Monday, October 05, 2015

Summer top #3...and almost a 4th.

The third summer top is not my favorite and the fourth, well that review follows this one.

This top is from Burdastyle 7/2012. It's number #117

It doesn't look too bad here.
But it seems much too big around the torso.

Here's my review:

Pattern description:
Short sleeved blouse with darted, raglan sleeves and a front keyhole. The neckline is gathered and secured by bias tape that ties in a bow at the front. European sizes 34-42.

Pattern notes:
I cut a size 42. I increased the side seams starting at the waist and increasing to about 1/2 inch at the bottom edge. Knowing that Burda tends toward low cut in the front, I raised the front slit by 1 inch.

Construction notes:
I used the sewing machine for all construction. Except for the dart on the sleeve, I sewed French seams throughout to create finished seam allowance edges because the fabric is a bit translucent and I didn't want to serge the edges and have them show, though I did use the serger to finish the raw edges of the sleeve dart.

The pattern uses lots of bias tape to finish the sleeve edges, the neck edge, and to act as a tie for the front. I first tried packaged bias and that was far too stiff, almost like paper. I thought maybe the bias tape had sizing in it, so I rinsed a sample, which softened up a little bit, but the bias binding was still too stiff. I could have made bias strips out of my fabric, but I wanted a bit of contrast, so I looked for some lightweight cotton. I didn't have any in my stash and the best I could come up with at a local fabric store was some off-white linen. I cut 3 cm wide bias out of the linen and that worked ok, still a bit stiff though. Wish I'd held out for some cotton instead. The fabric store had some pre-made bias in a color that would have worked but the fabric was silky - maybe polyester or rayon. I wish now I'd bought some of that and experimented with it. At the time I had "off-white" stuck in my head and they didn't have any of the pre-made bias in off-white.

The instructions say to use 1/2 inch, pre-folded bias. But when I used the bias marked on the package as 1/2 inch, (double folded) the result is a 1/2 inch finished binding - much too wide. In fact the instructions say that the finished binding should measure 1/4 inch (6 mm). So you really want to buy the packages that say 1/4 inch. Actually you don't. That packaged stuff is too stiff for use in garments!

The neckline instructions call for gathering the front neck, shoulder and back neck edges, each to a certain width. I did this, tried it on, and determined that the resulting neck line was too high for my liking. So I let the gathering out a bit (about 3-4 inches more than called for) and then attached the bias binding to this new dimension.

Overall impressions:
  • Despite cutting a 42, which is on the small side based on my measurements, it was a bit too large, or too blousy for my taste.
  • The off white trim on the blouse now reminds me of some smocks that my chiropractor had his patients wear (and that had been made by his receptionist). Not what I was looking for.
  • Not sure I will wear this blouse. :-( 
Possible new techniques for a beginner:
  • Using bias binding to finish a raw edge.
Lessons learned:
  • When in doubt, make samples. Making a sample using the packaged bias tape showed me that I wouldn't like it, even after washing it.
  • I should have gone ahead and spent the few dollars for the premade bias from the fabric store if only just to try it
  • I probably should have made a muslin first because the blouse is big, but looking at the picture in Burda, it's supposed to be blousy.
  • I'm happy with the alterations I made to increase the hip circumference.
Recommend it?
If you're looking for a voluminous, raglan sleeve top, with bias trim, then this is perfect, but I recommend checking the dimensions first. Also, make your own bias binding!

And now for the last, summer top. I didn't finish the last top because it's not fitting right in the sleeves and there looks like a problem with the back neck.

This top is from Burdastyle 7/2013. It's #103.
Almost done, but not right.

The back armhole is much larger than the front.
My review thus far:

Pattern description: Sleeveless top with v-neck and twisted shoulder straps. The top is intended to be cut out of a double layer of fabric so that the wrong side of the fabric is not visible.

Pattern notes:
Based on my measurements, I cut a size 44. I increased the hip circumference by increasing the side seams starting at the waist and increasing to 5/8 inches at the bottom edge. I eliminated the front and back seams and traced one front pattern piece and one back pattern piece.

Construction notes:
I used the sewing machine for all construction. I sewed French seams throughout because I didn't want any raw edges nor did I want serged edges to show.

Because I sewed French seams, it was a bit of a puzzle at times. My fabric did not have a wrong or right side but it was very thin, so although I could have done one layer, it would have been too transparent. Sewing the French seams, I had to keep track and remember: "wrong sides together first, then right sides". Further complicating matters was that I chose a plaid fabric.

When I went to sew the shoulder seams I found two problems. First, my front shoulder strap width ended up wider than the back where it would attach. Then, when I tried it on, it did not fit.

Progress thus far...
I carefully matched the plaid and was feeling good about this top until I tried it on before sewing the shoulder seams. If only I'd made a muslin, or at least basted it together first to see how it would fit. The top is too big at the armholes and maybe too low in the front too. There might also be an issue with the back neck, as it looks too high on my dress form. I think I was so distracted by the challenge of matching the plaid that I didn't even think to baste it first, let alone make a muslin. It might work as-is if I wear a tank underneath, but I don't want to wear it that way, so I'll need to make some adjustments. But now it is fall so I am leaving this as a UFO until the spring when I can approach it in a better mood about it and can assess the alterations I need to make. I do think it will be a cute top when finished and I look forward to wearing it next summer.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Summer top #2

Here is the second summer top I made - Simplicity 1884.

It looks warm out there, but it was actually a bit brisk. Fall is definitely in the air!


Pattern notes:
I cut a size L. I increased the side seams starting from the waist and increasing to 5/8 inches at the bottom edge. I also added 2 inches to the bottom.
Fabric used:
Lightweight cotton, purchased in Germany.
Construction notes:
I used my sewing machine for all seams and hems, and I used a 3-thread overlock stitch on my serger to finish the raw edges of the side seams. The arm holes are finished with a bias binding facing. I cut bias strips from the fabric instead of using packaged bias tape.
The top yoke consists of two pieces: the under piece is stitched to the front and back and then the top piece is placed over it, wrong sides together and with the edges of the top piece folded under. The top piece is then stitched onto the under piece, resulting in visible stitching along the lower edge of the yoke. If I were to do this in a silk or rayon, I might hand stitch, but for a casual blouse this stitching is fine - and there's also stitching that shows along the armholes due to the bias binding facing.
Overall impressions:
I wanted a loose, sleeveless top for hot summer days and this is what I got. Maybe a bit too voluminous. I used a lightweight cotton fabric but I think this top would drape better in a rayon, polyester or silk.
These might be new techniques for a beginner:
  • Under stitching a facing
  • Bias binding facings
Lessons learned:
  • Bias bound facings are nice but don't use packaged bias tape. Make your own out of the fabric or use a different color for a bit of contrast.
  • Under stitching is a pain but worth it. I noticed some cheap, fast fashion jackets that had facings that weren't under stitched and they look horrible, partly because the jacket material was an icky poly that wouldn't press but also because the facings weren't under stitched.
  • Happy with the alterations I made.
Overall impressions:
I wanted a loose, sleeveless top for hot summer days and this is what I got. Maybe a bit too voluminous. I used a lightweight cotton fabric but I think this top would drape better in a rayon, polyester or silk.
Recommend it?
Yes. I think the pattern is more suited to a flowy fabric (rayon, silk, polyester), but lightweight cotton works for a casual look.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

A summer top. Yes, I know it's October.

Even thought it's fall, I pushed forward and finished my summer tops, well three out of four. The fourth one was not fitting right so I'm leaving those alterations until next spring because I'm frustrated with it and well, it's fall.

So here is my first top and review: Simplicity 1668. This is my favorite of the three I finished. I could wear it under a jacket, so it's not just a summer top.

Pattern notes:
Having read other reviews that this top was generous, I cut a size M with a L hip (increased front and back side seams starting at the waist and increasing out to 1 inch at bottom edge)

Fabric used:
Rayon, purchased in Germany

Construction notes:
I used the sewing machine for all construction. I used a 3-thread overlock stitch on my serger to finish the side seams, edge of neck facings and also the bottom edge before hemming. The arm holes are finished with a bias binding facing - I cut bias strips from my fabric instead of using packaged bias binding.

The front neck was a bit of a trouble. The first time I sewed it, it came out crooked, which I noticed when I went to attach the neck facing. Somehow one side was longer than the other. I actually wasn't surprised because there is potential for adding error when piecing the front shoulders, or my fabric could have shifted during cutting, or the 90-degree angled front neck edge may have not been sew correctly. I unpicked the seams and found that I'd sewn the front neck piece on a bit crooked so I fixed that and fudged the rest of the smaller differences. Problem solved - or at least it's not so obvious now.

The instructions for applying the bias tape to the armholes are brief and weren't enough for me. Actually I had an added problem because I was sewing this pattern as a Simplicity reprint in the German magazine "Meine Nähmode", so my instructions were translated into German (thankfully they kept the illustrations!). But that aside, I've actually never applied bias binding as a facing. I've used bias binding a lot as an edge finish in knits but in woven garments the neck is often finished with a facing piece and I haven't sewn sleeveless garments before, so this was a new technique for me. Some of my sewing books showed better instructions but ultimately a YouTube video made it all make sense. It turns out that it's very easy to do and makes a nice finish.

These might be new concepts for a beginner:
  • Under stitching a facing
  • Bias binding facings
  • Sewing a 90-degree angle (just requires careful stitching and clipping)
Lessons learned:
  • Check how things line up before you get too far along in the sewing.
  • YouTube is a great source for learning sewing techniques
  • Bias binding as facings are really nice, but make your own bias binding - the packaged stuff is just too stiff.
  • I'm happy with the alterations I made.
Overall impressions:
I really like this top. There was a lot of "fiddly" construction but it was worth it in the end for the nice details: gathered detail on the front shoulders, gather bit at the neck front and the vent in the back. The fit is good and I think I nailed the fabric - a flowy rayon. Funny too that this was a remnant piece that I picked up for less than $7.

Recommend it?
Yes, but use a flowy fabric and you might want to go down a size.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Ella

April 1997 - August 27, 2015

I have lost my sewing buddy. She was a great companion and I shall miss her terribly. Ella was 18 years old and her health had been declining over the last year or so. On Monday evening she had a seizure, followed by another a few hours later, and then another... The vet prescribed some medicine and gave her fluids but her seizures continued and it became obvious that the only humane thing to do was to help her go over the Rainbow Bridge, as they say. She is no doubt happy to see her old friend, Sammy, and maybe Gris-Gris too, though she didn't care for him all that much.

Ella as pattern weight

Photo-bombing the picture of the sock monkey I made

Keeping my weaving warm for me
Holding down a run-away ball of yarn

You were loved.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ready to sew

Four summer tops, cut out and ready to sew. Now I just have to translate the German instructions. ;-)

Clockwise from upper left:

Gray cotton plaid: Burda 7/2012 #103
Green rayon: Meine Nähmode 2/2014 #34 (Simplicity 6168, view B)
Colorful cotton: Meine Nähmode 2/2013 #11 (Simplicity 1884, view B)
Blue and white flower cotton: Burda 7012 #117

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Just do it

I finally got to Step 5 of my steps in sewing your own clothes: Cut out the fabric. My new mantra for this step is "just do it." I think many sewers, myself included, get a bit hesitant before taking scissors or rotary cutter to the fabric. Even if it's not expensive or precious fabric, I still pause, sometimes too long, before committing. But today I dove in and got 3 of the 4 summer tops cut out. I saved the last one, a plaid fabric, for tomorrow morning when it's hopefully cooler and I've had some rest. Some things just shouldn't be pushed.

Cutting out the fabric does take some time to do properly. The first thing to do is prepare the fabric by folding it on grain, although I almost never cut out knits and jerseys on the fold because the bottom layer never seems to lay as flat as the top. In those cases I trace off the other half of the pattern and cut single layer. I'm using woven fabric for my summer tops so I cut out on the fold. The fabric in the above picture is rayon and was a little slippery but it was a 6 Euro remnant and this is a casual summer top I'm making so I cut on the fold. The plaid tomorrow will be single cut so I can match the plaid. Fortunately I didn't have any off-grain issues with my fabrics so preparing the fabric wasn't difficult, unlike a knit I once cut a top out of that had epic grain issues.

I use the layout in the instructions as a guide but mostly just to make sure I cut out all the pieces. One lesson learned (the hard way) is to stop and look at the fabric for any direction in the print (or nap if it's solid) and make sure I have my pattern pieces going the right way. Sometimes a print has direction but it's ambiguous as to which way, so you have to make a decision and commit to it.

One other little tip I can pass on is that I pin the smaller pattern pieces to the fabric so that I don't lose track of them or mistake a facing or collar for a scrap. Regarding scraps, I save a large piece for testing thread tension, button holes, to make sure the serger will stitch it correctly, etc. If there is a sizable piece, I save it for trying out sewing techniques, but I have to admit that my scrap bag is a bit full. Why is it so hard to throw fabric away?

I do believe that working on the four summer tops all at once has been a real help toward getting past my "stuck" spots in sewing. Picking out four projects instead of one helped to alleviate some of the anxiety I have with "too many projects, too little time" and deciding what one thing did I want to make next, above all the other things I want to make. Also, it's been efficient to prepare the patterns and cut out the fabric for multiple projects because I can get my space and tools set up and get in the pattern tracing or cutting out mood. Of course when it comes time to sew I will do one at a time because of the different thread colors needed.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The steps in sewing your own clothes

I can count on one hand the number of times I've made a piece of clothing in one day. A simple elastic-band skirt. A night-shirt from a pattern I've used before. That might be all! For me, sewing takes time, and since I'm a perfectionist, the extra time I spend on each step adds up and sometimes keeps me from making everything that I want. So I thought I would break down the steps and see how I can manage things better.

Here are what I consider the steps to sewing clothes:

1. Decide/design what you want to make
2. Acquire the fabric and notions - or match fabric to project
3. Prepare the pattern
4. Make a muslin and/or determine any alterations
5. Cut out the fabric
6. Sew everything together
7. Finishes

In this blog post I'm only going to cover the first few steps. Hopefully I'll come back and finish this topic!

Step 1: Decide/design what you want to make

I spend a lot of time on this, perhaps too much. I don't like to waste my fabric (or time) making things that I won't or can't wear, even if by doing so I will learn something. I guess it's the engineer in me - I prefer expected results or very carefully thought out plans as opposed to experimenting or throwing caution to the wind. That's also why I don't like to cook (though I like baking because the recipes are usually more exact and the outcome more precise).

Many of the things I want to make never get beyond this step because I have "sewing anxiety." My head is filled with ideas, and I can't focus on one thing to make without another potential project creeping in (ooh, new shiny thing!). My fabrics were acquired with projects in mind, not specific patterns necessarily, but types of garments - "this would make a great jacket" sort of thing. So when I see my fabric, I see unfulfilled projects, not raw materials. It also doesn't help that I am constantly acquiring new patterns every month - thank you Burda, Ottobre, Sabrina, Meine Nahmode, Knipmode and of course Vogue, McCalls, Butterick, etc.

So in an attempt to control this anxiety, I started a project board. I don't have room for a physical design board in my sewing space like designers have with clippings from magazines, scraps of fabric, and sketches. So instead I'm using my tablet computer. You may recall that I'm using OneNote to store all of my patterns, so I simply made a new section as my Project Queue and filled it with my ideas. For example, I made one page for "summer tops" that I filled with clippings of pattern photos.

Since most of my patterns are from pattern magazines, this is a huge help to have a place where I can put the information about the specific patterns I like and might actually make. In the past I would lose hours of time flipping through the magazines (or my big notebook of Burda line drawings) trying to find some pattern I vaguely remember. Post-it tabs helped a little, but just left my magazines with lots of colorful little tabs and I still had to go back through them, even if I wrote notes on the tabs.

I also make pages for one specific project or idea. This is where I can get more creative and even sketch on top of the line drawing to design what I want. Here's an example of a top I want to make where I plan to use the design features of two patterns to combine a white knit with a striped knit:

After I finish a project, I move the page to another section I have for completed projects.

I've only recently been using my Project Queue (I think I might rename it to Project Board) but I think it's really helping me. I wanted to sew some summer tops and already had the fabric (Step 2) but only had an idea of the kind of top I wanted. I couldn't decide exactly what pattern would be the best for each fabric. Finding and putting the pictures on my Project Board helped tremendously to narrow down my choices and most importantly, remember which magazine the pattern was from.

Step 2: Acquire the fabric and notions - or match fabric to project

I always tend to buy fabric with only a vague idea in mind, e.g., summer top. Sometimes I have a more specific design in mind but even if I do I often change my mind once I have the fabric home and I look at it some more or I find a different pattern that I think would work better. With my current "summer top" project, I decided to use four pieces of fabric, so I matched them to four patterns from my Project Board and made a page for each top.

Step 3: Prepare the pattern

Last night and today I traced off the four patterns for the summer tops that I want to make. I decided to do them all at once and took over the dining room table to do so.

The crazy mess of magazine patterns! Seam allowances are included on this one.

Patterns are traced (and labelled!) and ready to use
I didn't do anything different in this step than I normally do. I use tissue paper (from Nancy's Notions) and colored pencils and make sure I label each piece with all the info, including the size. I always use paper scissors to cut out the pattern first because I don't want to dull my fabric scissors or rotary cutter and I think it's more accurate. Also, it makes tissue fitting easier.

Until I use them the first time, I keep the patterns flat and held together with a binder clip. Afterward I'll fold them and store them in bags or envelopes. I'm running low on the plastic pattern-keeper bags that Nancy's Notions used to sell. I really liked those because they were the same size as the Big4 patterns and had a sleeve for the a paper printout of the pattern picture or instructions. I just bought an expanding 7-section file that I think will work well for storing some patterns, well seven of them at least.

Step 4: Make a muslin and/or determine any alterations

These summer tops I'm making are really simple and loose so I don't plan to make muslins, though I will tissue fit to be sure. I did measure the patterns first to determine the finished size in the bust before choosing which size to make. In one case I went down a size because it looked like it would run large, and reviews on Patternreview confirmed this as well. I didn't do any FBAs since none of the tops is fitted, but I did add extra width in the hips. This is why I love sewing! In RTW if a top fits in my shoulders and bust it almost never fits across my hips. And if I put in too much ease, it's a simple fix to take it in.

But on the subject of muslins and alterations...fitting is definitely one of my obstacles. Sometimes even before I get past Step 1. It's the reason I haven't made fitted pants or something tailored or anything out of really expensive fabric. I've made muslins and sometimes they've helped. Though sometimes I get bogged down in the fitting and never get beyond the muslin. Sometimes I make the muslin and it fits but for some reason the final garment doesn't. Usually it's because the muslin doesn't have the same hand, drape, or give as the fashion fabric. I've used cheap knits to test knit patterns but when the cheap knit had lousy recovery it couldn't mimic the stretch of the "good" knit I wanted to use, so the muslin wasn't a good gauge for fit.

So how do I get past the fitting demons? Practice, I'm afraid. When I do have a project that needs fitting, I should try not to rush it. I should use similar fabric to make the muslin(s), and I should not overwork the fitting. I've seen some sewing bloggers agonize over every wrinkle and pucker and make muslin after muslin in an attempt to get the perfect fit. Exhausting! And probably not necessary.

Step 5: Cut out the fabric

I'm not to this step yet with the summer tops. I just finished tracing the patterns. I think I will probably cut out all four patterns one after the other so that I don't have any excuses not to make all four tops (this summer, this year, while it is still hot out and before the snow flies). sister in law is visiting for the next two weeks and the sewing space is also the guest room. So the tops, and the rest of the steps, may have to wait. But I can already hint at something I should do for Step 6: when I'm stuck, make sample pieces to practice or try out a technique I'm not sure about and Step 7: just do it! You know me and finishing. ;-)