Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Pattern-Free Caftan... Effortless Chic!

The obsession started a few months ago... First Christina Hendricks went on Jimmy Fallon to discuss her "Caftans and Casseroles" birthday party.  Then New York Magazine's The Cut ran a feature on getting your body "caftan ready" which sounds far more fun than working on a bikini bod.  Later I tried on some designer selections at Nordstrom while jeans shopping and realized that spending big money on what is essentially two squares of fabric is a bit silly.

So instead, I decided to make my own caftan top ( a dress is likely forthcoming) which would not only be a quick and easy project but also provide a use for the silk panel prints that I have picked up over the years.  I sketched a tentative "pattern design" that looked something like this:

So yeah, basically a caftan is a big square with a hole cut out for the head and some simple side seams.  Now some fancy folk might add some shirring to define the waist or also stich horizontal seams to better define the arms, but I don't have time for that nonsense!

For a bit of added interest (and to hide the break between panels) I added some forest green silk charmeuse at the shoulder. However, this truly is just a big rectangle with a hole in the middle.

  I made bias tape with the remaining green silk.

And used my silk bias tape to finish the neckline and hem.

I then sewed the side seams. And this is even simpler than normal side seams as you sew the wrong sides together.

Now if you want a loose and easy fit and feel you can stop here and call it a day.


However, for those of us who want or need a bit more waist definition, you can sew large buttonholes just outside the side seam and use a narrow belt or sash to emphasize your curves!

Voila! Casual summer glam!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Completed Chicago Quilt... Only two months later!

Despite my failure to post about it in a relatively timely fashion, I did in fact finish the Chicago quilt in time to gift it to my cousin at her baby shower the first weekend in June. That said, now seemed like a good time to show off the finished product as her son was born this past weekend as per the photos, mother and baby both seem to be doing well!

So here is the finished product, conveniently posed in front of color coordinated balloons.

When I last posted, I had finished piecing the front and back and was trying to figure out the whole "quilting" thing.  I ultimately decided to quilt around the shore and skyline to outline the image and try free form quilting for the lake and sky. Given this plan, I started at the straight shoreline to assure that the colored blocks on the back would line up with the image on the front. I also didn't have a lot of space so I had to roll up most of the quilt as I worked (as seen above) and quilt small sections.

The free form quilting was HARD!  I had no idea it would be such a challenge, or so fun! I get it now guys, I really do.  It didn't turn out perfectly, but it is solid and shouldn't fall apart, which was my real concern.

This image of the back provides a good sample of the quilting.

Once the quilting was complete, I finished the edges with wide bias binding.  Finally, I ran it through the wash several times to make sure that none of the threads would come loose (and tied off the few that did) because... Baby.

Then all that was left to do was attend the party!

One advantage of blogging several months after the fact is that the frustration of the learning curve and the many hours of picking out and redoing badly done stitches have faded from memory. Because honestly, this was probably a more ambitious project than a first time quilter should have attempted. It turned out as I pictured, I am pleased with the results, but this was a humbling experience.  That said, I may need to repeat this exercise, perhaps with a different skyline... Golden Gate Bridge anyone?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Britex Workshop Space Launch Party and a LOT of inspiration!

As per usual, I have gone far too long between posts, despite having a TON of blog fodder in my life the last few months!  I finished the Chicago quilt, gave it to my cousin and this past week the intended recipient was born! I learned a few fun pattern free projects (who knew a caftan could be so flattering!) and have several so far unposted tutorials to share.  I made a floral linen dress to wear to a hippie garden party wedding in the UK. I had an amazing vacation traveling around England and Scotland where I did some fabric shopping (Liberty) and learned about tartan weaving. I also dealt with some family health emergencies, spent far too much time on planes and bought an iPad mini, which I think will be beneficial in this whole "blogging" thing.

Despite all this good material, I had been content in lazily composing posts in my head and never sharing until yesterday when I attended the Britex Fabrics workspace launch party!

To launch the new workspace on the 4th floor (conveniently near the remnants) Britex invited a number of amazing sewing bloggers to speak as well as setting up some great crafts.  I attended as part of the Bay Area Sewists meetup group. I had never attended one of their events before, but all the women involved seemed delightful and I definitely plan on participating in the future!

Now I did make a headband, and sadly learned that I am none too proficient with the fabric glue... I actually looks pretty cute on, but the inside is a disaster... You can't really tell from these pictures, but trust me on this, grosgrain ribbon is much prettier when it is a) applied evenly, and b) not covered in glue.

The highlight of the afternoon however were the speakers.

Obviously I was not the only person trying to get a picture of these amazing ladies!

First up was Shams of Communing with Fabric. She did a show and tell of some of her recent work with a focus on closures.  A standout for me was a garment she had made for the fabric mart contest that used hardware store key rings for the closure.  She also raved about the folks on the button floor at Britex (3rd floor) so I may have to utilize their services next time I make a jacket!  She and several of the women at the talk suggested bringing the finished or nearly finished item to the store to "audition" closures in person. I think this is a great idea (and something I had never done before) as the closure on the garment, as opposed to just being held up to the fabric, can be quite different.

The second speaker was Beth of Sunny Gal Studio. sadly, I missed a lot of her talk as I was busy wrestling with my glue covered headband.  That said, she mentioned using many Vogue patterns as well as using scraps for linings which is functional rather than attractive. As a fan of the vogue patterns who has several garments which look downright bizarre on the inside I may need to start following her work.

Offering something a bit different was Jacqui from Birds of a Thread. She spoke on crafting an ethical wardrobe and discussed manufacturers with transparent supply chains so that the consumer could understand who actually made their clothes (or fabric as the case may be).  She suggested thinking carefully about our purchases and considering if we really need what we are buying. Of course this was after I had just bought yards and yards of remnant lace to make dresses that I will have little occasion to wear!

The last speaker I saw before I had to leave was Seamstress Erin, who, I have to admit, I now have a bit of a girl crush on... She is also tall and had to sew to get clothes long enough! She was once a theater major and sews costumes! She was wearing a large scale dinosaur print maxi dress! She is making a beautiful wedding jacket from the same (depressingly unfinished) Claire Schaffer pattern I have been working on for near 3 years now!  Not to mention that she has a PhD in biochemistry and is going to spend the months after her wedding traveling around Southeast Asia... Seriously? So cool. As I said, major girl crush.

Also, her talk inspired me to get back to blogging, so you can thank (blame?) her for this and future posts.

Sadly I had to leave before I could see the remaining speakers. The final two were Nicole from Nicole at Home and Laura Mae from Lilacs & Lace.

I also am grateful for the opportunity to take some time to explore Britex. When I went in the past I found it a bit overwhelming but now I think I would be in a better spot to actually shop.

And speaking of shopping, I did make a few purchases while at the store.

First I bought this lovely nubby material to make a lightweight jacket. 

I also bought this gorgeous gold lace and gold silk charmeuse.  My plan is to make a 60's style simple shift to really show off the lace, although I may need to buy different fabric for the underlay as I don't know that I got quite enough of the silk.

Continuing in the theme of lace over a silk shift, I also bought this unusual grey lace made from piping and a darker grey silk to go underneath.

Again, my thought is a shift, although for this one I think I would like longs sleeves made of just the lace.

That said, given how many unfinished projects I have sitting around, I am not sure when I will be able to get to these.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And now time for some... Quilting?

Now I'll be honest... quilting?  Is not usually my thing.  Or at least it wasn't, unless you count my Laura Ingalls/Cady Woodlawn/American Girl inspired obsession with pioneers and the American West that lasted approximately from 4-7 grade and which spawned many a doll-size patchwork monstrosity...  (I was so cool guys, so cool.) But other than that?  No, not so much a quilter.  I mean, why spend hours precision sewing straight lines when there are frivolous dresses to be made, corsets to be built, and jackets to be tailored? 
Plus as one who mostly (solely?) sews garments, I'm often a bit bitter at the array of colors and prints that are available in the quilting aisles... they draw me in with their amazing rainbow of jewel tones and perfectly coordinated pastels only to disappoint when you touch a cotton that is not only practically see-through but shockingly sandpaperesque to the touch.  With the advent of extensive online fabric stores and the move to a city with more on offer than just a JoAnns, this is a bit less of an issue, but still... I've been burned before.
Plus there is a bit of a snob factor... this idea that quilting falls under the umbrella of "crafting" and I'm not a "crafter."  "Crafters" are bored moms poorly recreating something they saw on Pinterest which was itself totally derivative.  Crafters make casseroles out of pre-packaged ingredients because Rachel Ray thought it was a good idea.  Crafters glue pom poms on Popsicle sticks and follow directions.  No, in my mind, I am an artist.  I am a designer.  I may use purchased patterns 85% of the time, but never mind that... in my minds eye I am a creative genius and a beacon of style and good taste...
And maybe a little bit (totally) deluded.
And actually? I love Pinterest and scrapbooks and activities involving glue guns.  And I'm from the Midwest... if you can hide the taste of frozen veggies with a can of Campbell soup, I'm a happy, happy girl!
So absurd pretensions thoroughly shattered, I embarked on that most classic of crafts, the quilt.  What inspired this project, you may ask?  Why it is because my cousin Kristin (who is amazing, FYI... doctor, former figure skater, living with her new husband in the world's most amazing Chicago apartment) is having a baby!  And I decided to make a baby quilt.
Upon making this decision, I could have behaved like a normal person and thought to myself, "Self, you don't know how to make a quilt.  Perhaps you should find some directions or buy a pattern or a book."  But that sort of self-awareness and good sense would be out of character.  Instead, I busted out a sketchbook and drew out what seemed to be an appropriate design for the situation and promptly hightailed it to the JoAnns to bring my dream to fruition. 

Why yes, that is the Chicago skyline... as a quilt.  Because goodness knows I couldn't make my first attempt a quilting something normal and based on right angles because that would be too easy. 

So, design decided upon and supplies obtained, I needed to figure out how to turn my fevered vision into a soft cotton reality.  Now I don't know how you are supposed to do these things but I figured a pattern was in order.  So I made a quilt size square of brown paper from old grocery bags, taped it to the mirror in the bedroom and sketched my Chicago skyline again, this time in full size.  (Full quilt size, not full Chicago size... that would be both ridiculous and expensive.  Plus the baby would get lost.)

For the lake I wanted to create random shapes in different shades of blue and white to mimic motion of water.  Again, I wasn't sure how to go about this, so I just started cutting out random bits of fabric and piecing them together until I had a piece a bit larger than the pattern I created.

After I assembled the water and the shore, I cut out my buildings one at a time.  I would cut each piece out of the paper pattern, cut out the fabric with a 1/4 inch seam allowance and I slowly started building my skyline.  


 After most of the skyline was assembled, I started in on the Sears Tower. (I know intellectually that it has a new name now, but I do not accept this so shush!)

So far, the face of the quilt looks like this:

Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done.  It needs to be pressed and quite a few of the buildings are as of yet unattached.  And that green one in the middle looks wonky.  It isn't actually that crooked but I do think the color is a little off and I may have to replace it.  Plus the sky?  Will be blue and white and gray and cloud-like, and not made of grocery bags.  But it's progress and not bad for two evenings of work on a first attempt I think.  
So what is the moral here?

Don't think practially! Just follow the guide of your fevered imagination!  If you take time to figure out how to do something you very well may talk yourself out of it so it's better to just jump right in! 

But, um... if someone has any thoughts as to the best way to do the actual quilting part, please let me know.  My original idea was to machine quilt by outlining the buildings and then free-form quilting the water and sky.  Now I'm a little uncertain.  So now that I've taken the plunge into a quilted Lake Michigan, is there anyone out there who can teach me to swim? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Shamrocks, nooks, and cleavage...

This is me... pretending not to notice my very handsome photographer.
Earlier today, I was enjoying my newly created "reading nook."  (And by "earlier today" I mean right now, as I'm typing.)  It's just a corner really, but it's amazing what an armchair, an ottoman, and some luxurious layered rugs can do!  (Why yes, I am posing reading the newest issues of Threads!) And you know what makes the perfect outfit for comfortable lounging?  Why a faux-wrap dress in a satiny soft rayon jersey, of course.  As comfortable as pajamas but you can wear it all day at work? Sign me up!

This simple dress was my project this past weekend.  This Butterick pattern by Chetta B has a wrap style top, flared skirt, and a wide obi inspired sash. 

The fabric I chose has a small kelly green clover print on a black background.  The wrong side of the fabric is all black so I was able to use the same fabric to create the bias binding.  The reversible quality of the fabric also helped make the sash look more finished when tied without having to line it. 
I did make a few alterations to the original pattern.  First, I eliminated the zipper.  Honestly, doesn't a zipper sort of defeat the point of an easy-wear jersey dress?  I really do not understand the Big Four pattern companies love of putting zippers in knit dress patterns.  Second, I didn't attach the sash as directed, but simply finished it with the black bias binding and tied it on.  It not only stayed put, but I think it makes the dress more versatile as I could also pair the dress with a purchased belt or wear unbelted for a looser, more casual look (maybe with boots and a long sweater? hmm...)  Finally I added the contrast bias trim to the sleeves as well.  Honestly, I think it creates a cleaner and more finished look, particularly on the short, almost capped, sleeve.
Generally, I found this pattern to be pretty great.  The proportions are good, the skirt was long enough without adding significant extra length (I think I only added about 2 inches, but I don't really know as I eyeballed it),  and the few hours it took to make this dress is completely worth it for a classic dress that can be worn in all seasons. 
That said, it runs BIG.  Right now, my measurements put me anywhere from a 16 to a 22 based on the back of the envelope.  Given that this is a knit and the jersey I chose has considerable stretch, I cut an 18.  Once the body of the dress was assembled, I tried on the whole kit and caboodle and it was, frankly, enormous.  I ended up taking in the side seams at the waist by two inches on each side.  After wearing it today, I'll probably throw it in the wash to make sure there is no additional shrinkage and take in the side seams a bit more, particularly as I think that will make the bust gap open a bit less...
Which brings me to my other criticism of this dress... it is pretty low cut.  Now I have a relatively high tolerance for low cut. I figure that as a busty gal, my bras are almost all "full coverage" so if the entire bra is covered I consider myself work appropriate.  Now this may just be a rationalization to make up for the fact that as one who can manage to have cleavage in a crew neck (this is only a slight exaggeration) the girls are never work appropriate so, well... screw it.  Point being, if you care about silly things like modesty, decency, and the prevention of so-called "wardrobe malfunctions" you may want to either raise the neckline ever so slightly or find yourself a cami. 
Overall though, I have to say I'm pretty pleased.  Plus, now I have something to wear next week for St. Patrick's Day!  Not that I have any plans for March 17th.  While I love any holiday that lends itself to themed dressing, I am getting too old to deal with half dressed, drunken teenagers whose neglectful and delinquent parents I spend the day judging.  You know you are an old lady when a day of harmless debauchery ends with your threatening to call the truant officer.  No, instead I will simply wear this dress (which for one day only shall be dubbed "the shamrock dress") and raise a pint to the holiday... after all, there is a nook with my name on it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Acquisitions, Organization, and Future Plans...

So I haven't been updating this blog o'mine nearly as often as I should have, but there is a good reason for this... I haven't been sewing nearly as often as usual and thus had nothing write about. I chalk this up to post-holiday laziness and general malaise.  Of course it could also be that I'm busy admiring views like this:
That said, I did acquire some amazing new stuff to help in some upcoming projects.

Most crucially, I upgraded my iron with a nice new Rowenta.  This is not to say that the Hamilton Beach iron I inherited from my mother circa 1980-something is not perfectly lovely... frankly it's stood me in pretty good stead, but it was time for an upgrade and some Amazon vouchers for Christmas proved the ideal opportunity to get a great iron for far less than I would otherwise have paid. 

Isn't that pretty and shiny?  Particularly when compared to my previous equipment?
And I am pleased to report that my new iron is not only visually pleasing, and not covered in burnt crispy...stuff, but it also works far better.  Observe:

These two irons were on the same setting (upper mid-range heat recommended for wool with the steam on).  Just look at the difference!  The new iron created such nice crisp results, comparatively.  The lesson that I've learned once again?  Upgrading to better (sadly this often means more expensive) equipment is pretty much always worth the investment.
I also have acquired an interesting new pattern and some useful books. 
Over the summer, my younger sister was involved in field study in Mongolia and on her way back she stopped off in Japan where she picked up a pattern for her sewing obsessed sister.  Now part of me is deeply tempted to make myself an amazing new kimono, but the larger part of me doesn't want to risk cutting up a pattern in a foreign language I can't even read.  We'll just have to see what happens.
I also bought myself Patterns of Fashion 2.  As someone interested in costuming and historical clothing, I eventually plan on buying more from this series, but I started with the edition which focuses on my favorite era: 1860-1920.  This amazing book(s) diagrams and provides scaled patterns for period gowns from various museum collections. 
I also bought Bridal Couture by couturier Susan Khalje.  This book outlines the fabrication, construction, and application to design and build wedding gowns and formals.  The book details topics such as working with lace and constructing boned bodices.  It's fantastic.  And why did I buy this book you may ask?  Because I have offered to make bridesmaid dresses for my baby sister's wedding set for May of 2015.  It's really the least I can do as one of the co-maids-of-honor.


Early in the planning process, Caitlin and I discovered we had the same dress on our respective Pinterest boards.  Namely, Trashy Diva's Honey dress.


I noticed that this bore a striking resemblance to the Butterick pattern by Gertie (B5882) inspiring the reaction, "hey, I own that pattern!"  And the subsequent determination that I could make the dresses as a wedding gift for less than these dresses would otherwise cost. 
That said, I prefer the true under-bust look of the first dress to Gertie's version, which is designed more to de-emphasize the bust (dear lord, why would I want to do that?).  So I decided to draft my own version as well and figure I can let the bride (remember her?) to make the decision as to what she wanted to use.  So, last night, I busted out my cheap plastic tablecloths (best thing for first draft muslin-ing I've ever discovered) and drafted a 50's style cocktail gown that I'm actually quite proud of!

Pretty, no?  I've also drafted a circle skirt to go with this (you can see it in the back view), but it's ultimately less important to draft ahead of time than the bodice.  

Additionally, I've made some significat Ikea purchases to update the sewing corner of my bedroom and open up the space significantly. 

This new arrangement also gives me the ability to watch terrible reality television while crafting... and what could be better than that?

So to sum up: iron, patterns, weddings, and Ikea... all good things!  Discuss!