized that they do, in fact, have an elastic sewn into the seam at the top of a wide waistband. I’m definitely going to incorporate this feature into my next pair.

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The real test, of course, comes from wearing the ensemble for exercise. I’m happy to report that this outfit’s maiden voyage to the gym did not result in any split seams, unexpectedly see-through fabrics, or other forms of abject embarrassment. In fact, although I said the fit was good but not great, a lot of the nit-picky fit issues weren’t that noticeable once I fell into the rhythm of jogging on the treadmill. That’s not to say the issues aren’t worth fixing, but it just goes to show that just because a garment doesn’t bear up under minute scrutiny doesn’t make it unwearable or even all that uncomfortable. And that gets me pretty pumped to sew up another set so that I have more options on gym days.