Feb 28, 2013

McCalls 6404 Re-do

Sadly, in the world of sewing (as in nearly everywhere else), you get what you pay for. (Except when it comes to bargains like Craftsy classes on sale or McCall's $1.88 pattern sale, both which are happening right now. You're welcome).

I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, but in my experience I'll always regret using cheapo fabric — especially if I want, you know, to, like, actually wear the garment in question. 

Today's Exhibit A is my leather patch leggings, which I sewed from McCall's 6404, a pattern I liked even though it had a wacky amount of ease built-in (I took them in to reduce wrinkling after this picture was shot):  

Ease-y rider

But then I was riding the bus with my preschooler on a rainy day when I noticed little black specs all over her hands. "What have you been touching?!" I asked her, alarmed. 

"Nothing!" she insisted. And that's when I noticed, it was all over my hands too! Looking around, it became clear that the culprit was my leather-patch leggings, the knees of which were shedding a layer of ...what? plastic? Ick!

So I threw them in my sewing bin, hoping something could be done to salvage them eventually. I loved the main fabric (a soft and lovely double knit) too much to toss them. But clearly the el cheapo pleather patches were not up to the task of actually being worn. Rage!

Luckily, I had just enough of the gray double-knit left to make knee patches (hurray for hoarding!). Unpicking all those seams last weekend was an unpleasant experience. In the middle of it, I was considering other hobbies. My sister-in-law just began log-rolling classes. That sounds fun.

Incidentally, that double-knit cost twice as much per yard as the faux leather. And when I re-did these leggings with knee patches made in the same fabric, I finally got what I paid for:

Not the best photo in the world (I suck at selfies!), but I'm very happy to now have a pair of very wearable leggings (though the back rise on this pattern is dangerously low for me; I have to wear a looooong top to keep my underpants under wraps when I bend over or sit down):

I like the subtlety on the seaming now. To anyone considering this pattern, I would suggest adding a few inches to the length (and the back rise if you have a round butt!), and sewing the smallest size you think woud fit you. There was so much excess in these after my initial pass at this pattern.

Is there any case in which cheap fabric doesn't come back to burn you? What's your biggest fabric fail?

Feb 27, 2013

Project Runway — What Did We Learn This Week? Season 11, Episode 5

This is the debut post in a new weekly feature wherein I recap all the lessons I learned from this week's episode of Project Runway. 

The challenge in Episode 5 of Season 11 was to create both a stage outfit and red carpet look for country star Miranda Lambert, a curvy (we are told MANY TIMES) blonde bombshell whose image is "a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll." Nearly all of the contestants opted for leather, fringe or navy with varying degrees of success. (I know: Navy? Huh? The "dossier" must have said Miranda likes it).

I find Project Runway to be instructive in many ways — for example, fabric choice is always a hot topic during critique with Tim Gunn, and styling is nearly always a factor in judging. Last week's episode was no exception. There was plenty to glean from the double-pronged challenge that saw everything from a goth cheerleader get-up to a gigantic dirndl skirt on the runway.

Lesson 1: "Stinkpot" is what qualifies as crass for Tim Gunn.

This season of Project Runway is all about the team challenges, and in his charming way, Tim cautioned: "You could have the most stunning look on that runway, but if you're paired with a stinkpot, it doesn't matter." While Tim Gunn's words contain an important lesson for the contestants, I think the way he delivers his warning is instructive to people like me, who have a tendency to be crass (I reign it in on my blog because I don't want this site to be pulled up on Google using certain search terms). His anachronistic sentiment (a "stinkpot" is actually defined as an unpleasant person) is characteristic of his special brand of refined grace. He stands out as from another era in this shameless age.

I just love Tim Gunn. He's high on my list of "Celebrities I DON'T Want to Meet Because I Am Afraid I Will End Up Embarrassing Myself By Crying." Michelle Obama and Mr. Dress-up (Canada's Mr. Rogers, essentially) also rank high on this list (and yes, I am aware that Ernie Coombs went to the great Tickle Trunk in the sky many years ago now).

So what's the lesson here? Unusual epithets make you seem interesting.

Lesson 2: "Soutache" is a technique of decorating fabric with narrow braided trim manipulated into shapes.

Daniel, the quirky Texan with the Salvador Dali 'stache, used this technique to embellish a halter-top bodice with what appeared to be squished up pieces of metallic leather that he gleefully snaked all over the poor torso of his grimacing model. This technique likely died with the last Confederate soldier because it appears to be as outdated as the hoop skirt. (Though searching for more info on it, I did discover it makes an appearance on Downton Abbey, so perhaps some of you more vintage-minded sewers would beg to differ).

The judges, meanwhile, were not happy with the result:

I actually didn't think Daniel's look was all that terrible. Nineties beauty queen, yes. Awful hem finishing that resembled a flea market napkin, sure. But did he deserve the proverbial spanking he got from Nina? That brings us to:

Lesson 3: If you produce incredible work (like Daniel has in previous challenges), don't ever think for a moment that you can coast on that. You will be eviscerated 10 times worse than the consistently mediocre (Cough, cough, Stanley). You're only as good as your current project. Nobody cares anymore that you made this a month ago:

The judges like to keep us guessing by praising both simple, flattering designs and intricate, unwearable weirdness like Patricia's Native American-inspired fringe apron (on the left), while bashing the equally odd "linguine bib" (on the right) by Michelle (actually one of my favorite designers this season, if only for her spot-on impression of Nina Garcia, which had the exact cadence of Project Runway's most withering judge):

Which leads us to....

Lesson 4: Just because you botch one project doesn't mean the next thing you make/create/undertake won't be a masterpiece. I really thought Benjamin dodged a pair of sharp Ginghers when he wasn't eliminated for this dress two episodes ago:

This painful-looking, flesh-colored monstrosity is among the garments that my husband has said he could make — on "Project Dumbway," a fashion competition show in which regular dudes like my husband attempt Project Runway-style challenges. (It doesn't exist. We just like to imagine the outcome of such challenges when attempted by people with no talent or experience. And whenever we see something like this come down the runway, we yell "Project Dumbway!" in unison. Married life is fun).

But then Benjamin went and made this stunning gown, which I thought was just as lovely as anything on the red carpet the other night:

So remember: We are not as bad as our worst project. We are as good as our best work. (Which, I am aware, totally undermines Lesson 3, but this is Project Runway — and what the judges like is an enigma wrapped in a paradox concealed under seven layers of silk organza.)

What lessons did you learn from last week's episode of Project Runway?

Feb 26, 2013

Work(Almost)-in-progress: Sew Fearless Mommy Poppins Bag!

Do you follow Jodi Bonjour's blog Sew Fearless? She's a super cute crafty lady with four five kids and a poet for a husband. (Not to be confused with my dear friend Andreae, who also blogs, has four kids and is married to a poet. It must be hard, it seems, to refuse the advances of an amorous poet).

Jodi is also a patternmaker with a small line of cool projects for kids and super useful tutorials on things like adding nursing openings to empire-waisted tops/skirts. (I'm bookmarking that one even though my husband's not a poet and I'm planning on being pregnant anytime soon).

And she also has the best tag line ever: "Over come your fear of needles." Love it.

So of course I'm super excited to be testing her latest pattern, the Mommy Poppins bag, a carpet-bag-style diaper bag.

This is Jodi's bag. To see more version of this bag go to her blog: Sew Fearless

Please nobody tell my husband I'm sewing a diaper bag. He may get nervous and start checking the condoms for holes, a la Rick Moranis in Parenthood.

Ok, so it was a diaphragm. This movie is from 1989. I was 11 then and didn't know the difference.

I think this bag is a great design for a larger, NYC-sized purse or bag you might bring on an all-day outing (every day in New York is an all-day outing, and every woman in NYC is carrying two purses right now. Seriously: Google-streetview any Manhattan address and you will see a woman standing on the corner with two bags on her shoulder. We all need massages, stat!)

Actual Google Street View pic

I'm using fabrics I had on hand, the main outer bag being Marimekko's Lumimarja print (which we had hanging over our bed for years. But I recently changed things up and was waiting to find the right project for this fabric. I love it — plus it was pricey, so I better not mess this up).

The accents will be sewn in the pale brown chambray Gingermakes sent me (she gets a shout-out nearly every post for being so damn generous!). I also have some suede that I hope to use as an accent if my machine will let me. Check out the cool hardware Jodi sent me:

I've never sewn a true purse before. Did you know there are so many things you need to make a handbag? Stabilizers and sheets of plastic, closures, buckles, three kinds of fabric....I ordered up supplies from Hancock Fabrics, hoping to avoid a trip downtown to the Garment District (not because I dislike going there. It's just a big deal for me to get the time to myself to travel all the way there from the Bronx). But already I've discovered other stuff I forgot to get before I can proceed....more interfacing, lining, and I don't want to skip the rivets that Jodi includes in her perfect-looking examples of this bag. I do believe sewing this bag is going to be a major learning experience for me.

Why have I never sewn a purse before? I've been dubious that my sewing machine could handle stitching thick layers of durable fabrics or leathers. Also, I've filed handbags under the "Looks better when professionally done" category — a header that also includes jeans.

How about you, readers? Anyone dabble in handbag construction before or after getting their start in garments? What's keeping you from sewing a handbag?

Feb 25, 2013

I'm on Facebook! ("Like" me if you like!)

I've been on Facebook for years, but only just finally created a Facebook page for my blog. It didn't really occur to me how important it was until I noticed how I almost never miss a post by those blogs I follow on Facebook. (In particular, I find it hard to keep up with Wordpress blogs, because they don't show up in my Blogger feed. Also, my time for blog-reading is limited, so I appreciate the ease of seeing posts all in one easy-to-read-on-my-phone place). So to help those readers who may not be blogger members themselves stay connected, I created a Facebook page. "Like" it and my posts will appear in your feed, so you never miss anything!

Feb 18, 2013

Finished Object! LBD? No! LND!

How good are you at colors? I thought for sure this easy dress I made using a lovely ponte knit given to me by my virtual friend Gingermakes was black:

But then I wore when I met her in person (even though it was a Saturday afternoon and I had no good reason to dress up other than to prove I made something with the fabric she gifted me). She (and everyone else at hand) thought it was actually navy:

Which is great, because I have navy pumps. All dressed up like this, my daughter said I looked "as pretty as a Gangnam Style girl," whatever that means:   

(So of course I did the Gangnam Style dance)

I used McCall's 6319 to sew this dress. I didn't line it (the pattern calls for lining in tricot, which I couldn't pick out in a lineup nor pronounce properly, so I opted instead to wear a slip if need be):

I really love the pleated, drapey details at the shoulder and the waist. I think this would be a great dress to wear to a wedding, belted with something fancy. You would look put together but when it comes time to dance, watch out!

The exposed shoulder zip is another great detail. But it's not like you need it to get this thing on. It has alot of stretch. My only quibble is the armscye dips a little low. I don't mind (because I know will get sweaty in ponte knit and need the ventilation), but depending on your undergarments, it may be a problem for some wearers. I also think when I make this again (closer to Spring; it's freaking cold today in NYC!), I will turn the skirt into a slight A-line. I have wide hips, and I don't like when skirts pull at the hip because then they start to head north as I walk: bad news!

Classy. Simple. And in navy (instead of black): unexpected?

Feb 16, 2013

Finished Object! Bird-Print "Pussy Bow" Blouse

They said it couldn't be done. (Who are they? The voices in my head, obviously. You guys are supportive. The voices in my head are a bunch of withering bitches).

But here it is: my finished Pussy Bow Blouse by Pattern Runway (available in digital download format for just $9.50 US), sewn from a gorgeous cream-and-purplish-brown bird print silk chiffon from Mood.

I love this fabric: It's feather light, so floaty and delicate. And it feels just amazing, like the light touch of fairy wings.

But such delicate fabric requires a gentle touch — especially with the bird print running crosswise to the grain, which meant cutting all the pattern pieces with the grainline running east-west instead of north-south. If you've ever done this, you would know how shifty fabric like silk chiffon becomes positively rebellious when cut on the crossgrain. Why didn't I notice this in Mood? I know enough to know better. Let's just say I was distracted.

I also didn't buy enough of this fabric because when I was shopping I didn't know what I was going to make with it. A yard and a half seemed like enough for a top or short dress (it was 60 inches wide). But the "pussy bow" on this blouse requires a fair bit of fabric, which is why mine ended up in a matching cream color silk, which I happened to have on hand (a remnant from lining a dress).

I like wearing the tie undone, in a more menswear-inspired style (though it's a touch long to wear it that way; when I make this blouse again, I will shorten the tie by a few inches):

So what did I do to this pattern to make it fit so well? I shortened the sleeves an inch and a half, and shortened it through the waist by an inch and a quarter. But most importantly, I added some flare to the bottom hem to account for the fact that I have wide hips — hips that usually force me to leave the bottom button undone in store-bought shirts. Here's the muslin (see how it's pulling apart at the hips):

I estimated I needed to add about four inches ease to achieve a loose and floaty look. And the best way to add that much to your hem is by spreading it out (add it all at the side seam, for example, and you will create a weird shape like an "A"). So I added two inches to the front and two inches to the back, using two half-inch slash-and-speads on each of the two pattern pieces. It's so easy to do: draw a line from your neckline to the bottom hem using a ruler (just don't pass through any darts on the way). Then cut all the way up to the neckline edge and spread the pieces apart, measuring to ensure you're adding exactly as much ease as you need: 

Each spread measures 1/2-inch at the hem

Then you tape the whole thing down onto a large piece of pattern paper and use your curve to redraw the hemline (matching up all the existing points). Then proceed as normal.

I really love this blouse. I want to make another, but not in chiffon. I don't think I'll be attempting that again. I'll make the next one in a cotton voile maybe. Still, those birds...this would look great with a high-waisted skirt. 

I'll be wearing this blouse out to dinner tonight with the mister. We're going to Cookshop in Chelsea. Pray for me I don't spill anything on it (or if I do, that's it was worth it!).

Feb 15, 2013

Show A Little Skin — Whither the Sexy Patterns?

Are sewers an especially modest lot? Or is there some other good reason why it's nearly impossible to find patterns that show a little skin?

While on a recent Mood shopping outing with Oonaballoona, we were talking about a certain independent pattern company that both of us found to be a bit....modest. That's the nice way to put it, I guess. Matronly would the not-so-nice way. But then I realized this company is not the only one. Of all the independent pattern companies I know of, I can't find many patterns that you could call sexy — except in the way that a buttoned-up blouse can be sexy by concealing the wild woman within.

Boat necks. Peter Pan collars. Lots of buttons and gathers, but not alot of sex appeal — that's what I see  out there.

Is there not enough mass appeal in plunging necklines or collarbone-baring details? Or is it a function of the fact that most of us are sewing with wovens, which pose fit problems when it comes to plunging necklines?

To that end, I think of Burdastyle.com's Cap Sleeve Dress, which I had to adjust to correct gaping at the neckline (a problem many others also seemed to have). The end result was a higher neckline (and no hope for a hint of cleavage):

Meanwhile this Simplicity dress (1872) I sewed a few versions of last year was way too modest, in my opinion. After the first version (on the left below) I chopped an inch and a half off the front overlapping neckline, (but then I had to add a hook-and-eye to keep it from collapsing and revealing all — still much more flattering, I think):

The one true sexy, skin-baring item I have sewn is Burdastyle's Bustier Dress with Draped detail, A.K.A. Gertie's Bombshell Dress. (On which I raised the sweetheart neckline by an inch, by the way!). It's not exactly every day wear though:

In the spirit of public service, I searched for a few skin-baring patterns. Burdastyle seemed to have the most:

Among independents, there's Salme Patterns sundress (kind of bare, though I don't think you would have any cleavage showing):

And Grainline's Kat Strapless Dress, which is pretty bare through I think the sweetheart neckline and empire waist make it look more girly than sexy:

Hot Patterns has this Deco Vibe Dress, which has a plunging neckline (though they keep it modest with a turtleneck underneath! Ack! No!):

This is about as sexy as it gets at Simplicity:

Over at Vogue there are plenty of patterns with sex appeal, and a few with slightly more daring necklines. I think a higher ratio of patterns that are sewn in knits could be the reason why. I'm loving V1343, a Tracey Reese for Vogue pattern. It's not a lot of skin, but it's a start:

Meanwhile at McCalls, this is the only hint of cleavage I saw (M6560) and I would not say this dress is very sexy; it looks like an apron from the back — not exactly the message I want to send on a hot date with my husband:

Am I missing some major supplier of sexy patterns? (Or do those of you who like to slut it up just use your French curve to draw a deeper neckline and hope for the best?)

Feb 11, 2013

Princess Culture — Still Promoting the Patriarchy After All These Years?

Quickly after posting pics of Lucy's new princess dress yesterday I realized what a squandered opportunity it was to write only about how I made this costume for my daughter — and not WHY?

After all, you may not know this, but I am a full-on feminist — the kind who lays awake at night troubled by the messages my little kidlet is absorbing from books, movies and music (to some that may seem antithetical because I am a work-at-home mom who sew her family's clothes and bakes pies — a traditional skillset that would have served me well in a more repressive time). 

I kept princess culture away from my kid as long as possible. (For an interesting analysis of Princess Culture, check out Peggy Orenstein's "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" — a great read for any parent of a girl). Not only do I find it upsetting to encourage our daughters to aspire to an elite position only attainable through birth or marriage, but the endgame in all princess stories is teen marriage — not something I would wish for my daughter. I prefer her to watch shows and read books about solving mysteries, making friends, or starting a rock band (her latest love is "Ruby Gloom," which will turn her into a goth quite soon I'm sure of it). 

Maybe it's the English Major in me that I cannot enjoy these classic tales without parsing out the patriarchal oppression. Poor Cinderella is forced into child labor, with marriage her only means of escape. The Little Mermaid gives up her voice for a man. Belle develops Stockholm Syndrome for a major jerk. And you can't get any more passive than Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who both end up in comas. 

But Disney princesses (especially the post-Millenial ones) are also brave and adventurous — qualities I do like to encourage in my daughter. Tiana outwits a Voodoo witch doctor. Merida fights off a bear with her bow and arrow to save her mother (If you haven't seen it, Brave is an incredible feminist film. All of the main characters are female, and there's no love story — only a rescue adventure tale that brings a girl and her mom closer together). So, I made my daughter a princess dress. This is what she does in it:

Pretty badass. 

Thinking about all this earlier today, I asked my daughter what was so great about being a princess.

"You get to have fancy things like dresses," she said. Like, duh, mom.

So she's in it for the fashion (and a little class escapism), which means I shouldn't be so hung up on all the other stuff.

Because if I do, she'll probably rebel and become one of those women who dream about getting married at Disney World in full princess regalia. Or worse. Better to get it out of her system early, so she can go on to mutilate Barbie dolls or whatever it is that five-year-olds do.

Any parents out there who wrestle with the Disney Princessification of your kid? Do you try to get your child to think critically about these stories (which I try to do, to my kid's annoyance)?

Feb 1, 2013

A Sewing Joke From My Surgeon

So I made it through surgery today, one deep breath at a time, and after my face was all stitched up, I said to my surgeon, "Now I know how the shirt I'm sewing feels." 

"Well, I actually cut YOU on the bias," he replied.

And he was right; he did cut me on the bias. Only in New York!

(Turns out his grandmother was once a costumer to the stars and he grew up watching her work on her old Singer. I can only remember so many details when I'm in the middle of being sutured, but I believe he said Benny Goodman was one of her clients.)

My husband and daughter bought me a slice of black and white cake from Amy's Bread at Chelsea Market across the street from the hospital where I was sliced and sewn. Then we came home and I ate it while we watched Project Runway, so this day is pretty much perfect. 

Also, my bird-print blouse is almost done; only buttonholes and the hem are left!

Have a great weekend, everybody!


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