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.