Monday, November 26, 2012

Flowery Party Dress: PASS

You might remember me starting this project in July. I set out to make a short party dress with a fitted bodice and a gathered skirt, inspired by one I tried on last winter that was painted by elephants. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

As I didn't have elephant-painted silk on hand, I settled for this border print brocade. I bought it at a thrift store for under $5 and it makes me happy every time I see it. Aren't the print and texture amazing?

Things get complicated from here. 

I fell in love with Simplicity 2250, though I wondered if I should go with something more fitted. I think all the pleating on the bodice distracted me.

Doubts pushed aside, I forged ahead. First, I made a muslin for the bodice which turned out surprisingly fine. Then I spent hours honing my spacial relations skills with pattern layout. I wanted to maintain the character of the print, from dense on the bottom to a few stray flowers on top. I almost got it right: the left and right sides are reversed in my version. Progress was slow, but steady.

Then I decided to turn this into a learning experience by making a somewhat-couture dress. I know. CRAZY.

I credit (blame?) Susan Khalje's article on couture construction in Feb/March 2012 Threads. I decided to underline the entire garment (to give the fabric some body and support) as well as line it (to keep the seams from getting jacked up when I take the dress on/off). Moving the zipper to the side seam and adding a waist stay to support the dress were also on my agenda.

It nearly exploded my head and my fingers are still sore from hand sewing. But I learned the pickstitch! 

That would have been it, but what did I find when I picked up October/November 2012 Vogue Patterns? Articles on how to neatly insert invisible zippers to seams and pockets. And a picture of my Aunt Mary (sewing rockstar) in her meticulously crafted silk dress! With Aunt Mary looking on, there was no way I was going to slack off on my zippers or pocket facings.

Did you ever have a term project that blew up right before it was due? Yeah, it's like that.

I was nearly done with the dress, when the zipper pull came off the side zip! There was no f-ing way I was going to replace the whole thing. So I used the power of YouTube to learn zipper repair. Yay for new skills!

When I was inserting the waist stay, poor pattern selection came back to bite me. A waist stay is attached to the bottom of the bodice and is meant to fit snugly around the waist. (That way the top of the dress stays put and the bottom doesn't drag it down.) But this pattern's bodice doesn't come all the way down to the waist and is only semi-fitted. D'oh!

Again, no f-ing way I'm redoing the bodice. Instead I made some janky pleats to make it fit the waist stay. The bodice looked absolutely awful (though the dress felt better, so yay). It was time to make some impromptu folds and sew them in place. The result makes me look a bit thick, but that's easily fixed with a belt.

So there you have it, the long story of my short flowery dress. A July project finished just in time parties?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Perfect" Knit Dress: PASS/FAIL

Here's a tale of two dresses, both McCall's 5752 (the self-proclaimed "perfect knit dress"). I'll spare you the Dickens quote, as you're probably already thinking it to yourself (ha!). If I had read the book I could pepper this post with all sorts of literary allusions. Instead I'll settle for Patty Duke Show references. (I watched a LOT of those reruns.)

I recruited my identical cousin to help illustrate how fabric selection can make or break a garment. The dress on the left was my practice version, made from a jersey advertising banner rescued from a Dumpster. This fabric has a beautiful drape, great recovery, and feels as cozy as pajamas.

The dress on the right is from a visually interesting, but utterly awful, clearance rack knit. (What you can't see in these photos are rows and rows of subtle light brown stripes.) It doesn't hold its shape, hangs like a sack, and clings like a sock out of the dryer. The fit was so loose that I slit the dress up the back and took it in by several inches. And yet I still look like a Jedi reject.

Let this be a lesson (most of all to me, who keeps repeating this mistake): not all knits are identical. Get to know a knit fabric's personality before you invite it to live with you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Denim Pencil Skirt: PASS

On a whim, I picked up The Joy of Less at the library. It's about how owning fewer possessions can clear your mind. I was digging the concept until the author suggested keeping one box of craft supplies and chucking it if you decided to pursue a new hobby for a while. This skirt would never have happened if that were my approach. 

In the early 2000s I purchased New Look 6843 and lots of fabric. The plan was to make a bountiful wardrobe of work-ready skirts. I sewed up plenty, but never got to this length of dark blue denim. So I donated the pattern and fabric in the name of minimalism. So I hung on to them until inspiration struck.

Fast forward to last winter, when I was overcome by the desire for a denim pencil skirt and realized I had the perfect pattern and fabric ready to go. I used view B and moved the side slit to the back. I also inadvertently added an extra set of darts in the front. The tighter fit emphasizes my waist and keeps me from eating too many brownies at staff potlucks.

While the idea of an uncluttered home is attractive, my creative process relies on keeping materials on hand and in view. That said, I'm all for clearing out things I don't need. That first batch of work skirts was donated long ago. And I think today I'll return The Joy of Less to the library.