January 2010

Cozy

This piece of merino wool knit has had me paralyzed for weeks.  I spent such a long time looking for it, and I was so looking forward to sewing it, and then when it got properly cold I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to make it into.  I’d originally planned on a cardigan, but then thought maybe a dress.  I went through 4 or 5 dress patterns before doing the sensible thing and asking my sister what she thought.  She said, this one:

which was good because that’s the one I liked best too, but bad because I didn’t actually have a pattern for it, just this picture from the internet.  It does look rather like my favorite t-shirt pattern though (albeit longer) so that’s what I went with.  I even muslined the skirt section in some $2.99 ponte knit I had lying around.  I still had to do a fair bit of tweaking to get it to fit and fold properly; just no way for me to tell how a knit is going to stretch and sit until it is actually made up.  All in all a pretty cozy winter dress.

I was rushing to finish it before meeting friends for the symphony last night.  We did make our bus (barely) but I’m afraid I may have hemmed it a bit short.  What do you think?

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Ok, done: the perfect lab vest

After my whining yesterday morning I decided I could live with my crummy seam binding and to finish the vest already.  It took me most of the day to cut and sew the armhole facings, to hem the bottom and tack down the facings by hand.  But now that it’s done I’m so happy!  I love the bold bias-cut plaid across the front, the oversized collar, the flannel pockets, the fit across the back.  I love that the gray plaid goes with almost all my long-sleeve tops.  And I’m very happy I left it as a vest, because I think sleeves in this plaid would have been a bit much.

I’m kind of wishing I’d lined it for home-wear just because it’s so cold in here.  (But supposed to hit 57°F tomorrow!  Hooray!)  But I think it will be perfect for lab: casual, warm, pocketed, fits with the dominant lab aesthetic, but doesn’t look like anyone else’s polar fleece.

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Fit versus finish

Part of what is fascinating to me about reading blogs is seeing what drives people to create.  Everyone has different taste, sure, but it’s also different parts of the process that get us to stay up all night cutting and matching, or to swear we’ll never touch a piece of fabric again.

I am coming to realize that what fascinates me about sewing is the geometry.  I love seeing a 3-D design and trying to figure out how to make it out of flat pieces.  I will spend hours puzzling over how to alter something to make it curve or flare the way I want.  Last spring I bought a 100 yard bolt of muslin and thought I was being extravagant.  Now there are about 15 yards left.

Details and finishes on the other hand make me want to crawl back into bed.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the look of a nicely finished garment: neat corners at the end of zippers, perfectly aligned buttons, impeccable top-sticthing, etc.  It’s just that when I come to this part of a project I always find I’m missing some critical part, or that I absolutely must spend a few hours surfing the internet, or that perhaps now would be a good time to call my sister and see what she’s been up to.  When I inevitably mess this part up, my first instinct is to hurl the garment across the room, and my second is to say hey, I work in a lab, who the hell is going to notice?  If I do convince myself that the right thing to do is tear it out and redo it, I get increasingly bitter and frustrated.  Just because I am not detail-oriented doesn’t mean I’m not a perfectionist.

I say this because I have a full day in front of me to work on what I’d like, and only a few steps left to finish on my vest.  But all I want to do is muslin six new patterns.

Is that so wrong?  What parts of the creative process do you like best?

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Lots to learn

When I saw this swatch at Gorgeous Fabrics I thought it was going to be a shirtdress.  Then I got the fabric home, felt its weight and texture, and decided it would be a hooded jacket.  Once I’d cut the sleeves out though, and tried pinning them on, it became a vest with a standing collar.  I am nothing if not adaptable.

The pattern I used for this is McCalls 5668, one I wouldn’t have looked twice at had I not seen Idunna’s version.  I realized when making this up that all the jackets I’ve made so far have been either self-drafted, adapted from dress patterns, or pinched down from a relatively boxy fit.  This is the first real fitted jacket pattern I’ve made (ok, semi-fitted), and it was a bit of a revelation.  For example, the side pieces are longer than the center pieces in both the front and back, and that makes the jacket curve in at the waist in a way that I could never get my own pattern to.  The back fit beautifully with only a minor adjustments to the princess seams.  The pattern is designed for extra-large shoulder pads (one of the things that turned me off the envelope picture) but I looked up how to add shoulder pad allowance in Adele Margolis and worked backwards to remove it.  Worked like a charm.

Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to go and draft my own collar.  Partly this was because I thought I was going to add a hood, and had already removed the collar from the pattern (I think the pattern collar is okay, but if I were making it again I would change the angle a bit and make the points end higher).  I am rather proud of this collar draft.  I am always looking for good instructions on how to draft collars and am generally baffled by their geometry.  One of my favorite collar types is a simple standing collar that flares open at the front.  But the instructions for a standing collar generally tell me just to cut a rectangular band— and when I cut this out and sew it to the neckline it bunches up and folds awkwardly in the back.

For this collar I cut a rectangular band for the outside but a curved band for the inside.  The curved band is shorter at the neckline and the same width as the straight band at the top edge.  This lets the inner band fit inside the neckline without bunching.  Look how nicely it curved into shape when pressed:

I also cut the inner band a little shorter than the outer at the back, and a little taller at the front.  This is a trick I saw on Claire Kennedy’s website to make the collar stand up straight at the back and open out in front.  My only frustration is that I think I cut the inner band slightly off grain.  At least the stripe of the plaid hits the edge at different heights on the two sides.  Grrr…

What I’m not proud of is my seam finish.  Since I wasn’t going to line the vest I thought maybe I would try finishing the seams with bias tape.  This turned out to be even more of a pain than I thought it would be.  I trimmed the seams before adding the tape (a mistake) and the tape kept slipping off the fabric.  Rather than pull it all off and start over I just patched it up where I could, leaving ugly double stitching all over the place.  And I couldn’t for the life of me keep my stitching at a constant distance from the edge.  I tried using one of those feet that maintains a constant distance, but this made it even harder to keep the tape wrapped around the fabric.  Ugh.  I didn’t have enough tape (or patience) to redo it.  At least it’s on the inside.

I still have to cut and add facings to the arms and sew the zipper facings and hem down by hand.  I admit I’m in kind of rush to finish this because I could sure use an extra layer of wool these days…

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Update

Miss Celie’s Pants has a letter from Arielle describing what things look like in Port-au-Prince.  Elaine is selling Selfish Seamstress Swag and donating the proceeds to the Red Cross relief fund.

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Haiti

I can’t stop thinking about Haiti.  Through this blog I made a friend in Port-au-Prince.  Every few weeks she pops online to leave me a comment, send me an email, encourage me to buy sewing books, and complain about how the electricity keeps going out.  I haven’t heard from her since the quake and I keep scouring the newspaper reports for any clue if she’s okay.

The reports are so grim.  The port is destroyed, the airport damaged, and all roads into the city are narrow.  I gave some money to Doctors Without Borders, knowing they already have a presence there, and thinking that might make it easier to get aid in.  But mostly I feel powerless.  Every day I check my blog visitors and see people from Singapore, Turkey, New Zealand, the Czech Republic…and yet we can’t get food and water to this island a few hundred miles from our shore.

Here is a list of agencies that accept donations.  And Arielle, I hope you’re online again soon.

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Burda sleeve alteration: help please!

And this is why I didn’t make that separates resolution official.  After cutting out the fabric for the tops I figured I had time for a quick dress muslin.  This Burda dress has been on my to-do list for almost a year now.  I first saw Elaine’s version and set about looking for the perfect piece of gray wool.  Then I saw this oatmeal heather version from the original magazine issue and I thought that’s what I wanted.  But I think I’ve finally found the perfect fabric: this beautiful worsted wool from fabric.com.  The threads are gray and brown and sienna and the overall look is a sort of taupe-ish blueberry gray. The weight is perfect: smooth and lightweight but with some stiffness that I think will work well with the pleats.  And it’s a small scale plaid.  Could it be any more rooish?  Oh yes, and I ordered 2 1/2 yards but they wrote me and said they had only 2 yard cuts left.  I said that was fine and they sent me two 2 yard cuts (!).  So I should have enough for a jacket too if I’m careful (or a skirt if I’m not).

For some reason I had it in my head that I was going to make this dress without a muslin.  I have no idea why.  This time I just muslined the bodice.  After comparing the pattern to my sloper I lowered the bust point by 1/2″ and straightened the shoulders by adding about 1″4 inch to their sides.  I widened the sleeve pattern to match what I had added to the shoulders.  I didn’t think the back would fit that well but I made it up as-is to see how it fit.

What do you think?  I think the front fits okay although I can’t tell if I should add a bit more fabric to the bottom of the bodice (what I’m showing includes seam allowance).  Maybe I need to go ahead a muslin the skirt as well after all.  The shape of the back looks okay but it gapes quite a lot at the bottom (see arrow in the side pic below).  And this is after I took it in about 1/2″ at the bottom.  Do you think the gape is okay or should I take it in more?

The other problem is the sleeve.  It felt a little tight across the shoulders and looking at the muslin I can see some pulling on the sleeve (see other arrow).  It’s just tight enough that I’d probably go ahead and make it and then find myself never wearing it because it didn’t fit right.  So I think I’d better fix this problem now.  So my question is: how do I add space to the sleeve without changing how it fits into the armscye?  If anyone knows the “right” way to do this I’d be very grateful.  Otherwise I will just have to continue my experimental sewist ways, and it will probably be four muslins before this thing actually gets made.  Also do you think it is necessary to muslin the skirt?  I figured since it is A-line and has all those pleats there will be room to adjust but maybe I should just go ahead and do it.  Just that I’m getting towards the end of this bolt of muslin and feeling a bit sheepish about it.  (Although David did point out that muslin scraps make good painting rags.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.)

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Separates

While I explicitly did not resolve to sew through my stash this year, I did resolve to start the year by sewing a bunch of separates.  (A private resolution of course, so no one can call me out on it if I don’t follow through.)  I had a bunch of fabrics earmarked for “quick” tops or skirts and I kept putting off making them because I figured I could whip them up any time.

Lots of these fabrics are really lovely and since I’ve made many of the patterns before I know I’ll wear them if I can just bring myself to put them together.

First up are two tops made from some knits I bought last summer in New York.  These are two of my favorite colors: olive green and burnt orange.  The green one is another version of my favorite cowl-neck top (a modified Simplicity 3634).

The orange one is my take on V8616.  I liked the front seam on this pattern and the pleating at the neckline.  But I don’t generally like wearing turtlenecks and the first version I made of this pattern (intended as a present for a friend) came out so enormous I decided it would be insulting to give it to her.  So I decided to adapt it as a funnel-neck top.  To make this version, I scaled down a size, added 1 5/8″ to the sides of the collar on both front and back, and extended the shoulders by 1 1/2″ (plus an allowance to turn under for a facing).

I get extra points for this one because (a) I did put it on a list a few months ago, even going so far as to sketch it and to post my sketch, and (b) it uses up a scrap from another project so there are no scraps left over.  I like that it has sort of a mod cheongsam look to it, although I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to wear it until it warms up significantly.  (I got chilly just taking this picture.)

I’m not as crazy about the fit of this top as the simplicity t-shirt.  It comes with several front pieces for different cup sizes, and all have extra ease along the sides.  But I found that this just added wrinkles instead of improving the fit— for me anyway. I do like the way the collar pitches forward in the front to fall open nicely.  So I’m glad I worked from this pattern instead of trying to draft it myself.

Anyway I’m happy to add two pieces to my have-done list for 2010, and it’s not even the middle of January yet!

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Astoria

At least, I think it’s in Astoria.  On the train to Astoria, anyway.

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Warm house, cold painting

When we moved here two years ago in January we were convinced it was going to be cold for the next few years.  Our seating options at the time consisted of two office chairs with wheels, which when sat in would transport you to the far corner of our tilting floor.  Two years later our apartment finally feels like home, thanks to David running around with a caulk gun and shrink wrap, and our awesome new couch and chair that arrived last weekend.

Here’s David enjoying being king of the living room:

And the couch in a rare moment with no one curled up on it:

While David’s been busy making the place warmer I’ve been working on this chilly scene from October in Vermont:

I’m pretty happy with this one.  I worked hard on two things: keeping the edges soft and mixing whites.  I think it has a nice intensity that comes from minimizing details and sharp edges, and getting the light right on the houses.  To keep the edges soft I painted very thinly (so much for overcoming my fear of thick paint).  In some places the paint is rubbed in very dry, while in others it’s a thin glaze.  The house on the right, for example, is just a thin layer of white that lets the underpainting show through, giving the house a weathered look:

When I set this painting next to the previous one I suddenly realized what was wrong with the old one.  Although the brushstrokes in the last painting were much thicker and freer it always looked kind of flat to me.  What I realized was that in this painting, the brightest shapes are the roofs that are slanted towards you.  They are brighter than the sky.  Which means the light must be coming from the sky behind you— which is the sky in the first painting, taken facing the other direction.

I brightened the sky on the right just a hair, but it makes the hillside pop out and gives drama to the sky.  It also provides a source for the light on the buildings.  With a few other adjustments (adding more gray tot he hillside, more darks to the sides, and simplifying the shapes in the foreground), I am happier with this one too.  Here’s the old version for comparison:

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