Reciprocity

The first designer item I owned was a Vera Bradley purse I received from my parents for my high school graduation. Over the years my mom, my sister, and I each gathered a small collection of Vera Bradley bags and accessories in a smattering of colors and patterns. Despite our varying needs and tastes, we all agreed that the bucket bag was an eminently practical choice whenever you needed to carry the usual wallet, keys, phone, and personal items, but also sunglasses, two water bottles, an entire packet of tissues, a book, and maybe a snack.

My mom liked the bucket bag she owned, but wanted one in a solid color. After sweetly dropping hints both to me and to my sister to relay to me, I figured it was time I put my skills (such as they are) to use to make that wish a reality.

Fortunately, my sister had an old bag that was too worn out to carry around anymore, which she graciously sacrificed to my seam ripper. By taking the bag apart over several days and photographing each step, I was able to understand the construction and use the pieces as templates for a new bag.

The bag has an exterior zipper pocket, an interior zipper pocket, and three interior open-top pockets. It closes with a magnetic button. The straps are fixed. There’s a sleeve in the bottom of the bag for an insert to stabilize the base so that it doesn’t sag and the bag can stand up on its own; I took the insert from the deconstructed bag, which is just a piece of mat board or heavy cardboard, for use in my re-creation.

I didn’t make any modifications to the design or size, but I did opt to use a thick stable knit with a quilt-like pattern (leftover from this cosplay) for the shell instead of quilting together plain cottons. The lining is a polyester silky solid that I’d bought several years/moves ago for an ill-fated Sorbetto top.

I definitely saved on quilting time as a result of using a a “pre-quilted” fabric, but toward the end it was a challenge to feed the many layers of thick fabric through my machine. For the straps, my attempts to sew a tube and turn it right-side-out proved disastrous. I ended up cutting new straps, sewing one edge right sides together, opening the seam out, folding under the raw edges, and topstitching them in place, then topstitching the first seam to match. I didn’t even attempt to machine-stitch the bias binding that encloses the last raw edges on the inside bottom of the bag, preferring instead to wrestle everything into submission with hand-stitching.

If I were to attempt it again—and I think I might—I’d use a thinner shell fabric, but otherwise the construction is straightforward and didn’t require any special tools or techniques.

Judging by her reaction, my mom was pretty pleased with the outcome, and this bag has joined the rotation with her other favorites. For myself, I’m glad I could reciprocate the gift of a good bag that she once gave to me.

Another Handmade Christmas

This is it, folks! This is the final post documenting things I made last year. After this, I can move on…to catching up from the first quarter of 2019…

I admire anyone whose holiday traditions—whatever holiday it may be—involves making gifts for their loved ones or community members. My gift-making ambitions have always grossly exceeded my available time, resources, and common sense, but in 2018 I managed to make a few little things for some of my favorite people.

Up first, and by request, bowl cozies! From top to bottom, these went to my sister, my mom, and my sister-in-law Heather and her wife Elaina.

Two bowl cozies with a yellow and grey floral exterior fabric and a solid yellow interior fabric

Two bowl cozies with a taupe and cream abstract patterned exterior fabric and taupe and cream dotted interior fabric

Two bowl cozies with light and medium blue tie-dye patterned interior and exterior fabrics

My mom saw these at a craft fair but didn’t see any in a fabric she liked, so she sent me a text suggesting they might be an easy and well-received gift. I used instructions from Happy Hour Stitches, but you can find the details on any number of sites—in fact, Helen’s Closet just posted a tutorial a little over a week ago in a new series on scrap-busting.

My sister’s bowl cozies were made with leftover fabric (you may recognize it from her casserole carrier from the previous Christmas); the others were made with fat quarters from JoAnn. I already had 100% cotton batting on hand, but I needed to purchase 100% cotton thread to stitch everything up, as polyester could melt or scorch in the microwave.

Each recipient’s bowl pair of bowl cozies was served up with a bag of soup mix.

Three pairs of nested bowl cozies, each holding a bag of pre-packaged soup mix

The other gift was for a secret Santa exchange among the members of my D&D group. By sheer coincidence I paired with Jorren, the amazing illustrator from the art exchange. He had been working hard on multiple projects leading up to December, including prints for a holiday pop-up shop and several commissions. I wanted to show my appreciation for his work, so I picked a couple of art-themed gifts: a graphic novel called Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu and a set of Pentel Arts Aquash brushes.

I needed something to round the package out, and Jorren had just debuted his freelance graphic design business, Mind Fuzz, so I got it in my head that I needed to put his logo on something. Trouble was, he wasn’t using the logo as his profile image, and I couldn’t very well ask him for a copy of it without tipping him off to my plan.

In ninja-hacker fashion, I found a photo that he shared of a t-shirt screen-printed with his logo and proceeded to manipulate it in Photoshop and Illustrator until I had a black-and-white vector image that I could scale and print as a template. I transferred the template to a remnant of black poly cotton blend, embroidered the outlines of the letterforms, and then sewed up the embroidered fabric into a sturdy pouch with a brass zipper. Ta-da!

A black zippered pouch with outline of the words "Mind Fuzz" embroidered in white in a circle in the center of the pouch

I followed instructions provided by Jedi Craft Girl, but as with the bowl cozies, there are countless examples of this and similar pouches online. My pouch is lined with the same black fabric as the shell and interlined with 100% cotton batting to hold its shape. The embroidery is regular old DMC floss in white, stitched up using a hoop and a crewel needle.

A black zippered pouch with the zipper opened to reveal a cleanly finished interior lined in the same black fabric

I ignored the dimensions in the instructions; they were too small for my purposes. My pouch is slightly smaller than I intended at 9 inches tall by 11 inches wide (at the top), but is large enough to fit Jorren’s preferred style of travel notebook, along with a handful of pencils or pens.

Just for fun, I had Justin put together a GIF of the progress shots:

No last-minute sewing, I didn’t drive myself crazy, and everyone loved their gifts—success!

A Short Entry on Pajama Shorts

When I finished muslining McCall’s 7324, I had about as much leftover fabric as I’d used for the top. And since my muslin wasn’t wearable, I thought I’d have another go at some kind of top to make up for it. Despite the fact that I myself professed this navy fabric closer to a quilting cotton than to the shirting it was marketed as, I foolishly latched onto the idea of making a ruffle top following this Megan Nielsen tutorial (and brought to my attention by this Peneloping blog post).

It was a hilariously abject failure. For starters, I didn’t actually have enough fabric, which makes for some sad not-really-ruffles. The fabric was entirely too stiff, so it hung like a paper bag. The cheerful yellow bias tape I used around the armholes was also too stiff and didn’t want to stay rolled to the inside, and even though it was mostly hidden it managed to tip the entire thing from playful and cute into clownish territory in my mind.

So…I cut both the failed top and the muslin apart again and made pajama shorts.

The front of a pair of drawstring pajama shorts hanging on a dress form

The back of a pair of drawstring pajama shorts hanging on a dress form

I used Simplicity 1520, the same pattern as my tartan pajama pants, along with my trusty pocket template. There’s something deeply satisfying about a well-sewn pocket, even a very simple in-seam one.

A close-up of the pocket opening in a pair of drawstring pajama shorts hanging on a dress form

I incorporated all of the after-the-fact modifications I made to my flannel pants, which made this relatively quick and simple to whip up. I have vague recollections of unnecessarily complicating the sewing of the elastic/drawstring casing, but I’m positive it was for no good reason whatsoever, so I won’t try to recall what I did or didn’t do here.

Everything was sewn on my regular sewing machine, and then the edges were finished on my serger. There’s both an elastic and a drawstring at the waist; the drawstring is just a strip of the main fabric with the raw edges tucked in, sewn flat, and then knotted at each end. The elastic and drawstring were threaded through buttonholes (reinforced with interfacing, which you can see peeking out in the shot below) in the casing.

A pair of pajama shorts turned inside-out on a dress form to reveal in-seam pocket bags and the stitching throughout

The finished pajama shorts fit just fine, but I haven’t actually worn them yet. We keep the house too cold in the late fall, winter, and early spring for shorts (for me, at least), and even in the warmer months you’re more likely to find me wearing loose, lightweight pants than shorts indoors. If I don’t find myself reaching for these come summer, at least they’re made well enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty about donating them.

Sage Sleeveless Summer Blouse

Caitlyn is standing on residential sidewalk wearing a sleeveless summer blouse, white jeans, nude pumps, and sunglasses

Caitlyn is turned to the side to show the deep armhole, voluminous fit, and high-low hem of her sleeveless summer blouse

Now this is the kind of summer top I dream of. The fabric is a beautifully smooth, soft, and drapey mystery material that my mom (hi Mom!) gave me when she was clearing out her sewing and craft supplies. I’m not sure what she originally bought it for; I can’t recall anything she’s made out of it. The smooth hand and fluid drape remind me of rayon challis, although Allie’s Fabric Files says that wrinkles will fall out of rayon challis within a few minutes of wear, and that’s definitely NOT the case with this material. It loves a good steamy press, but also seems to wrinkle from my body heat alone. Perhaps it’s linen or a linen blend?

To keep the fabric from slithering away from me during cutting and sewing, I filled a dollar store spray bottle with homemade spray starch (made by boiling cornstarch in water) and applied it liberally while pressing. It made a huge difference in how the fabric handled: it remained crisp and even a little grippy throughout the sewing process.

The pattern is a heavily altered McCall’s 7324. I mentioned the modifications I intended to make after muslining the pattern, but here’s a rundown of the changes that happened on the final garment:

  • Cut a size 10 instead of a size 6
  • Narrow the shoulders by 1 inch
  • Deepen the armhole by 0.5 inches
  • Eliminate the vertical pleat extending from the placket
  • Eliminate the gathers along the front neckline between the placket and the shoulder, which necessitated the following compensating changes:
    • Change the shape of the placket opening from a trapezoid (narrow at the top, wider at the bottom) to a V
    • Change the length and angle of the placket bands to match the new opening, ensuring the bottoms of the bands will be horizontal when stitched in place
    • Shorten the neckband (which looks like a collar stand)

I also left the hem curve alone this time instead of trying to shorten the back. A little butt coverage isn’t such a bad thing.

Caitlyn has her back to the camera to show how the curved hem of McCall's 7324 provides full bum coverage

The top is quite voluminous. With the relaxed fit, going up one size would have been sufficient. I also didn’t account for the fact that a two-size increase would change the armhole, so while taking in the shoulder width was definitely a good call, scooping out the bottom of the armhole an extra half-inch wasn’t necessary. In fact, as you probably noticed in the second photo, raising or moving my arms reveals a peek of bra band. I don’t care that much when I’m wearing the top casually, but I’ll throw on a camisole underneath if I’m in a more conservative setting. I’d love to make an obnoxiously colored bralette to wear with it—I keep envisioning orange—because FASHION.

On the inside, I stitched everything on my sewing machine, then finished the side and shoulder seams with my serger and the armholes with self-fabric bias tape. (Starch is the only thing that made bias tape possible, and even then, I’ve got a few spots of wobbly stitching where the raw edge has come untucked. I have no idea how anyone can make bias tape out of things like silk…) The hem is a baby hem made using Carolyn’s instructions.

I think that’s everything? Here are a few up-close shots:

A detail shot of the v-shaped placket and shoulder gathers of her modified McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

A detail shot of the gathers at the back neckline of the McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

A detail shot showing the high-low hem of the McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

A detail shot showing the baby hem used on the McCall's 7324 sleeveless summer blouse

I’m much happier with the gathers on this iteration, and my topstitching on the neckband is marginally better this time. I wore this beauty about once a week from the time it was done until a cardigan wasn’t enough to make it warm. I don’t exactly look forward to summer here in the south, but being able to throw on a cool, comfortable top I made takes a bit of the sting out of it—it’s the closest I’m ever going to come to looking stylish while sweating buckets.

Muslining a Sleeveless Summer Top

My favorite summer top is, without a doubt, Express’s sleeveless Portofino shirt. It’s 100% polyester, but it’s semi-sheer, floaty, and relaxed enough through the waist and hip that it lightly skims the body, which is good news when it’s in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius). The polyester doesn’t make me sweat, the heat and humidity do, and if I’m going to be soggy anyway I’d rather not feel the cling of spandex or the weight of cotton.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I work in a pretty casual office—despite a nominally business casual dress code, jeans, leggings, and all manner of fashion and athletic shoes have taken over swaths of the company without any pushback from management—so I can wear my sleeveless Portofinos at work with or without a coverup (though I usually throw on a cardigan to stave off the summer AC). Since they transition so easily from office to home for me, they were a logical jumping off point to expand my summer top options.

During a trip to JoAnn last summer, I picked up four top patterns that shared some similarity with my beloved Portofinos:

  • McCall’s 7324, a sleeveless popover top/tunic pattern with a (buttonless) half placket
  • New Look 6345, a sleeveless v-neck tunic with a relaxed fit around the hips (but a more defined waist)
  • New Look 6414, another A-line, v-neck top/tunic, with the option for a keyhole neckline and sleeve variations
  • New Look 6450, an A-line top that sort of looks like a pillowcase dress, but with fixed neckband and more sharply cutaway armholes

I decided to tackle the McCall’s pattern first because I was relatively fresh from the Archer making class with Lladybird and wanted to take advantage of the things I’d learned and lock those tips into my mind. I hadn’t made any woven shirt patterns from McCall’s, just a dress with a very different fit, so I thought it wise to make a muslin before cutting into a more precious fabric I already had in my stash.

The fabric is this 57″ White Dots on Navy from JoAnn. It’s listed as a cotton shirting, but after washing and drying it didn’t soften up much, and the crispness makes it feel more like a quilting cotton than a shirting to me. I wouldn’t use it again for a shirt.

The front of a woman's sleeveless summer top with a half placket and curved hem

The back of a woman's sleeveless summer top with gathers at the neckline and curved hem

As you can probably guess from these dress form photos, this muslin didn’t turn out wearable. I chose View A and cut out a size 6 based on the finished garment measurements and the width of one of my sleeveless Portofinos at the bust. The key difference between the McCall’s pattern and my ready-to-wear garment is that the latter has bust darts. Looking at the pattern, I had reasoned that the gathers at the shoulder were just bust darts that had been rotated into the shoulder and then converted to gathers. I further assumed that most of the room in the bust came from the gathers, and not from the width of the garment. I was incorrect about this, and the whole thing ended up too snug in the shoulders and bust, and not exactly relaxed in the hip either. I also found the shoulders too wide and the armholes too high for my frame; I made a note of those things for the next incarnation, but didn’t fret over them, since they’re easy to fix on a sleeveless garment.

A close-up of the armhole and side seam of a woman's sleeveless summer top

I made one other mistake, a completely brainless one that I should have been able to avoid. While tracing off the pattern, I felt the high-low hem was a little too pronounced, so I decided to shorten it to prevent walking around with a ridiculous butt flap. I did this by shortening just the back pattern piece by two inches—at the lengthen/shorten line. Cue my surprise when I go to sew up the side seams and realize that, surprise! the side seams don’t line up any more, and I have an accidental split hem:

A close-up of the hem of a woman's sleeveless summer top, showing how the front and back curves don't meet up correctly

I don’t remember now whether I sewed up the side seams first or sewed the hem first. At some point in the process I decided I wanted to finish the side seams by turning under the seam allowance and then stitching it down, rather than serging, so that made fixing the issue more annoying (and then the fitting failure made it irrelevant).

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing how the side seam is stitched down

I did, however, serge the shoulder seams (though why I dragged the machine out for just that, I don’t know) and then stitch then down as well for a mock flat felled seam.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing how the shoulder seam was serged and then stitched down

With all of those little details covered, let’s get to my real gripes: the intersection of design choices, construction, and instructions.

What I didn’t notice when I bought the pattern, and what you almost certainly can’t see because the fabric is so dark, is the vertical pleat coming off the bottom of the placket. On the pattern piece, the placket opening is double the necessary width so that you can hot-dog fold the front of the blouse to create that pleat. It’s unnecessary from a construction standpoint, it doesn’t add anything to the look of the garment, and I hate it. Is that an irrationally strong feeling? Yes. Did I resolve to move heaven and earth to engineer that pleat out on my next version? Also yes.

Constructing the placket was way more challenging than it needed to be, though it’s probably fair to say that’s partially my fault. After preparing and applying the bands for the placket, I could not make sense at all of this instruction: “On inside, lap left front band over right. Stitch lower edge of bands to end of opening.” Or more precisely, I understood that it was supposed to look like this…

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing the completed partial placket

…but I could not get the bands and the opening to cooperate. After reading through Allie’s clearly written and photographed tutorial on sewing partial plackets, I finally figured out I hadn’t made the angled cuts into the corners of the opening. This step should definitely be in bold type, because if you don’t do this correctly (or at all), the origami WILL NOT work.

While we’re staring at the inside of the placket, I’d like to take a moment to complain about the unfinished ends (is this normal in RTW? I don’t have any partial placket shirts I can check) and the weird fold that results where the placket meets that stupid pleat.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top turned inside-out, showing how the placket intersects with the front pleat

On to the gathers! There are gathers around the curve of the neckline between the placket and the shoulder seam, along the shoulder seam between the neck and armhole, and around the back neck.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top, showing the gathers at the front neckline and shoulder

As near as I can tell, the gathers between the placket and the shoulder exist solely to pull the V of the placket open, otherwise the bands would neatly overlap each other like a normal (hidden) button placket. The area to gather is quite small, which made it difficult for me to gather evenly and ended up looking like unintentional puckers. In addition, since these gathers are at a roughly 45 degree angle to the ones coming off the shoulder seam, it results in a weird, bunchy, wrinkly mess in that area. Ugh. As with the pleat, I resolved to eliminate the gathers around the front neckline on the next iteration.

The gathering on the back neckline is fine design-wise, although I didn’t execute it well.

A close-up of a woman's sleeveless summer top, showing the gathers at the back neckline

It’s a shame that everything about this was a flop, but I really am glad that I figured out all of my the pattern’s issues before I cut into the fabric I really wanted to use, especially since my real-deal fabric was thin and slithery. It certainly didn’t hurt to practice a few techniques, either: my topstitching remains dodgy, but I’d like to think it’s just improving in very small increments.