Monday, January 2, 2017

A Perfect Wrap* Dress & a Not So Perfect Photo Shoot (Simplicity 1653 review)

Do you hate taking garment photos as much as I do? It took me 30 minutes to get this underexposed pixilated shot, all the while dreading the awkwardness of having to explain to our new neighbors why I was preening and fake laughing in a shared hallway.

Yesterday, I finished a happy dress. A dress that hugs, but doesn't squeeze. A dress that drapes but doesn't gape.

A dress that makes you want to touch your hair for no actual reason.

Today I tried to photograph it, and my happiness turned to ANGRY TEARS.

Our new apartment faces an alley. So even squeezing myself against the window on my tip-toes at the brightest part of the day, I can't get enough natural light to take a proper indoor picture. So I covered my flash with some white interfacing to soften it, with mediocre results.

Also, my old Canon Rebel XSI hates me and refuses to autofocus in self-timer mode.

Also, I have covered every wall of our apartment with bright paint, cartoons, and sci-fi art, leaving no neutral backdrops to be found.

I extended the self-fabric belt around the back for more waist-hugging points (as recommended by the Slapdash Sewist in her review).

But I digress. You're here to make yourself an amazing happy dress, not to pity my photographic incompetence.

The Inspiration

Diane von Furstenberg-style wrap dresses—a cornerstone of my Personal Style Uniform #1: "The Dress That Always Fits."

Amy Adams rocks a green DVF wrap in American Hustle.

The details:

Pattern: Simplicity 1653 Amazing Fit mock wrap dress, picked up for free at a Brooklyn Sewing Club pattern swap.

I stand in awe of this woman's ability to stand in such shoes. I can barely handle kitten heels for a few hours.

Fabric: $6/yard ITY jersey from Spandex House (where else?)

Notions: foldover elastic (to bind the neckline and crossover for a snug, no-gape effect), 1/4" Steam-A-Seam Lite (to hem the sleeves and bottom).

Sizing: This is one of those heavenly patterns with multiple cup sizes in the package. I made the size 12 with a D cup bodice and the "Slim" skirt based on the stretchiness of the fabric, my love of negative ease and my hatred of gaping loose necklines. (By my actual body measurements, I would have made the 16. Also, I may not be actually "Slim" but I have narrow hips in relation to my frame).

Modifications

I bound the neckline with tightly stretched foldover elastic (FOE) instead of just folding over and stitching, which would have been a sure recipe for gape disaster.

100% gape-free neckline. You can do this.

I'm not sure FOE is the best elastic for this, but it's what I had lying around. I serged and stretched it, then folded it over and topstitched with a zig-zag. Here's the underside—kind of hard to see, as the FOE is gray.

Even my FOE wasn't quite snug enough at the back neck—I ended up making a giant (4") dart in the center back to make it lie flat. (Husband helped me pin out the bubble, since I couldn't reach).

I also found the order of construction in the pattern baffling. So I came up with my own:

Good thing I wrote this down, since I started this dress in May... and didn't get back to it until December

I extended the self-fabric waist belt around the back for extra waist-hugging points as recommended by the Slapdash Sewist in her review.

Construction Notes

  • I used my sewing machine to baste, top-stitch and sew darts, and my serger to sew the final seams.
  • I basted the sides and back to check fit as instructed (it is an "Amazing Fit" pattern, after all). It felt like Too Much Work at the time but I'm glad I did—it was just a smidge tight, so I went with 5/8" side seams instead of the 1" built in.

Wear for...

Work...

Why yes, this is a perfect hallway in which to have a pretend phone conversation.

...Date Night...

My knitting is NOT going to fit in this vintage purse.

...And occasions on which you randomly jump up and down in hopes of getting a funny photo...

I do not advise doing this in heels. Luckily my ankles are still intact.

In sum: make this dress for yourself!

If wrap necklines are your thing, please go make yourselves this perfect knit happy dress right now. It has a great flexible fit system and fun details: raglan sleeves! a self-fabric belt! cool waist pleating!

Plus it's as adjustable as a wrap—minus the risk of your skirt blowing open in the middle of a crowded city crosswalk (ask me how I know).

Bonus photo: Z helps me with some pinning!

*Mock wrap, actually.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Harry Potter family cosplay (or how I sewed a Dumbledore costume out of random thrift store items in just 2 nights)

Have you ever tried to knit or sew nice things for someone you love to find that they just don't ever... actually wear them?

Yeah, me too. I gave up knitting for my husband after two consecutive hats and a pair of fingerless gloves went unworn for years. I can barely convince my daughter to wear the latest dress I made her. My toddler could care less about Mama-made clothes.

Halloween costumes are ANOTHER story. They did not want to take these off! (Yes, I realize this post is several months belated).

I had originally intended to just buy all the costumes (we've had a lot going on)——but soon realized that you can't actually buy Professor Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall costumes--just the hats. I also found out that they don't make Harry Potter robes in toddler sizes.

The basic costume details

  • For all costumes: We got the wands on eBay (some are knockoffs, some are just used proper ones), plus the hats, ties and scarves.
  • Dumbledore costume: Spent way too much time studying photos of Dumbledore and sketching my ideas and almost ran out of time. Made under and over-robes from some thrift-store curtains, thrift-store shirts, and discount-store gray shiny polyester fabric. Sewed on lots of trim and embroidery at random. There really wasn't time to make it the right way, so instead of making a pattern I just pinned and draped everything directly on him repeatedly until it was done. You do NOT want to look too closely.
  • Harry Potter costume:Bought gray sweater vest at kid's clothing discount store, and toy glasses at Amazon. To make the Nimbus 2000, husband darkened a cheap toy broom with a paint marker and lettered it with a Gold Sharpie (thanks to fellow Professor McGonagall at Cation Designs for the inspiration). Bought a larger-size Gryffindor robe on eBay and hemmed the sleeves and length to the right size (left extra fabric so I can let it out later).
  • Hermione Granger costume: She already had the robe (just because), so just added tie, socks, skirt, scarf, wand, cauldron and vest. Only actual sewing was to the skirt, the discount store skirt I bought was way too big and I took it in.
  • Professor McGonagall costume: Hat, wand and brooch from eBay. Plus a black knit turtleneck dress. The green velvet robe I sewed together from some cheap Halloween store velvet capes—I altered the fit and added armholes. I meant to make big sleeves but ran out of time. CLOSE ENOUGH.

Bonus images of my husband's previous favorite costume I made for him, from our pre-kid days: Two-Face. (I cut two thrift store suits and ties up the middle.)

Wishing you all the best New Year possible! The kids are with my parents for a few days so I am hoping to take a sew-cation day tomorrow and finish the dress and top I cut out months ago and maybe even start something new. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 2, 2016

How to build a happy personal style uniform (plus Me Made May kickoff)

I don't know about you, but when I drag myself out of bed in the morning, torn from sweet sleep by the phone alarm or a child screaming "Mama!", I am far too groggy to make complicated garment-and-accessory coordinating decisions.

Yet for a long time I resisted the idea of a personal style uniform, because it sounded far too boring and restrictive.

Style Reality vs. Style Fantasy

In my fantasy life, I'd improvise amazing/surprising/creative outfit and accessory combinations each morning. In reality, I had neither the time nor energy for this, and my remaining garments left after an intense KonMari purge brought me joy separately but didn't necessarily play well with others. My thrift shopping, sewing and knitting tended toward the random "hey I like this piece, WHEE!" without a larger wardrobe plan or goal in mind.

As a result I'd been really feeling that awful "frumpy mom" feeling, often heading off to my (very casual-dressing) office in random assortments of jeans, T-shirts, hoodies and a ratty ancient backpack big enough for toting breast-pump supplies... or skirts tops and shoes in an assortment of silhouettes and patterns that somehow just didn't really "go."

Wardrobe Architecting It

So for some months now I've been on a project to try to pare down my style to its core, curate a few select silhouettes and styles and color schemes, and develop a more cohesive and happy personal style. To move from frumpy random chaos to creativity within happy constraints.

I've also been slowly working on replacing worn-out cornerstone wardrobe pieces — my winter coat, hat/scarf, work bag — with second-hand or deep-sale items (mostly via ThredUp — here's a $10 coupon referral code if you haven't tried it) that can elevate the others and will last for years. For example, my 13-year-old wool winter jacket had more holes and patches and no original buttons left, so I replaced it with this clearance-rack Guess wool jacket that makes me happy every single day... the perfect backdrop for my bright hand knit accessories.

All while keeping my wardrobe lean and purging as needed. I have ONE winter jacket. ONE spring trench. ONE pair of knee-high boots. ONE pair of winter boots. ONE pair of sneakers. One work bag. One purse. Three pairs of flats. Three pairs of heels. Etc.

I got a lot of ideas and inspiration from the Colette Wardrobe Architect series, as well as the Into Mind wardrobe curation blog Sarai recommends in that series, as well as this Ted Talk on the "10 Item Wardrobe."

I still haven't identified all my key silhouettes and combinations (especially with skirts), but so far I've built out two main uniforms of style happiness.

My personal daily elements of style

So here are the constraints I gave myself for these first uniform drafts:

  1. Casual—but polished (as in a ponte knit blazer, not a ratty old hoodie)
  2. Stretchy—but not sloppy. (as in dark wash high-waisted skinny jeans)
  3. Fitted and feminine—but not constrictive or skimpy. (as in a colorful ITY jersey wrap dress, but not a tight mini skirt.)
  4. Bright and bold colors and patterns—but in reasonable doses. (Still working on this).
  5. Mostly flat shoes—but not orthopedic or overly chunky looking.
  6. Scoop or V-necklines up top.
  7. Classic pieces, but nothing too boring or conservative (if it has a neutral color, it has to have fun details or shapes).
  8. Comfortable and stretchy—but still structured. (Stretch is my friend, whether in knit ITY jersey wrap dresses or dark skinny jeans or a ponte blazer).
  9. A nod to vintage 40s/50s silhouettes and styles when possible.
  10. Soft fabrics that feel great against the skin (such as merino, modal, microfiber.)
  11. Makes me feel happy and confident.

Edited to add two criteria I thought of later:

  1. Nursing friendly (though I don't pump at work any more, so non-wrap dresses are OK if I can change when I get home).
  2. Doesn't show stains easily.

Which basically boils down to the formula:

Fitted + stretchy + bright & bold + casual yet polished = a wardrobe of awesome secret pajamas at all times.

And here are the first two variations I've come up with on that:

Uniform Formula 1: The Dress That Always Fits

(See collage image at top of this post). This is a more strict example than it sounds, but basically, this means a ITY jersey wrap/mock wrap dress in a fun print plus a fitted cardigan or ponte blazer + a fun necklace and flats. DONE. I wear variations on this maybe 2-3 times per week.

Here's an awful work bathroom selfie from one of my first attempts—I'll get better photos during Me Made May, but I wear this striped ponte blazer + polka-dot dress combo a fair amount:

And here's an example of Uniform 1 with a me-made dress and cardigan—obscured by a baby carrier, but you get the idea. (That's the fantastic "Sew What?" exhibit at the Children's Museum of the Arts in Manhattan, by the way).

The other uniform sounds so basic it hardly needs a mention... but it's taken me a bit of time to get just the right thrifted dark skinnies and soft fitted secondhand scoop-neck patterned tops in just the right length.

Uniform Formula 2: Colors + Stripes + Skinnies

What you see above is the winter version, but the warmer version is basically the same minus the wool socks and boots and with lighterweight cardigans and shorter sleeves. Sometimes the top is patterned and the cardigan is solid or color-blocked, and sometimes it's the other way around. The backpack pictured is my new Timbuk2 Sunset laptop-friendly work bag.

The Result: On the Road to Personal Style Happiness

My wardrobe/uniform building project is still very much a work in progress, but it's amazing the difference I've felt so far. I have so much less clothing stuffing my drawers and closets, but what I do have goes so much better together, fits better, and feels better. I feel happier about the way I look, more self-confident and less self-conscious and embarassed. Also: it is 1,000 times faster and easier to get dressed in the morning.

It's basically the equivalent of having a logo and style guide and short list of fonts for my personal brand... instead of using lots of different fonts, size and colors that all look weird and jumbled together, ransom-note style.

Oh yes, and I'm doing Me Made May again.

My first Me-Made-May photo is basically Uniform #2, but since I'm dressed for bike riding in the rain with the husband, the look is more casual than polished (and yes, don't worry, I was wearing a helmet it's just out of frame)...

My hope for this Me Made May month is to see what other basic formulas and uniforms I can develop to integrate my existing me-mades into my new world of constrained style happiness... to get photos that help me build what works and discard what doesn't... and to sew a thing or two or three.

I am also hoping to up my hair and makeup game (i.e. to actually do my hair or put on makeup sometimes). We'll see!

What are your favorite outfit formulas? Do you have a uniform?

P.S. Bonus adorable sibling photo, with my daughter in an Oliver + S Ice Cream dress I made two months ago but have yet to properly photograph or blog:

Monday, February 15, 2016

Slow Knitting: The Starry Starry Night Socks That Kept Me Going

Starry Starry Night socks (Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt from Interweave's Favorite Socks)

I always laugh when friends exclaim "you should sell those on Etsy!" over my projects because I'm pretty sure there is no sustainable business model for selling socks that take three months to knit.

No, slow knitting projects are like stately redwood trees, each ring (or row) imbued with depth and character and carrying echoes of the time in which you knit it—good or bad. The last three months have been tough—but these socks help me get through, and I thank them for it.

1. The Big Sock Bang

I first matched this intergalactic hand-painted yarn (Frolicking Feet in "Starry Starry Night" by Done Roving Yarns) to pattern ("Embossed Leaves" by Mona Schmidt from Favorite Socks) during the crafty high of last Me-Made-May. I was still on maternity leave, starting to feel like myself again and amusing myself by trying to photograph the kids and myself in as many me-mades as possible at a given time. Whee, look at us, we're all wearing things I made! Me!

Me Made May: Me and the kids in our handmades

2. Dark Sock Skies

And then I went back to work, and I was just too busy between nursing the baby all night, getting daughter to kindergarten early in the morning and pumping and work and EVERYTHING to take five minutes to gauge swatch what size needles I needed to use (thankfully the answer turned out to be 0, and not 000 like my last sock-yarn project).

3. From darkness, light

Fall came, and with it, misery. In November I started getting—and staying—sick. Constantly, endlessly sick, in a sickeningly familiar way. Our whole family would catch a mild cold, everyone else would get better in a few days, and I would end up bedridden with what felt like the flu—a high fever, aches, horrible pain in my face, unable to breathe through my nose, so hoarse I could barely speak. Over, and over, and over.

I never really recovered fully, but after 2-4 weeks I would slowly start to feel somewhat less awful ... I'd have one or two days of joy where I could slightly breathe through my nose... and then the cycle would begin all over again. Chronic sinusitis strikes again, just three years after the surgery that was supposed to fix it. SIGH.

So in the midst of this misery, I needed something happy I could do while:

  • Lying in bed feeling crummy
  • Riding the subway to work terrified a nearby straphanger would cough on me
  • Pumping and grimacing (I'm glad they exist but breast pumps are the WORST)
  • Waiting in waiting rooms — at one point I had 8 doctor or lab test appointments in two weeks.

So I knit my Starry Starry Night socks. I knit while loopy with fever. I knit while feeling sad I had to cancel playdates and get-togethers and miss work. I especially knit after I had to cancel Baby D's first birthday party — it was the first time we had invited lots of friends over to our new apartment, but I wasn't in a state to host. (I don't think he noticed, because: CAKE!)

I just looked down at those little needles and made one loop after another.

And now they are done, and blocked, and they fit, and I love them. And I am getting good medical care and getting better, and I love THAT.

Starry Starry Night socks (Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt from Interweave's Favorite Socks)

Too bad I chose a high-contrast variegated yarn for such a detailed lace pattern. You really can't see the embossed leaves at all!

This is my happy toes not caring:

Starry Starry Night socks (Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt from Interweave's Favorite Socks)

I think the little dude loves them too.

Starry Starry Night socks (Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt from Interweave's Favorite Socks)

I will say after all that slow knitting, I did need a quick-hit palate cleanser. So I've got a chunky-weight neon green alpaca "Wavy Moss" hat on the needles that I MUST finish by TOMORROW — I've lost three hats in the past month and it is COLD OUTSIDE.

Wavy Moss Atomic Green hat in progress

P.S. full Starry Night socks Ravelry details here. It's a lovely patttern, but the lace requires care and concentration and chart-reading, hence the slowness. I made them slightly snug so they wouldn't fall down and sag, and so far it is working a treat.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sweaters and Hats Like Nothing You've Never Seen

Like nothing you've ever seen... because I forgot to blog them. Brought to you by in vivid low-res Instagram-selfie-o-vision because I can't manage to take real photos since we moved (where is that tripod, anyway?).

Hetty at last!

Anyway, I finally finished that Hetty cardigan (Raveled details here) by Andi Satterlund I started right before I got pregnant--it had been sitting around in need of bands, buttons and blocking for months. It fits nicely and I do love it, but I found the directions (especially for the lace pattern) confusing and I made an unsuitably rustic and weak yarn choice that basically required picking a barn's worth of straw out as I went. Still -- it is a done thing!

Sewn Hats: A Brief Obsession.

Two weeks before my maternity leave ended in June, I developed a brief fixation with sewing hats. My head is so large that "one size fits all" hats give me whamming migraines (if I can shove them on my head at all), yet I am also so pale and burn-prone that hats are a serious summer necessity. I became determined to master the not-so-arty art of sewing basic casual summer hats.

And because I was fixated, I became excessively concerned with trying to find the proper interfacing that would create "just so" hat results (and bags, too, because if I was going to get stiff interfacing, I might as well also learn to sew bags too, right? In all my spare time between caring for baby and trying to find an affordable apartment to move to and getting ready to go back to work?).

I spent way too many middle of the night nursing sessions googling "hat and bag interfacing types" and reading long forum threads and blog posts on the subject. My sewing club friend Valerie then accompanied me on a trip to the Garment District where we went into one of those stores where they have lots of interfacing but nothing is labeled and the staff seem to look with pity on those who ask questions but they somehow had none of the brands on my list so I panicked and bought like, 10 different kinds that I didn't note the brand or ... well, now I have a lot of interfacing. And no me-made bags. I could have bought several hats and bags with that money.

I started with a bucket hat for my daughter, using the free reversible Oliver + S pattern.

But the largest size of this pattern was no match for my then-four-year-old daughter's big beautiful Afro, and she couldn't wear it at all.

I did manage to make her a circular sleep bonnet (from some bright-patterned ITY jersey I had hoped to make into a dress until my husband declared it "ugly" and "terrifying). I can't find the exact tutorial I used, but it was basically like this.

It's just two circles of fabric sewn together, with an sewn elastic casing channel and it took maybe 15 minutes total. Yet it is one of the most practical things I have ever sewn (so much better than the cheap breakable drugstore ones) and she wears it to bed EVERY night. Hat win?

And I bought this fantastic book of hat patterns in a wide range of sizes and styles, Carla Crim (aka the Scientific Seamstress)'s Sewn Hats:

(Do note that the book has been sold to a new publisher, so to get the downloadable patterns, you'll need to email the author for a link).

Finally, hat success! I made a striped black denim "Liesl Cloche" from some scraps leftover from a skirt.

The largest size fit me fairly well (though next time I'll scale it up even bigger):

And it is only slightly too big on Ms. Z, who likes to borrow it:

4 other random things

And then I went back to work, but not before making this Spoonflower fabric headband:

And some bibs:


And I've been knitting all along, like this preemie K├╝rbis pumpkin Halloween hat (Raveled here) I made for a friend who was collecting them for the children's hospital her preemie baby spent eight months in:

Or these Embossed Leaves socks that are ALMOST done now (I am at the tip of the second sock toe):

Why the rush to blog the unblogged, you asked? Well, baby turns ONE this weekend so is waking to nurse less (just 1-2 times per night) which means I actually feel relatively rested these days (in between bouts of winter illness). AND I finally set up my sewing machine, which had been near inaccessible since our move almost five months ago...

So... SEWING. It may actually happen around here sometime soon. Stay tuned!

P.S. Please tell me I am not the only one who hates that women's hats are usually sold as "one size fits all"?

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