Friday, December 31, 2010

The requisite year-end wrap-up

It's the time of year for taking stock.  I always enjoy reading other folks' summaries of what they've accomplished over a year of sewing: it puts things in perspective.  However, when I started to try and count up how many of what I sewed, I realized that I don't know exactly what I made when before I started this blog in April.  Plus, I need some clarity on the definition of "finished":  I completed some stuff that I considered a failure.  But I also completed some stuff I wouldn't count as a loss, but don't wear.  And there's plenty of not-so-successful stuff I really enjoyed making, and that has a value of its own.   So screw counting.   Let's say I made in the neighborhood of two dozen things, some of which sucked less than others.

This skirt has been worn a lot this year.
Even the dog doesn't like this dress.

I didn't particularly try to pick up new skills this year  (though reading the many awesome sewing blogs out there, I might have accidentally learned a few things).   However, I got better at fitting (thanks in part to helpful input from other sewists), and I am a ton more confident about what I can do than I was a year ago.  I rarely have to rip out and re-do (no doubt I just jinxed myself) and generally things come together as I expect.   I'm still sticking to "easy" cottons and rayons, but those are what I like to wear, too.   I also wear a lot of knits, and thought I'd jump into sewing those once I got a serger.   And while I've made a few tops which see a lot of use, I haven't enjoyed sewing knits the way I do wovens.  Yet, anyhow.  I think part of it is the learning curve.   Something to work on in the coming year?  Maybe, we'll see.

1960s shirtdress -- yay!
1950s sundress, and first fitting success.

For some reason, who knows why, I like to sew things that do not fit my personal style as I understand it.  I'm a pretty plain dresser in real life ... bordering on a sloppy dresser, to be honest.  And I prefer not to stand out in a crowd.   I know the dresses I've made would blend in fine with many people's wardrobes, but they're a bit of a statement for me, and for my workplace full of engineers.   For now, I've decided that I don't need a reason and I'm just gonna make what I want.  Sometimes it'll be practical, and sometimes maybe not so much.    Maybe I'll get more comfortable with dressing differently, especially as the quality of what I sew improves.   At any rate, expect more, and perhaps kookier, vintage dresses from me in 2011.  Maybe they'll never leave the house, but I'll have fun making them!  I also want to focus more on adding interesting detail to what I sew,  be it use of trim, addition of small design elements, or choice of finishing technique.  

I have other 2011 goals for myself outside of sewing, but they're not particularly revelatory: eat healthier (I have the palate of a six year old and could live on bread, cake and candy), keep the house tidier, etc.  I want to do these things every year, and rarely succeed.  For despite the wisdom of such goals, they don't make life feel richer or more interesting.  As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I also want to get back into drawing regularly.  To do that, I have to make time somewhere, so I also plan to do less photography.  And while I'm at it, sell some of my 300+ cameras.  At work, I want to be a more active contributor to the many knowledge-sharing communities that exist in the large organization I work for.  I am always reluctant to put myself out there, but I'm at a point in my career where I need to start doing it if I want to move forward.  

One final thought, on blogging ... thank you all for reading my posts!  I doubt I'll ever be a wildly successful blogger, if for no other reason than that there's clearly a social networking aspect of it which goes right over my extra-introverted head.   Sometimes I still feel unsure about what to write and how.   But I am thrilled to participate in a larger sewing world, in my own somewhat disconnected way.  Though I'm not a good commenter  (something I should try to work on in the coming year), I enjoy reading the many great sewing blogs out there, and am always looking for more.   Whether you realize it or not, y'all are great sewing instructors!

Happy New Year to you all, and I hope 2011 brings you great things!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pendrell the second

I've finished my second Pendrell blouse!   Sorry the pictures aren't so great -- it was another gray afternoon here in Houston.  I added a bow tie at the neck, side slits at the hem, and omitted the shoulder ruffles.  The fabric is rayon challis, and some of the oldest in my stash ... not sure how long I've had it, maybe as long as ten years.  I've been waiting for just the right project for it.  I made a little effort to lay out the pattern so that I'd have complete branches on the center front and back.

I ironed the blouse, and then proceeded to get it all wrinkly again as I wrestled it onto the dress form.  Oh well!   I made the one fit modification I wanted, which was to make the mid-back a little narrower, by taking out a smidge (1/4 to 1/8 inch) from the sides and the princess seams in the back.  I didn't even alter the pattern, but just marked where I wanted to start and stop tapering as I sewed.

Adding the neck tie was a simple change: I cut two of the neck binding, and sewed the ends together to make an extra-long binding strip.  Then I did the binding as the pattern instructed, except on the other side of the fabric, so that the binding's on the outside.  Of course, you have the extra fabric hanging loose: I treated it as double-faced bias tape (edges folded to the inside) and sewed it closed, then tied my bow.   I didn't take pictures as I went, but it seems likely that I'll make another soon, and if there is interest, I could do it then.

I initially wanted to do a black binding/tie, but couldn't find any material of the right weight in black.  I had some white rayon challis, but I feared that wouldn't look too keen.  So I went with the boring-but-safe choice of self-fabric.

Next up: probably a dress.  I'm still mulling over exactly what I want, but I'm leaning toward something nice and impractical for daily wear, possibly using this pattern:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My sewing-related Christmas

Hello everyone -- I hope you had (and are still having) a happy holiday!   I am looking forward to a full week off work.  For me, the transition to the new year is a meditative time, and in addition to sewing, relaxing, and cleaning my messy house, I'll also reflect on the year that's ending, and think about what I want for 2011.  I don't worry so much about making new year's resolutions, but around this time I like to take stock of things.   But for now ...  let's talk about presents, shall we?  I got a few sewing-related gifts I thought I'd share.

Clearly the world is not a fair and balanced place, because though I gave no handmade gifts, I did get some!  My parents gave me a Kindle, a totally unexpected and wonderful present.  I'm already halfway through my first downloaded book and I'm really enjoying using it.   I like that it'll fit in my purse or backpack, which means I'm more likely to read when I'm out and about.  Anyhow, on to the point:  my mother, appalled at the prices of cases for the Kindle, made a really cute one!  It's slightly padded, so it'll do a great job protecting the Kindle from the cruel world.

I also got some sewing-related items from my husband that were on my wish list.  First off, The Party Dress Book, by Mary Adams.  I'm about halfway through this already, and it's an interesting read. Mary Adams describes the evolution of her design aesthetic, which tends toward fluffy, layered, colorful party dresses.  What I find interesting is how strongly focused her body of work is.  It's more what you would expect from a (fine) artist, whereas I tend to think of fashion designers as covering a broader range, since they typically put out an entire line, and are attempting to ignite new trends.  (Not to say that fashion designers aren't also artists, but it's a different niche.)  Adams is working with a very simple silhouette for the most part, but she finds lots of interesting ways to add creative detail that fit with her own design "rules".  Anyhow, interesting book, and even if you don't want to copy her style, you might be inspired by the way she works. 

I also got a pleating board and pressing cloth from Clotilde.  On the last season of Project Runway, Andy South used a pleating board quite a bit in his final collection, and it seemed an interesting and fun toy.  It took me a while to find one, but when I did, onto the wish list it went!  I tried it out on some scraps yesterday, and while I did not do a perfect job the first time out, I was happy with how it looked, and will be finding ways to incorporate this sort of embellishment into future sewing projects.

Finally, my husband chose a handmade pincushion from Details by Des' Etsy store for me.  I have been using one of those ubiquitous tomato pincushions, which serve the purpose, but not much more can be said for them.  I know there are some good patterns out there for making pincushions (and they do look fun to make), but there were already so many pretty ones on Etsy, and I'm focused on clothes sewing at the moment.   Anyhow, I love my new pincushion -- it is so big!   It's already full of pins, and I expect to spend lots of quality time with it today.

Finally, my husband got me this fancy set of markers.  This doesn't have much to do with sewing (unless I start drawing my sewing plans ... ) but I am trying to get back to drawing after many years of neglect.  It's a painful process, as I don't yet know what I want to draw, or how, after so long.  I need to start sketching more consistently, if I want to make progress.  I am finding these markers support color layering and blending quite nicely, and I really enjoyed using them in the test doodles I drew yesterday.   Hopefully they will help me find my artistic groove.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pendrell, you're swell

I just finished the Pendrell blouse from  It came together really fast: I traced off the pattern and started cutting on Saturday night, and had it complete by Monday evening.  I was eager to try it, because I have never before been able to cut a straight size -- usually I have to grade up one to two sizes (depending on era and design) between bust and hip.  Next time around I may take it in a little in the middle back via the princess seams, because I'm not going to wear it tucked in, and I want it to have a little more shape.  Otherwise it was pretty much spot on right out of the envelope.  When does that ever happen?

Sorry, photos on the dress form only for now.  It's so hard to coordinate availability, presentability, and daylight!   I plan to do lots of sewing over the break, and may just have a photography session at the end for whatever I complete.  

I had enough left of my bargain plaid fabric, and it was a decent choice for a wearable muslin for this pattern.  (A very wearable muslin, as it turns out!)  The material is a lightweight cotton blend of some kind.  I proved that there's definitely a touch of polyester in there when I got the iron too hot at one point and the frayed edges of the fabric in one place kind of fused together.   Oops ... but it was barely noticeable, thankfully.   Anyhow, it was easy to sew with and has an acceptable (if not super) drape, which this blouse needs for all those ruffly bits.  I at least attempted to match the plaid, and was mostly successful except on the left side seam ... oh well.  If you look at the plaid at the hem, you'll see I didn't *quite* get it straight, either.  This didn't need lining, so I did French seams for a nice finish on the inside.

Pretty on the inside.  As are we all, I suppose.

I made view two, the ruffly one, and followed the directions from start to finish, which is so very unlike me!   However, they were clear and concise, and I probably did a better job for actually using them.   The pattern is also well drafted.   My one point of confusion may be a mistake on my part -- I had "cut 2" written on the neck bias binding piece, yet you only need one.  However, I HATE folding up pattern tissue, so I can live without knowing whether I erred when tracing.   Probably I did.

This top fits nicely into a big honking gap in my wardrobe, so I think I'll be making several more variants.  (My layering tops are mostly those "wifebeater" style ribbed tanks.  Hey, they're cheap and come in lots of colors!)  Anyhow, I have some china silk that seems like it would be perfect for this!   I don't see all that many blouse patterns I like, that fit with the way I actually dress:  I don't wear bottoms that hit at my waist, or tuck in tops.  Ever.

Now I'm dreaming of the other Pendrells I could make!  It's fun to think of different ways you could tweak the design, and it even inspired me to dust off my drawing skills.  Er, well, tracing skills, anyhow -- I enlarged the line drawing from the back of the pattern to use as my starting point.  Apparently I like little bows on my shirts.   On the color-blocked one, I'm not sure I have a good arrangement of blocks, but you get the idea.

I have fabric picked out for v2, but haven't decided on the design details yet (though that hasn't prevented me from cutting it out already).  I'd like to get some velvet trim, if the fabric store is open tomorrow ... if it's not, I don't think this project wants to wait, so I'll make do with whatever's on hand.

Happy holidays, everyone!

An anthropologist* at Anthropologie

I am off work until the new year, so that means lots of time to sew!  I also plan to do a few boring, practical things, like shampoo the carpets and clean out the attic, but mostly I just need some time to chill after a very busy year.   Now that I'm done rushing around, I starting to look forward to Christmas, too.  I got my first presents already: my husband went ahead and gave me a book he'd gotten me after starting to feel unsure about whether I had already read it.  (I hadn't!)  And last night, we went to Anthropologie.   Like many people who sew, I love Anthropologie, but I can't afford to shop there often.  So, it's a special occasion treat.

We agreed that I'd shoot for about two items, and then ended up blowing the budget and buying four.  However, one (black knit top with asymmetrical ruching) was a clearance item and was only $30: a steal in the land of Anthro.   Two were pants, a constant need in my wardrobe since my office is so cold, and for some reason I have trouble finding pants anywhere but Anthropologie.  Clearly I needed them both.   The final item was an embellished cardigan ("Blooms above the snow" -- naming the clothing must be someone's full-time job).  My other embellished cardigans are my favorite wardrobe items, so I just couldn't put it back either.  Fortunately I have an indulgent husband!

I also tried on lots of cute dresses, but the waistline of every single one hit up on my ribcage, a common dress fit issue for me.   It's for the best -- they wouldn't have been good buys in terms of price-per-wear.  In fact, it would have been a struggle to find places to wear the ones I liked best, which tended to be a little dressier.  They do provide good sewing inspiration, though -- these two in particular:

You can't see it well in the picture, but that navy dress (the Peggy Sue dress) is made of the most amazing basket-weave fabric!  And there's a tulle under-skirt to give it some fullness.  The second dress (the De Chelly dress) I saw featured in some magazine, and I knew even then that it wouldn't fit me (plus, I'd freeze to death in it), but I when I saw it in the store I just had to try it on.  I would love to find some fabric like that: it's just gorgeous.  And, it's cotton!

I have a finished Pendrell blouse to show you, as soon as I get some photos.  I like it a lot, and am already planning to make more.  I need cute tops to wear under cardigans!

* I have a degree in cultural anthropology -- shouldn't this get me some sort of discount?  :D

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Knowing when to say when

After several weeks with no time for sewing, I finally returned to my project-in-progress: McCalls 7985 (the much-coveted Pauline Trigere pattern), this time in a blue-based plaid.   I love the fabric, I love the pattern, and I think (well, thought) I'm getting close on the alterations.   I had cut out the dress weeks ago, so I dove straight into sewing.  First I pieced the back pieces (the fabric is 45" -- you need a 60" wide piece to cut this dress without piecing, as the skirt is cut all at once).   And what do you know ... the plaids actually matched.    Wonderful!  Amazing!  And for me, definitely far above par for the course.  However, this was the last good thing that would happen for this dress.  When I went to piece together the angled side pieces ... well, I kind of lost control of the thing.   I wanted piping to accentuate the seaming details, and used my piping foot for the first time.  That part actually was fine, and the piping looked pretty nifty if I do say so myself.  Definitely want to pipe more in the near future.  But clearly something about my updated alterations to the bodice did not add up, and so neither did the front and back pieces.  I tried trimming off the weird excess in the back bodice piece that shouldn't have been there, but I just couldn't wrestle the two sides together.  Plus there are sections that are gathered, and some that are eased, and all of them were jumping around, or so it seemed.  As I was trying to wrestle the material through the machine, it occurred to me that I was working way above my skill level.   And when I saw the sad mangle I had produced, all doubt was removed.  Yeah, I could try again, but I think that would result in nothing more than a slightly different configuration of mangle.  I don't normally feel this way about sewing failures, I promise.   This is an acceptance of fact.    
FAIL. (And that's OK.)
So, wadder.  But I feel fine about it.  At least I realized it early in the project, before too much time was invested.  And through I love the pattern,  there was no doubt I was in over my head when it comes to the necessary alterations.  I love the fabric too, but it was cheap, and there was a big ol' bolt of it, and I intend to scoot back to High Fashion Fabric and try to get some more.   Plus, I was able cut out a muslin for my next project from what was left, and I'm hoping that it'll turn into something wearable.  I could tell you about it, but the plan is to just finish it soon so that I can show you.

On an unrelated note, my Burda magazine showed up yesterday.   You might not realize that I subscribe to Burda because I haven't been inspired to sew a single Burda design in 2010.  So, now that my subscription is up, I think it's time for Burda and I to part ways.   We've grown apart style-wise.  I have no love for drop-crotch pants or weird drape-y sack-dresses.   I live near the Gulf coast, and don't need to make coats.  This latest issue did have a 1940s-inspired spread, but the blouse from that I liked wasn't offered in my size, which seems to be another Burda trend.   I might pick up Ottobre again instead -- there's less pattern bang-for-buck, but they're usually nice patterns.

This little gem from the current Burda issue is worth sharing, though.   It leaves me positively bemused.  There's something disturbing about the way the kid's face is squished in there between the octopus eyes.
I have only a few work-days left in 2010, and will wrap the year up with a nice long holiday at home.   Which, needless to say,  I am really, really looking forward to.   Sewing is definitely on the agenda!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday preparations

No sewing going on here, I'm afraid.  This time of year finds me rushing around trying to get Christmas together.  Our families doesn't live nearby, and my husband and I prefer not to travel on Christmas, so we have a lot of gifts to get in the mail.  I am happy to say that said gifts are all purchased, wrapped, and in boxes awaiting tomorrow morning's trip to the post office.  As much as I admire the beautiful hand-made things many sewists turn out this time of year, I don't have the time, and I'm not sure it's what my family would most appreciate.
I enjoy wrapping presents ... in moderation, anyhow, and while it doesn't compare with a hand-made gift, I think it does show care and consideration.  My wrapping paper preferences lean toward the more abstract evocations of the season, and I use fabric ribbon rather than paper stick-on bows, which I find don't want to stay where you put them.  I didn't count how many gifts I wrapped, but it took most of yesterday to get it all done!

For co-workers, I made dipped pretzels in white and milk chocolate.  I don't have much inclination to cook or bake, but these are simple, so I make them most years.   My husband and I will each take a tin with us to our respective offices next week, before people start to leave on vacation.
As for decorations, we just put up a little tree in our bedroom, which is where we unwrap our gifts Christmas morning.   Haven't gotten it out yet, since we need to clean up first, but the ornaments stay on the tree so setup is a two-second job.  Even with the shopping and wrapping done, somehow it's hard to believe Christmas is only two weeks away!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekend plans

Another long week with no sewing in it for me.  That's becoming the norm, but I try to catch up on my hobbies over the weekend.   This weekend, my primary goal is not sewing, but to finish my three rolls of Kodachrome film.   Kodachrome production ceased earlier in the year, and Dwayne's photo, the last place on earth that processes it, will no longer do so after December 30.   A few months ago, I thought I would plan something special photography-wise for these last little pieces of history, but now I'll just be happy for them not to go to waste.  So I headed over to The Heights (an older neighborhood in Houston, known for its few remaining traces of Victorian architecture) this morning to get some shooting done, and will finish up tomorrow.

Bye bye, Kodachrome!

I'll have some time for sewing this weekend too, so I plan to work on round two of the Pauline Trigere pattern.   I'm not sure y'all thought much of the first version, but I still love this design, and I'm making a few more tweaks to hopefully improve the fit of the bodice.  This is what I'm working with, this time around:

The fabric is some poly-cotton (I think, anyhow) I found in the clearance area of High Fashion.  It's only 45" wide, so I'll have to piece the skirt, since the whole thing is meant to be cut at once.  I'm not sure how matching the plaids in the back is going to go -- knowing me, probably badly.   And admittedly, the plaid will not showcase the angled side seams.   That's where the pink piping comes in, though installing it may make me crazy.

Finally, I might have bought some fabric in the past week or so ... I hit High Fashion to look for coordinating fabrics for the Trigere dress, but came up empty.  But of course, I didn't come home empty-handed:

I also hit a sale at Quilt Home -- they have an ever-changing 30 percent off section, and the alignment of sale fabrics was favorable.   Who am I to argue with fate?

And then had a Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or whatever you want to call a post-Thanksgiving sale, and I picked up some rayon challis there.  I love rayon challis, and I don't see a lot of it I find pretty.   Often it seems like they have been smacked with a circa 1980 ugly stick.  I actually bought mostly solid colors.  They're in the washer now, so no photos.  Just picture red, (lightish) navy, yellow, peridot green, and white.  And red speckled with black.   And yeah, enough fabric already.

While I was out doing the photography thing, I stuck my head into Sew Crafty Houston to check things out, and lucked into some vintage zippers and buttons:

Last but not least ... my wrist pincushion from The Cottage Cupboard on Etsy arrived!  (Though alas, I don't see any others for sale in her store right now.)  One of the designers on the latest season of Project Runway had a wrist pincushion and that made me realize I needed one.  My pincushion always seems to be just out of reach.  Anyhow, this is so comfortable to wear, I almost forgot I had it on.

OK, I think I have enough sewing supplies to last me well into the New Year now.  If only I had a big bundle of free time to go along with them!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First stab at the Pauline Trigere pattern

Having finally gotten the pattern of my dreams, I of course had to start on it ASAP.  I knew it would be a hard one to get right on the first try, given those diagonal side seams and my minimal pattern resizing experience.   When I spread out the pieces (uncut and factory folded!) I really felt quite lost at how to redraft this thing.  But I made my best guess, and it mostly worked.  I've still got some more work to do for version two, and I suspect I won't truly get it right until version three at the soonest.

This pattern is designed for more formal fabrics, but I didn't want to go that route since my life has zero formal occasions in it (and I like it that way).  So I went with a cotton shirting material that I got from JoAnn's clearance section.   It turns out to be not quite drapey enough, but it's not horrible.   I had originally chosen a cotton voile in fuchsia for the lining, but it too looked a bit stiff for the design, so I ended up going with the fitted sheet from a sheet set I got from Goodwill a while back. (The top sheet has already turned into this dress.)   The bottom sheet was very worn in the center, and not suitable for anything that would show.  But for a wearable muslin, totally fine.

So here's my first attempt.  (You'll have to pardon my dog, who is doing his prairie dog imitation because he sees another dog.)  Despite taking out a total of five and a half to six inches out of the bodice, I still need to bring it in a tiny bit more.  It would be less noticeable in a fabric with more drape: this shirting wants to crease up a little.   I added bias strip edging (made from the lining material) to make the dress a little less plain.   It still seemed like it needed something more so I made a fabric flower and pinned that to the front.  I also top-stitched the angled side seams, which makes them somewhat more visible, but not as much as I'd like.  However, the sharp point where the side seam joins the back waist seam makes the idea of adding piping or the like rather unpalatable.  I had enough trouble sewing that point as it was.  I actually did a better job of it on the lining -- my points on the outer fabric aren't completely smooth, and the material wants to form a pleat there.

Here's a shot of the flower I made.   It was fun to do, so maybe I'll make more in the future.  I figure when I'm wearing a cardigan over the dress I can pin it on the cardigan.   You can see the fabric better in this shot too.

The dress requires a 24-inch zipper, which seem to be uncommon these days.  JoAnn's has a limited selection.  High Fashion Fabrics doesn't bother with them at all.  I'm sure they're available online, but as someone who doesn't plan projects much in advance, I like to be able to pick up my notions at brick-and-mortar retailers.  A 24-inch zipper meant lots of hand-sewing.  Ugh.  But I'm better at it than I used to be.

So I'm off to begin round two with this pattern!  I had wanted to make a version where the back panels were a different color than the rest of the dress, to make the unusual seaming stand out.  But I couldn't find what I wanted at High Fashion Fabrics, so the plan is to make a plaid version with some more clearance fabric that I happen to like.  The diagonal side seams probably won't stand out much at all, but I can continue to work on the fit, and I just like the overall shape of this dress, whether the interesting design details are evident or not.  I may look online for some fabric that matches my original idea in the meantime.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Finished hoodie dress

I finally got some photos of the dresses I've finished recently.   First up is Vogue 5483, the hooded dress from 1962.  It came from the treasure trove of patterns my neighbors gave me (though I noticed there's one for sale on eBay right now in the same size too).   I made it out of flannel, mainly for wearing around the house, and I'm pretty happy with how it came out!  The buttons I used came from a collection my Aunt Dora gave me years ago.   I doubt they're vintage, but they were probably once on some other garment.

The pattern is for a size 31 bust, which is a size smaller than I usually sew, but my actual bust measurement.   The shape of the dress is meant to be a big rectangle: however, if I sewed it that way, the hip circumference would have been smaller than my actual hip measurement.  So I added about five inches total to the width of the lower half, tapering out from the waist to the hip and going straight down from there.  I tend to walk with a long stride, so I figured extra room at the bottom couldn't hurt.  In the future, I'll add a smidge of width to the upper back, but it's not uncomfortable as-is.   Instead of the cuffs that the pattern called for, I added little ties at the ends of the sleeves, because it seemed maybe an inch short in the arms.    I think I like the ties better than cuffs, and now the length looks more intentional.  :)

A few notes on construction ... I didn't line this dress, so as not to lose the nice drape of the lightweight flannel.  However, I did sew the facings down inside because I hate it when those things flap around.    The instructions tell you to finish the slashed edge of the cuff (or in my case, just the bottom of the sleeve).   They want you to basically just roll the edge up and sew it down, even though you have a 180 degree angle to traverse in the process.  Very fiddly -- in the future I'll just make a narrow bias strip to cover the edge.   I ended up with a little pucker at the apex of one of the slashes, which you can see in the picture above.    And oh yes, total plaid match fail.  Though I only tried in the front, I still got it off.   Oh well, maybe next time.   (And "next time" is basically tomorrow, because the next dress I plan to sew is plaid too.)

My main criticism of the final product is its uncanny similarity to a bathrobe -- between the hood, and the flannel, and the matching tie at the waist, I guess it was inevitable.    I plan to make another version soon out of rayon challis, which I hope will have a less bathrobe-y vibe.

Finally, here's a back view showcasing the hoodie awesomeness, which the sun flare only enhances!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Current project

My flannel hooded dress is finished, and hopefully I'll get it photographed soon, but in the meantime, I have gotten my next project underway.   A couple of months ago I posted about the pattern I most regretted missing the chance to buy.   Well, after more than a year of hunting, I finally snagged a copy!   Better yet, nobody bid against me, and I got it for a mere $9.99, less than half what I saw it go for last time around.

It's a size too large for me, so I'm in the process of bumbling through re-drafting the bodice.  Those angled sides make it a challenge.  I made a stab at it on the tracing paper, cut out my fabric, and am now working on basting the dress together so that I can try it on.  So far, it looks like I need to extend  and raise the bust dart.  I did a horrid job making that little point where the back piece joins the front at the waist, so I'm glad I already planned on ripping out those seams.

The fabric I'm using is some taupey-tan striped shirting I got out of the clearance section at Jo Anns, and I have some hot pink voile set aside for lining, when I get that far.  I optimistically picked out some piping, but that was before I started the alterations.   Now I'm less keen on it.   I expect it'll take a couple of versions of this dress before I have all the alterations right.

The pattern is intended to be made up in fancy-schmancy fabrics, and includes separate pattern pieces for the lining, plus facing pieces so that the lining won't show.  At least on the first go, I'm going to stick with my usual practice of cutting the lining from the dress pattern pieces.  There's also a pattern piece for skirt stiffening, which I won't be needing either.   This is the most thoroughly marked pattern I've ever encountered: there are lines to show you where to put your basting thread, and arrows along every seam line to show you which direction to sew in.  Plus you are specifically instructed to cut the pattern paper and fabric together.  Maybe that matters when you're dealing with slippery fabrics.    As usual, I'm not really following the directions ... though if or when I get to those (gulp) welt pockets I will certainly have to follow somebody's instructions!

Unfortunately, my Janome's bobbin winder has died again, so I have another road trip to Tomball to look forward to.   Apparently my model of Janome is unique in that they made it extra, extra hard to get the top off, and after watching the repair guy get in there last time, I am not even tempted to attempt a DIY this time around.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sewing machines: vintage vs modern

Many people seem to think that vintage sewing machines are better than their modern counterparts -- better made, more powerful, better stitch quality.  However, there are lots of bells and whistles on new machines that people pay a pretty penny for.    Fortunately,  I have one of each, so I thought I'd do my own casual comparison.

Janome MemoryCraft 4900QC

My modern machine is a Janome MemoryCraft 4900QC, and is about 2 years old.  This model isn't made anymore, but the 5400 is very similar.   I think of it as the Toyota Camry of sewing machines, somewhere between the economy models and the luxury mega-stitchers.    It was like $700, I think, and it has served me well so far.

Singer 500A

By contrast, the Singer 500A was the top-of-the line machine of its era.  Mine was made in 1962, and would have cost a couple hundred dollars new, a huge sum in the economy of the day.   It has a slanted shank, and a number of built-in decorative stitches.  Plus it looks cool -- way cooler than the Janome.

I sewed my latest project almost entirely on the Singer, as a way to get a feel for how it compares to the Janome.  I lamed out on the buttonholes -- there wasn't much incentive to figure out the bizarre-looking Greist buttonhole attachment when the Janome is ready and waiting to make serviceable (if not overly attractive) automatic buttonholes.

Foot pedal
The Singer has the old-fashioned foot control where you press a button on the top, rather than mashing down the entire pedal.  I wasn't sure I would like this, but it was fine.  The Singer did take a little longer to build up speed, but that's also okay.

Stitch tension
I was dreading having to get the tension correct on the Singer.  My Janome does this automatically, and almost always does it well, but with my previous machine (a cheap Kenmore -- also made by Janome) stitch tension was a constant battle.  Thankfully, it was easy to adjust on the Singer, though.  Not as easy as automatic, but easy enough.

Piercing power
The Rocketeer beats the pants off the Janome on this one.  The Janome will get hung up on thick seams, but the Singer glides over them without a hiccup.

Shank style
The Singer has a slant shank, the Janome is a low shank machine, I think.   I did like the slant shank a little better -- it felt easier to keep an eye on the fabric as it went under the needle.  

Thread feed
Hm, the Janome wins this one, I think.  The post for the thread spool on the Singer is rickety, and the thread path seems more convoluted, but that's not such a big deal once you get used to it.  However, if you don't have a good grip on the thread tails when you start a stitch with the Singer, there's a decent chance the needle will come unthreaded before you make the first stitch.   No such issues with the Janome.

Stitch length, reverse stitching
On the Janome, you set all this via button presses.  On the Singer, it's a big lever.  I thought that might be annoying, but it isn't too bad -- maybe even kind of fun.  I was pretty inconsistent with what length stitch I chose since I was flipping the lever back and forth all the time, though.  Also, the longest stitch length is still shorter than what I like to use for basting -- I guess you were supposed to do that by hand back then?

Needle up/down
There's a button for setting this on the Janome.  I missed it when sewing with the Singer.  Yeah, you can use the handwheel to get the needle in the right position, but the button's a heck of a lot easier.

Stitch "prettyness"
I didn't find much difference here, but then neither machine is straight-stitch only.

Decorative stitches
The Janome has a lot more, but most are so crappy looking they hardly count.  The Singer's are lovely: I can even imagine using them!

Final assessment -- hey, I have two great machines!  If I could only keep one, it would be the Janome, for the automatic buttonholes, needle up/down button, and also its free arm.   But I'd miss the Rocketeer's   powerful stitch, elegant slanted shank, and even its decorative stitches, something I didn't know I needed until I saw them.   I'd miss the Rocketeer's groovy good looks, too.    I'm happy I don't have to decide, and I suspect my affection for the Rocketeer will only grow with more use.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lucky number seven (aka -- giveaway winner!!)

I rolled my magic purple ten-sider to find a winner for the 1930s-themed giveaway, and came up with a winner.  Actually, the first time it rolled a zero (aka, a ten) -- the one number that wasn't assigned to a commenter.  So maybe it ain't so magical.  But on the second roll, it came through for me with a seven, and that's ...

Marie, I just checked my old emails and I still have your address from the last round of give-aways -- let me know if I should use some other address instead.   I'll get the book in the mail to you early next week.  I hope you find it useful, and I look forward to seeing what you make with it!

I enjoyed reading everyone's reasons for sewing vintage.  I'm still trying to figure out my own answer to that question.   I don't have much in the way of personal style, and am kind of a sloppy dresser most of the time.   I certainly don't aspire to a vintage lifestyle.   I do like "old stuff", though, and always have ... not sure why!   Plus, I always was (and continue to be) the kind of kid who pined for the 64-count box of Crayolas.   And later, when the 96-count box appeared, I had to have that too.  Together, these things may go some way towards explaining my vintage pattern collection.   As for the rest, maybe I'll figure it out if I keep on sewing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dating vintage patterns

Last night I had a hot date with my vintage pattern photos on Flickr, and  Actually, I've been working on this off and on for a while, but as of last night, I finally have date and decade keywords on all my vintage pattern photos!   My dates aren't authoritative: for many mail order patterns, no precise date is available, so I guessed the decade.  And there were a few that Cemeterian's lists didn't pin down, so I made my best guess there too.   But now I (and you, if you are so inclined) can do searches in my photo stream like this:

Or I can search for a particular year, like 1943 (the year my parents were born), or 1966 (the year my parents married).   I find it helpful to be able to sort my patterns this way.  My fashion history knowledge is weak, and what little I do have comes from sewing!   But I love vintage looks, and I am learning.

Given that this post is all about photos of vintage patterns, it seems weird not to have any photos.  So, here is what Flickr deemed my "most interesting" vintage pattern:

Ironically, I just have the envelope of this one, not the pattern.  The seller spilled something on it as she was getting ready to ship, and the delicate tissue was destroyed.   (The seller felt terrible about it: she refunded my money AND sent me some additional patterns!)  All the handwritten comments make the envelope very interesting, and maybe someday I'll find another copy.  This pattern dates to 1946, BTW.  :)

Flickr says this is my least interesting vintage pattern:

It's from 1991, so maybe it is not quite vintage!  My mother made me a dress from this pattern almost 20 years ago, and I still love and wear it.  My dress is a knee-length version of the one the model is wearing, in a sage green leafy vine print.  My sister had a version too -- hers was green vines on a black background.    I asked my mother if I could have the pattern last year, and I've been meaning to make another dress from it.  As it happens, this image has had more views than the "most interesting" pattern -- go figure.

I want to do another round of tagging, this time for garment style ("sundress", "bolero" ...) and design details ("double breasted", "dropped waist", "godets" ...).   I need to work up a good list of tags before I begin: I don't want to get halfway through and realize that I forgot one I'd really like to have, or that I haven't been consistent.   Any suggestions for tags to include are welcome!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A 1930s-themed giveaway

I have two copies of the very cool little book, "Dress Cutting: Instructions and Illustrations for Sewing 26 Vintage 1930s Fashions", and seeing as how the Sew Retro competition for this month has a 1930s theme, this is the perfect time to find a new home for one of them!  (OK, last week would have been an even better time, but I've been busy!)

Here's the book:

So what do you need to do to be considered for the giveaway?   In the comments on this post, answer (or at least ponder) the following question:

Why do you sew vintage looks?  

(Or if you haven't yet, why you want to.  If you're interested in entering, I can assume you do want to, right?)   There are no right or wrong answers -- I'm just curious.  :)    And I'm willing to ship internationally -- I just don't promise to ship via a speedy method!   I'll choose a winner on Friday, November 12, and get it in the mail ASAP, so that maybe you'll have a shot at using this for the Sew Retro contest.

If you don't win, or would rather just get your own copy, it's available from

I haven't made anything from the book yet, but it's on my to-do list!  As is entering the Sew Retro contest.   But I have another, non-1930s dress I'm very excited to make after my current project ... hopefully I won't run out of time.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nazi Nightwear

I recently scored a vintage German sewing and lifestyle magazine on eBay!  It's named "Illustrierte W√§sche- und Handarbeits Zeitung", and published by Vobach.  I think the title translates loosely to "Illustrated Clothing and Hand-work [ as in embroidery, etc. ] Magazine".   Since it's from 1937, it dates to Nazi-era Germany.  The first half of the magazine features patterns, in the middle there's a pull-out pattern sheet, and the second half has articles that appear to be about hand-sewing, food, home decor, etc.  

Most of the patterns in this issue are for night-wear, undergarments, and house-dresses. Most are for women, but there were a few for girls, and a page of boys' pajamas too.  The pattern sheet makes Burda's look like a cakewalk:

The pattern sizes for women are Roman numerals from 0 to VI.  Girls' sizes represented in this issue are 13-14 and 15-16. I was surprised to find that I seem to be closest to a 15-16.  They do include 15-16 on the women's size chart, but the women's clothing featured is not offered in that size.  Most designs seem to be available in two non-continuous sizes, such as 0 and II, or I and III, though my cursory attempt to locate a specific pattern on the pattern sheet was a complete failure!  Here's the size chart:

And finally, here are the illustrations of most of the patterns in this issue -- the most interesting part to me!  I hope that eventually I can make at least one of them.

And here's a sample article page from the second half of the magazine.  I didn't show more of these because they're mainly text.  At some point I'd like to dust off my German (which was never that great to begin with) and attempt translating some of the articles.   If any of them prove to be interesting, I'll share them.  The middle right article below seems to be about coleus, a plant with pretty variegated leaves I used to grow on the back porch of my previous apartment.

Happy Halloween, folks!  I went out and bought candy last night: mainly for moi, but if we do happen to get a trick-or-treater, I am ready.