During the first quarter of 2017, Justin was let go from his office job and was put in a position where he needed to take temporary work for a time. Options were sparse, however, and he ended up in a more a physical job than he expected, one that had him on his feet all day handling things that were frequently sharp, greasy, or caustic. There wasn’t a strict dress code, so for the first couple of months he kept wearing his favorite t-shirts and polo shirts to work. His motive was understandable: faced with mindless tasks he didn’t enjoy in the sub-basement of a company that didn’t value him as an (expendable, temporary) employee, he clung to the one thing that made him feel like a person. Who can blame him?
Unfortunately, several of his shirts quickly sprouted holes, grease stains, and bleach marks. One of those shirts was a particularly nice polo from Ralph Lauren, in a flattering shade of green, that he’d received as a gift for Christmas.
The stain was too large and too prominent to cover up discreetly, but I was loath to throw away a good shirt that was otherwise in pretty decent condition. After eyeballing it several times and then trying it on (it was a men’s XL), I decided I could salvage it by turning it into a dress for me. I knew the dress had to have princess seams to avoid the stain, and I didn’t have anything in my pattern stash like that.
After flipping through both online and in-store pattern books, I settled on New Look 6567.
It’s designed for wovens, but it was the only pattern I could readily find that had the style lines I was looking for. I ignored the various neckline options and the back zipper, since I planned to preserve the original collar and placket and leave the dress a pull-on affair.
I cut the shirt apart at the side seams and removed the sleeves, but left the front and back attached at the shoulder and left the bottom hem intact. Based on my measurements and what I thought was an acceptable amount of ease, I traced a size 6, and then proceeded to shift the pattern pieces around on top of the shirt until the grainline was parallel with the center front and the slope of the shoulder on the pattern roughly aligned with that of the shirt. I had to dodge the bleach stain, and I also wanted to preserve the logo embroidery if possible—I liked the contrast of orange on green.
As soon as I started playing pattern-piece-Tetris, I realized there was a problem: although the shirt was plenty wide enough on me, I wasn’t able to fit the side front and side back pieces on the shirt and respect the grainline without losing a significant amount of length from the bottom. (I wish I had a photo showing this, but I forgot to take one.)
I briefly despaired, then raided Justin’s closet and dug out another polo shirt that was destined for the refashioning pile. This one was a different brand with a different cut, and it was white. The shape didn’t matter so much since I was cutting the pieces out of the middle, but I decided the white was too stark a contrast, so I over-dyed it navy using Rit liquid dye leftover from a Halloween costume project a few years ago. As with my other dyeing experiments, I used the stovetop method and it worked a treat.
With these cutting hurdles behind me, the dress sewed up quickly. I basted everything on my regular sewing machine and then sent it through the serger to seam and finish the edges. The logo just narrowly avoided being eaten by the seam.
Perhaps the only thing that would give away the secret of this dress’s origins are the teeny, tiny seams near the back underarm, which were the part of the shoulder seams on the white-shirt-turned-blue-shirt.
A split hem seemed a like a classic design choice. The back of the dress ended up several inches longer than the front, so I ended up cutting off the excess and re-hemming the back in coordinating thread for each panel.
Overall I like the way the dress turned out—it looks pretty much exactly like I envisioned it—but it’s just a little too snug and a little too short to feel comfortable walking around in. (These dress form shots are a bit deceiving, since it hasn’t been padded out to my measurements yet.) I can see that I overestimated how much the pique would stretch horizontally when choosing a size, and what felt long enough in a baggy cast-off is different from what feels long enough in a more figure-skimming silhouette. If I do a refashion like this again—I’m definitely interested in trying, I’d just need to thrift a couple more shirts—I’ll size up in both pattern and shirt so that I can get the fit I’m looking for.
Since I don’t know anyone smaller than me, this dress is headed to the thrift store, but at least that’s better than heading to a landfill, right?
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.
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:
Press the tissue and roughly cut out the pattern pieces
Trace off the pattern and make adjustments
Sew together body, sleeves, and collar
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. 😉
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:
Ditch the waistband from the pants.
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).
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.
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.
Cut the piece apart under the bust and add seam allowances at the new seam line.
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!
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.
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.
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!