June 2009

Cafe Cardigan

One of the nice things about sewing is the freedom it gives you to try out garments you wouldn’t normally wear.  Even if I only wear something a few times I (a) didn’t spend much money on the fabric and (b) generally had a good time making it.

This is not one of those garments.

I’m sure I had sweater something like this when I was 16, and I’ll probably be wearing something similar at 61.  Its the kind of thing my oldest and dearest friend would put on and say she is “dressing up as Kathy.”  My oldest and dearest friend, BTW, who just moved to Boston (hurray!) apparently bringing the Seattle climate with her (not so yay.)  Which is why I was sewing a wool sweater in the middle of June.

The outside is wool jersey bought on clearance from Fabricmart.  Its got a nice shiny finish and a fairly smooth texture.  The pattern is Simplicity 3634, source of the t-shirt pattern I’ve made 5 or 6 times and the very first pattern I bought.  (I’ve now made everything in it except the pants.)  For the cardigan I trimmed about 1.5 inches off the front , so the opening was more rounded and less V-neck, and added a wide band (5″ each for the front and back plus seam allowance) that ran all the way around as a shawl collar.  I cut this a little long figuring I’d trim off the ends but I liked the way it looked with the shawl a little longer than the sweater so I ended up leaving the ends in.  Then I took a tip from my favorite RTW sweater and lined the whole thing in t-shirt jersey:

I am making an effort not to wear this everyday but its going to be difficult.


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Colorblock dress and Korean inspiration

Last fall I became obsessed with the Korean fashion designers on YesStyle.com.  I think the website is actually based in Hong Kong.  But it’s the Korean stuff I really liked.

I’ve been obsessed with all things Korean ever since David and I spent 12 hours in the the Korean Airport.  Korea has the best airport in the world.  Its quiet, its modern, the food is good, Gate 40 has been turned into a Korean Cultural Center where you can browse books on Korean art and architecture and women in traditional dress show you how to paint fans, and best of all there is a $7 spa a short shuttle bus ride away.  Make sure to take off your shoes before stepping on the wood floors.

A lot of the outfits on the site are things I could never imagine wearing.  But the color combinations—especially the choice of backgrounds for the photographs—are amazing (at least to my earth-tone and gray loving self).  I suppose this was one bridge between last year’s painting and this year’s sewing:

Some things, though, like this colorblock dress seemed simple enough for me to pull off, or at least to adapt to my non-Korean-supermodel figure:

Here’s my version:

I made this pattern from my sloper by tracing off the bodice and cutting it apart along the dart lines.  I closed up the bust dart by rotating the top piece to make a vertical princess seam, then straightened out the edges and added seam allowance to everything.  I made a muslin just of the top part of the dress, which helped me figure out that the front panel needed to be made narrower.  Here’s the pattern I ended up with.  Blue lines show where the dart lines were:

The bottom parts of the dress are just big rectangular bands of fabric, pinned in place to check where they fell, then sewn on.  To finish the dress I cut facings and sewed these to the neckline, bound the armscyes to close in the facings, and top-stitched the princess seams to make them a bit more prominent:

I’m normally not crazy about un-fitted dresses but I think in this case it works well.  If the dress were fitted at the waist the bright stripe at my hips would make them look really wide.  As it is I think the color gives the dress more shape.  Also it’s roomy enough to go over my head without a zipper opening—one less thing to sew!


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Flat roo

When I was a small child, my favorite phrase was “Do it self!”  This was also my MO.  Anything I liked, I wanted to try my hand at making.  So during the period when I read a lot of sci-fi novels, I tried to write one, and after I’d been playing computer games for a few years, I tried to write one in Hypercard.  At various points I also tried to build a robot and to produce a movie.  Not that these efforts were in any way successful.  And apparently nothing has changed.  No sooner had I finished sewing my first skirts then I wanted to create my own patterns.

Fortunately between my teenage years and now a few things have changed.  In addition to somewhat improved motor skills I also have access to the internet.  And the internet explained that a good way to create patterns is to start from a “sloper” or master pattern, that captures all your three-dimensional bumps in convenient 2D form.  You can use this master pattern to draft pieces for anything you like, and because they are based on your sloper they are guaranteed to fit.  (See Carolyn’s and Cidell’s blogs for many lovely examples of this.)

But how to create this sloper?  Here I fell back on my traditional approach of making things up as I go along.  I started by tracing out the bodice top from New Look 6736 (a sheath dress pattern) because it seemed to fit pretty well out of the envelope.  Then I fused this to the skirt from Simplicity 2703, which was more A-line and fit better than the straight skirt on the New Look dress.  I made this up as a muslin and tried it on.

As expected, the bodice fit well in the front.  The back though was huge.  I thought the dress I made from this pattern kind of bulged in the back but I had no idea how bad it was till I made this muslin.  If I had had any training what-so-ever I would have then gone about fitting the muslin with various adjustments.  Since I have no idea what I’m doing, however, I just started pinching out excess bits of fabric and sewing them down.  Here’s what the back of my muslin looked like when I got done with it:

Then I took the muslin apart and tried to convert it back into a standard sheath pattern with front and back darts.  It took two more muslins but here’s the sloper I ended up with:

Here’s the first dress I made from my sloper:

The fabric is a cotton rayon blend from Gorgeous Fabrics— really cool and comfortable to wear.  The only thing I don’t like about this dress is that the seam lines get lost in the textured fabric.  I used the diamond pattern that appeared when I “adjusted” my muslin for the back seams, but you can only really see it from the inside:

(BTW, I love the way the on-seam pockets make all my dresses look like bees from the inside!)  There’s also a separate waistband piece that runs all the way around the dress.  I tried to set it off with these fancy seams from Ann’s class (basically I basted the seam together, put a strip of contrast fabric underneath and topstitched on both sides, then opened the seam) but its hard to see them in the finished dress:

Finally, when I tried wearing the dress for an evening, I found that the pockets tended to slip with respect to the shell fabric, causing the skirt to bunch up in weird ways.  So I hand-sewed the top of the pockets to the outside of the dress with an invisible stitch (and its very invisible in this fabric):

I think you can see from the pictures that my taste in patterns is pretty boring simple.  But I really like this pattern and I think I’ll make it again in a lighter solid color fabric, so the seams show up.  I think its pretty versatile.  You can wear it with a scarf and dress it up, or throw a t-shirt over it and wear it to work (without getting called out by your lab mates):


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Yikes! Stripes!

I’ve actually been sewing quite a bit (two dresses, a “sloper” or master dress pattern, a pair of pants for David, and a jacket finished).  I just don’t have many pictures.  

This weekend we went to New York and celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary by eating 12 courses of Chinese food at Grand Szechuan.  Since the wedding was all about friends and overeating we thought we ought to celebrate the same things on our anniversary.  We were joined by Rebecca and Sam, my friend Jon and his friend John from college, and two friends of Sam’s.  

Here’s me in New York wearing one of the new dresses (more on this in a later post) and the jacket: 

Some of you may remember this jacket from when I started it several months ago.  Its been sitting around waiting for me to take Ann’s welt pocket class so I could finish it.  The class ended up being a very brief and expensive welt pockets class because— despite Google’s assurance that it takes 30 minutes to drive from Cambridge to Billerica, MA (where Ann’s studio is)— it actually took me 1 hour and 30 minutes.  Or about 1 hour more than I had reserved the Zipcar for.  Oops.  

The time there was really helpful though and I learned how to add these fabulous looking welt pockets to my jacket, as well as a seam-finishing technique I used on the other dress.

Despite the Zipcar snafu I’m glad I took the class.  Ann’s technique breaks the pocket down into two steps: first you make a bound rectangular hole in the garment, then attach the welts and pocket to the back.  There are two things I’ve found hard about sewing instructions (both those included with patterns and those in on-line tutorials).  One is visualizing things in three dimensions.  The other is an intuition for where all the step-by-step instructions are leading.  With each thing I’ve learned— how to insert a zipper, how to make a pocket, how to construct a fly— I found myself following the instructions blindly, and only when I got to the end did I realize why I was doing each of the steps.  Then I had to take it all apart and redo it with that understanding.  Seeing someone put the pocket together made all the difference and I was able to “get it” much more quickly.

Overall I am very pleased with this jacket.  I love the stripes, inside and out.  I like the fit, especially the shoulder darts; its the first jacket I’ve worn that doesn’t pull across the back.  I also the did the front closure a little differently from the last one.  There I interfaced about two inches on either side of the zipper, both on the front and on the lining.  As a result the front of the jacket is very stiff and it tends to stand up rather than falling over when open—which make it less comfortable to wear when I’m inside.  On this one I only interfaced under the zipper tape, and I used the shell fabric (which is softer) for the part of the lining closest to the zipper.  So now the collar falls back nicely when the jacket is open.  Hooray!

With any garment I make there are two crucial tests.  One is the Would my sister wear it? test for fashionablity.  I passed this with flying colors when she asked to try it on after dinner and threatened not to give it back.  The other is the What will my labmates think? test for being not-to-dressy.  It was a strange day at lab today.  Almost everyone was gone, helping one of the post-docs move, for most of the day.  Around 2 o’clock I heard some rustling outside the door and then my labmate Emre popped his head in:  “Kathy are you wearing a SUIT?????”


I guess I better get started on an oversized polar fleece next.


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