Tribute Month Sewing Notes

Have you been following Tribute Month over on the Sewcialists blog? My own tribute went up earlier this week—check it out here to read how Erica Bunker inspired this outfit, and don’t forget to follow the blogs of all the creative and inspiring contributors who made Tribute Month possible! I can hardly wait for the next theme—having direction and a concrete deadline really helped to focus my sewing, especially when I came close to stalling out right before the finish.

Before these garments are too far behind me, it seems like a good idea to record some of the more technical details of what I did. I deviated significantly on both patterns, but I do hope to make them again, and I’d like the next versions to be even better.

First, the skirt. It’s Simplicity 1465 View C, a straight skirt with a waist facing, front and back darts, and a center back invisible zipper. I’ve said many times before that I’m not fond of skirts that sit the natural waist because they feel constricting to me, and because they tend to emphasize that my waist is not much smaller than my bust and hips, making it look thicker than it is and making my whole torso look rather straight-up-and-down. But I’ve also had minimal success at finding or altering patterns to be low-rise, and after ruining a lovely lightweight yardage of navy corduroy trying to make that modification, I decided to bite the bullet and give a natural-waisted skirt a try. I wagered that, since I was planning to make it in a dressier print, I’d probably only wear it for nicer occasions anyway, and if I didn’t love it, I’d only be wearing it for a few hours at a time a few times a year anyway.

I cut a straight size 12 based on my waist measurement, but pegged the bottom of the skirt by subtracting 1 inch at each side seam (4 inches total). My waist is a fraction larger than a 12, but after reviewing the pattern pieces I was confident that there was enough ease to cover that extra quarter-inch. In fact, after wearing the skirt out to take photos, I think that I could take the waist in a little on a future iterations. I don’t know if I could go down a full size, but I could probably shave a little off each side seam—and possibly a little more if I chose not to line it or chose a slightly stretchier fabric than the mid-weight stretch cotton sateen I used here.

The pattern is designed to be unlined, but I wanted the option to wear it with tights in cooler weather, so turned to Sunni’s BurdaStyle tutorials for how to create a ventdraft a vented lining, and sew a vented lining, but modifying my pieces slightly to keep the original waist facing. These instructions used to be on Sunni’s blog A Fashionable Stitch, and I vaguely recall them being easier to follow when I used them the first time. I managed to muddle through them with much reading, re-reading, and test-folding my fabric, but it does bug me (more than it should, to be honest) that they create a vent that is lapped in the opposite direction than usually you see in ready-to-wear: normally the satin stitches that tack the top of the vent in place create the appearance of the number 1. In future iterations, I’ll reverse my left and right back pattern pieces and back lining pattern pieces. I’ll also make the vent longer (taller?), because I find it shortens my walking stride a little more than I like.

One critical thing that’s not covered by the tutorial is attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist. The tutorial is written for the BurdaStyle Jenny skirt, which has a waistband, so you can follow all of the steps for attaching the lining to the skirt at the vent and then worry about attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist afterward. Because I was using a pattern with a facing instead of waistband, I figured out that I needed to attach the shell and lining at the waist first if I wanted to be able to get a clean finish, including understitching the waist facing to keep it lying flat. Once the waist was taken care of, then I could follow the instructions for attaching the lining to the vent, and then finally handle attaching the lining to the zipper tape so that it doesn’t get caught in the zipper.

And now, the top. It’s Simplicity 1425 View E, a sleeveless, princess-seamed top with a pleated peplum. Although my measurements put me in a size 12, I cut a size 10 after seeing that the pattern has 3.5″ of ease at the bust and 4.5″ of ease at the waist. If/when I make it again, I’ll go down a size; with such a contoured style, and especially in a fabric with stretch, I’d like it to fit more closely to my body than it does.

When I pulled this pattern from my stash to sew, I actually thought it was designed with a back zipper, and it wasn’t until I had cut out all the pieces and was skimming the instructions before starting to sew that I realized it has buttons. I can’t imagine making it that way; it’s not loose enough to render the buttons purely decorative, and having to do them up behind my own back—with fabric loops instead of buttonholes, no less!—is not my idea of fun.

Despite some initial trepidation about using a separating metal zipper, the entire process was painless, easier than installing an invisible zipper. I used an 18″ zipper, which ended up about 3.5″ shorter than the length of the top. I knew that the top of the skirt would come up higher than the bottom of the zipper, and if I’m wearing it casually with low-rise jeans I don’t mind the possibility of flashing a tiny sliver of skin, but if that’s a concern then definitely consider getting a longer zipper and shortening it.

For both pieces, I finished things cleanly and invisibly everywhere I could. The skirt lining has French seam; the skirt shell has serged seams (I thought Hong Kong seams, while lovely, would be too bulky and hidden anyway); the cut edge of the skirt hem is covered with a fun purple grosgrain ribbon and blindstitched in place. The top has bias facings at neck, arm, and peplum hem, all blinstitched as well. I enjoy hand-sewing, but next time I’ll draft an all-in-one facing for the bodice.

On the whole, I’m very pleased with how the entire outfit came out, and I’m very much looking forward to wearing it to a professional event in October. It’s also restored some of my desire to sew with wovens (or stretch wovens, at least), because it proved that I could find middle ground between a comfortable fit and a flattering silhouette. I doubt they’ll overtake knits in my wardrobe, but at least I can regard them with a little less prejudice.

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: Floral Sorbetto

Back at the beginning of January, I wanted to sew up a two-yard cut of navy corduroy that I bought during Hancock Fabrics’ going out of business sale into a button-front skirt. Strangely reluctant to spend money on a suitable pattern, such as the Pauline Alice Rosarí, and apparently incapable of judging the value of my own time as well, I embarked on a daring adventure to hack Simplicity 1465, which is a pencil skirt with a facing instead of a waistband, front and back darts, an invisible zip in the back, and no lining, into a pegged, button-front skirt with a lining attached to integrated waistband-and-button-placket facings. Several evenings and weekends went toward making flat pattern adjustments and baste-fitting the pieces to get the styles lines I wanted and the correct dart sizes and hip curves.

Things were going swimmingly until I had to install the lining into the shell. Suddenly, things went from fitting well to being too small to close in the front by several inches. Unsure whether it was a drafting, cutting, or sewing mistake (or all three), and lacking the fabric to re-cut all of the pieces, I fell into a sewing funk. I’d wanted the finished skirt very badly, but even after several days of cooling off didn’t feel like I had the wherewithal to sort out the mess.

Wanting to get out of my rut, I cast about for an easy project that I could accomplish quickly with few or no adjustments to boost my confidence. Conveniently, Colette had launched the New Sorbetto, an update to their original free top pattern, and I had a remnant of cotton lawn from my Garden Party Dress lingering in my stash that I felt was destined for better things than just pocket bags.

Because Colette drafts for a C cup, I cut a size 4 and did a 2″ SBA, which I prefer to think of as a Sufficient Bust Adjustment rather than a Small Bust Adjustment. Tutorials for bust adjustments abound online, but I went ahead and used the one offered by Colette on the Sewalongs website.

Side note: Measuring as an A cup for this pattern made me laugh, because I’m currently in need of new bras and I’ve recently determined that I’m not a 34B, nor even a 32C, but probably a 30D. (In fact, if I were to follow A Bra That Fits’ Bra Size Calculator, I’m on the cusp of 26E/28DD.) This isn’t to suggest I think that Colette’s sizing is wrong, but rather to highlight one of the many instances where two clothing-based industries use the same terminology—cup size—but arrive at it using two different sets of measurements: Colette is interested in the difference between one’s high bust or upper torso measurement and one’s full bust measurement, whereas bra companies are interested in the difference between one’s full bust and one’s underbust measurement. Just a little reminder that it pays to understand how a clothing manufacturer or a pattern designer approaches measurements and sizing schemes if you want to nail your fit.

My remnant was L-shaped with narrow legs, so I had to sacrifice the center pleat in order to get the front and back pieces to fit. I did, however, have a square large enough to make continuous bias tape to bind the neckline and armholes. I like that continuous method of making bias tape, but struggle to make my bias tape a consistent width when using it, so instead of binding the edges as instructed I created bias facings on the outside of garment, like the ones on the Sewaholic Dunbar, and then edgestitched them down as instructed using a dark gold all-purpose thread that matches the darker yellow flowers in the top. The bottom has a narrow hem, folded under twice and topstitched down with the same dark gold thread.

The fit is a little more boxy than I’d like, but about what one would expect from a pull-on woven top in a lightly structured fabric. I’d really like to take a crack at this in a drapier fabric like rayon challis or even a lightweight jersey; I have a few sleeveless Portofino shirts from Express that I live in during the sweltering summer months, and I’d love nothing more than to fill my closet with a pared-down version of them using this pattern.

You can’t tell here, but the fabric is slightly sheer, and the armholes are a tad low, so I’m wearing it over a white camisole. That’s how I plan to wear it to the office, but I have no doubt that on the weekends when the temperatures climb I’ll ditch the cami. In future less-sheer versions I’ll probably shave a little off the top of the straps in order to raise the armholes and bust darts slightly to avoid the need for a cami entirely.

I know the Sorbetto is old news in the sewing world, but for anyone who, like me, didn’t sew it up the first time around, I offer up this warning about the new pattern: the instruction file is really, really long, coming in at 36 pages. While I have no doubt that novices or less confident stitchers might find things like the detailed cutting layouts useful, the sheer volume here is a bit overwhelming, and it’s also a bit of a nuisance to get to key pieces of information (size charts are buried on pages 11-12, and the actual sewing instructions don’t start until page 26). Once you’ve sewn it once it would be easy enough to dispense with the instructions entirely, but if you need to quickly check for confirmation of a seam allowance or what have you, CTRL F is your friend.

Overall, I accomplished what I set out to do: I used a pattern and fabric I had on hand, made minimal adjustments, finished in a few leisurely evenings, and ended up with a top that I can wear throughout the warmer months. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to tackle more sewing projects. Hurray!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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Progress? Progress!

Remember this promising sliver of knitting?

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I’m not surprised if you don’t—it made its first and only appearance all the way back in January. January. That was six months ago, friends. Egads. (So much for this being a year of knitting productivity…)

I stalled out sometime in April after I completed the back and started the front. Fingering-weight stockinette doesn’t make for particularly speedy knitting, but it’s mindless enough that I can work on it while watching TV and riding in the car. No, what strangled my enthusiasm for the project was not the pace, but the prospect of weaving in all. those. ends.

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I hate weaving in ends. Every time I sat down and knit another stripe, I created two more ends to loom on the horizon. Just look at them, promising hours of tedium—and no doubt frustration—as I try to figure out where to put all of them without any stray colors cropping up where they don’t belong.

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But, fueled by my Me-Made-May pledge (which came about in part because of this very project), I finally made a concerted effort to drag this project toward the finish line. Over the course of four weeks, I knocked out the front and started in on the first sleeve. (Interestingly, it doesn’t bother me to be on Sleeve Island, and I’ve yet to experience Second Sleeve Syndrome on a project.)

To help combat the tyranny of ends, I used one of TECHKnitter’s strategies for weaving in as I go on the front and the sleeve. It slows down the process of turning a row and joining a new color, but I’d like to think it’s preferable to the interminable and uncertain job of dealing with all the ends at, well, the end. But I’m withholding full judgment until I can seam everything and put it on—I don’t want to actually recommend this approach until I know that it won’t come apart or create unsightly lumps or bumps on the face of the fabric.

Meanwhile, I’m itching to move on to other projects. With consecutive days of 80-degree temperatures and 90-degree days on the horizon, I won’t be sporting this sweater any time soon—except for blog photos, of course. 😉