Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How Do You Self-Rate? + Real-Life Sewing Encounters!

Surprising as it sounds, sewing bloggers do not spend all their time hunched over their machines churning out jealousy-inducing garments--or over their laptops, pencil behind ear, composing unfairly witty posts. Sometimes they make forays from their fabric- stuffed caves to go... fabric-hunting. Or even, as took place this past Friday lunch hour, to eat falafel:

From L to R: Elizabeth, aka eword10, of Sew A Beginner, Peter, aka Peter in NYC, of Male Pattern Boldness, Trena, aka nicegirl, aka The Slapdash Sewist and yours hugely pregnant in pink truly. Invisible: Tricia aka clioinbrooklyn aka Clio of Clio & Phineas. (Image blatantly borrowed from the Slapdash Sewist's blog recap since I forgot to bring my camera)

In between the usual sewing-nerd-type chatter about patterns and color and seam finishes and fabric stash overload we got onto the anxiety-provoking topic (for me, at least!) of self-rating oneself as a sewist. How do you know when you're not a beginning sewer anymore? What is the magic combination of experience and skill set that rates a self-promotion to the land of intermediacy?

Now five of us are PatternReview members and some of us are on BurdaStyle as well. Both social sewing networking sites ask you to rate yourself by skill level, and these ratings appear on your profile, next to forum posts, and alongside your pattern reviews. BurdaStyle makes things comparatively painless -- the only options are "novice," "intermediate" and "expert." But my beloved PatternReview has a five-tier system (depicted in the above illustration.) There's no clear criteria given--it's up to the seamstress/seamster, though there have been discussions over the years on the PR Message Boards.

Of the five of us who met up on Friday, all self-classify as "Advanced Beginner" on PR, with the proud exception of the Slapdash Sewist (who ranks herself as "Intermediate", since no one would believe someone who has reviewed and made over 160 patterns, many of them super-crazy-complex, to be a "beginner" anything). This despite the fact that Elizabeth makes boys' shirts with perfectly pointy collars and lovely lined & pleated wool skirts, or that Peter can match plaids, make jeans, jumpsuits and fancy dresses and spin soiled sheets into club collar gold.

Yet both Peter and I classify ourselves as "Intermediate" on BurdaStyle... since we're obviously not just "Beginners."

Perhaps I'm making too much of a small thing--what does it matter exactly how you grade yourself, as long as you're having fun sewing (which I SO am)? Still, I'm a goal-oriented gal, and in my head I imagine all the fun sewing mountains I might climb to inspire a self-promotion "Advanced Beginner" to "Intermediate"--constructing a fitted underwire bra? a somewhat-tailored jacket? a men's button-down shirt?

I know I'm not just a plain old "Beginner" Beginner because:

  • Duration: I've been sewing since I was five, at least a few years of that with some seriousness and dedication.
  • Garment types: I've made fitted woven dresses and skirts (some lined, even!) that actually look good on me. In the knit garment department, I'm pretty handy with tops, baby clothes, sweatshirts, skirts, lingerie (including supportive, if not underwire bras), and dresses.
  • Hems, seams and seam finishes: I'm totally cool with blind hems, hand-sewn hems, rolled hems and twin-needle hems (the latter two being recent achievements). I can straight stitch, zigzag, pink, serge, miter, get around curves... I'm even getting the hang of reasonably even topstitching. I press (pretty decently) as I sew...
  • Machine prowess: I've used a variety of sewing machines, am very comfortable with my beloved Viking Platinum 730, and recently have gotten quite cozy with my Kenmore serger.
  • Patterns: More and more I take pattern instructions with a grain of salt and substitute other construction orders/methods/techniques. I've made traced patterns from magazines and (mostly) remembered to add in seam allowances.
  • Fitting/alterations: I know my way around several types of major FBA and pregnant tummy adjustments and am not afraid to move and add darts, gathers and other fullness control methods as needed.
  • Drafting : I've been trying out some very basic drafting (full skirts, changed necklines) and having a blast.
  • Fastenings: I can insert zippers (invisible and not) and hammer on snaps.
  • Fabric: I have a pretty good handle on how to cut, care for, and use a variety of fabric types and weights in knits, wovens, cottons, and wools. I cut on-grain and I carefully match my patterns to fabric and prints. I'm getting there on understanding interfacing types and sewing with stripes and plaids, too.
  • Also: I THINK and READ and TALK and WRITE about sewing. A lot. Probably way too much.

Still, I've never...

  • ...made a successful pair of pants. We will not discuss the elastic-waist gingham disaster of 1999.
  • ... applied patch or welt pockets.
  • ... come even vaguely close to tailoring anything, or even making an unlined jacket.
  • ... made a blouse or shirt with a real proper collar and cuffs (in fact, I've only made one collar in my life).
  • ... achieved a perfectly-eased sleeve cap.
  • ... made a single buttonhole, bound or otherwise.
  • ... managed to sew with slippery silk without repeated cursing/weeping.

Among other things. So an Advanced Beginner I shall stay--for now.

How about you--how do you rate yourself? Is this something you even think about at all? Are we sewists prone to real (or false) modesty, or just anxious that we'll be secretly scoffed at if we "over"-rate ourselves?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Greetings from the Shirred Skirt Test Lab

Shirred Skirt Inspiration from the Sears Catalog

Shirred Skirt Fabulousness from the 1949 Sears Catalog

In between muslining my Sencha blouse, schmoozing over falafel with the fabulous Bloggers and Blogettes (more on this later!), fighting off a nasty cold and decluttering the apartment for Cartoonist Baby, I've been working out the pattern-free pattern for my reversible shirred-waist full skirt:

Reversible Shirred Skirt Sketch

This skirt is the foundation of my spring mini-wardrobe contest plans--like the no-elastic yoked knit skirts I've been making, it should be stretchy enough to accommodate the most pregnant of bellies, but will still work just fine post-maternity.

But, horrors! As you recall I hit a roadblock recently when I discovered that my purchased Burda shirred-yoke skirt pattern was a circle skirt that just Would Not Do with my vertically patterned purple cotton lawn.

What I really needed was a pattern for a full skirt, like this 1950s number:

Shirred Girls' Skirt and Dress from 1940s Sears Catalog

Or like this RTW reversible Gap skirt (the reverse side is a solid). It's not a maternity skirt at all, it fit me just fine before I gained 30 pounds of belly, bustage and baby, AND it is still quite comfortable in my third trimester!

RTW Reversible Shirred Skirt

Except no pattern is really needed at all for a dirndl/full skirt--as Gertie revealed in her tutorial on a non-elastic version, it's just a bunch of gathered rectangles. All you do is choose how full/gathered you want the skirt to be in relation to your hips (two times? three times?), "draft" a waistband piece, gather, cut and sew.

Construction is a bit different for a reversible elastic-shirred version with a deep yoke instead of a waistband, of course. And I've never shirred a stitch before in my life. So here's a peek at the Mikhaela test lab:

The Shirred Skirt Testing Lab

As you can see I've worked out some measurements and a likely construction sequence and cut out my (wearable) test garment pieces in a small-scale gingham ($1.50 a yard from Fulton Fabrics!). Right now I'm playing with different elastic shirring techniques on some muslin--none of my sewing reference books are very detailed on the subject, and online tutorials and advice differ widely on ideal stitch length/tension and how tightly the elastic should be wound on the bobbin.

I don't know yet if the test tube version of my shirred skirt will be a success, but once I achieve World Shirring Domination I promise not to take it too far:

Shirred Cotton Play Dress w/ Attached Panties from 1940s Sears Catalog

Mommy and Me 1940s Playsuits

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sencha Blouse Muslin--feedback welcome!

Sencha Blouse Muslin Front View

In my continued pursuit of recklessly altering five non-maternity patterns for maternity ALL AT ONCE, I completed my first muslin of the lovely and versatile Colette Patterns button-backed Sencha blouse.

Here are the details--your thoughts and feedback welcome, especially if you've made the normal non-giant-belly version!

First, the Colette patterns photo showing how this blouse ought to fit on a non-pregnant model:

My sketch of my modified maternity version--it's much longer, with a lot more room in front and a scoop neckline:

Colette 1007 Sencha Blouse Maternity Modification Sketch

After some thought, I decided to cut a size 8, corresponding to a 37" bust and 29" waist measurement (Colette sizes are more like RTW than the big 4). My high bust (36") corresponded better to the size 6, but I'm a growing pregnant girl and figured I needed the room. I didn't use the size 8 hem, though--I went with size 18 to help get over the belly.

Since my full bust is 41" and my waist has disappeared, I did a 2.5" FBA (for an extra 5" total across the bust) and did a 3" maternity fully tummy adjustment, resulting in an additional 6" width and 3" more in length than even the size 18:

Sencha Blouse Maternity FBA

First I cut and basted together the muslin, following the excellent clear pattern instructions. I didn't sew the hem or buttons and I just ironed the armhole facings to the inside.

I tried on the muslin, then used black masking tape to envision a new scooped neckline--I wanted it significantly lower, but not so low or wide that it would show my bra.

My new smallest point is my underbust, so instead of using the low tucks from the original pattern, I used binder clips to figure out where I should draw in new tucks for a more fitted silhouette.

Sencha Blouse Muslin Front View

Sencha Blouse Muslin Side View

I left the back as is with no alterations.

Sencha Blouse Muslin Back View

So how does it look? I'm pretty happy with the new neckline (I'll use a french curve to make the real thing smooth and symmetrical, then draft a new facing piece), but how about the overall fit? My thoughts:

  • There seems to be about 3 or 4 inches of ease at the bust, which is what the pattern calls for, but I wonder if I should add another inch total.
  • The horizontal dart should end a bit closer to the apex, right?
  • The cap sleeve armhole seems to be pulling towards the bust and there are vertical wrinkles from the shoulder to the bust... I don't know what to do about this, if I should do anything at all.
  • Does this even look like a Sencha blouse anymore, besides in the back? Maybe when I make the front binder-clipped areas into real tucks?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Unfinished Object Overload

Sewing Cartoon: Death By Unfinished Object

If this has never happened to you, you're either inhumanly perfect or lying.

I am currently down with a major case of UFO Overload. I pride myself on completing every project I start--unless it's a total wadder--but in the past few weeks my sewing ambitions have so far outpaced my snail's-pace finishing methods that I'm in real danger of drowning in mid-stream muslins, partially-traced patterns, half-sewn hems and seductive-but-totally-unsewn sketches.

Clearly this cannot be my fault. The real blame obviously lies with:

  • My mother's sewing machine. It just had to develop tension issues while I was visiting her. Coincidence? Hmmm...
  • Pattern Review. Who told this evil website to host a spring mini-wardrobe contest at the same time I was starting my intensive childbirth classes and tying up the loose ends of my political cartooning career? Or to host online classes on facings and underlinings that I could not possibly resist signing up for, despite their overlapping schedules?
  • Cartoonist Baby. Without a doubt her distracting kicks to the ribs are the reason I sewed that armhole facing on inside out and those baby pants together upside down...
  • Cartoonist Husband. Sure Masheka has been doing all the dishes and laundry and vaccuuming and litter-box changing since I've been pregnant (not to mention massaging sore pregnant-lady legs and bringing me water and cooking and grocery shopping and itty bitty things like that)... blah de blah blah. Does that give him the right to make me go to bed at 11 p.m. just because my midwife said I need more sleep?!

So who are these UFOs stalking my dreams and laying siege to my sewing peace of mind? For the purposes of this exercise, I shall only count projects that have been cut, traced, muslined, or otherwise progressed beyond the pattern-buying, fabric-acquisition or wistful daydreaming stage. From oldest to most recent... (and I realize that since I only started sewing again this January, my definition of "old" pales in comparison to many of yours).

The freezer-paper-stencil whale onesie

Gray Whale Stencil PhotoShop test on purple onesie

  • The dream: Create fabulous one-of-a-kind silkscreen-like Ts cheaply and quickly!
  • The reality: I can't mix stencil paint to save my life.
  • What's done: This was the first garment I ever made on my serger when I got it out of storage two months ago, and it was so plain and boring I decided it needed embellishment. The onesie is (badly) serged, the snaps are attached, the stencil is cut, I have the paints and brushes...
  • What's not: The actual stenciling.
  • What's stopping me: Fabric paint failure. I've done several tests with the Jacquard opaque metallic fabric paints and a variety of brushes but I always seem to thin the paint too much (resulting in bleeding under the stencil edges) or too little (resulting in cracked paint when the jersey is stretched).
  • Urgency/guilt factor: Low. Cartoonist Baby will not go naked due to my negligence. And it IS wearable in its unembellished poorly-serged state.
  • Status: On hold.
  • Hope for eventual completion? Low.

The Pinup Girls Turquoise Lace Bra

P. Girls Classic Pattern 1235Duoplex Non-Stretch Knit: Black & Turquoise
  • The dream: Large-busted gals can save big money by and avoid over-priced bra specialty stores by learning to make their own supportive, custom-fit bras and swimwear. As I've gone up several cup and one band size in my pregnancy (from 32E to 34G), I have had to buy more and more ridiculously overpriced bras--I'm talking $127 for a piece of fabric with some wires in it.
  • The reality: Bra-making is hard and the supplies are expensive and hard to source.
  • What's done: I ordered the pattern, fabric and notions from Bra-makers Supply in Canada. I ordered Lee-Ann Burgess's self-published Making Beautiful Bras and Making Beautiful Swimwear book and DVD set from Australia and read/watched them repeatedly. I bought all kinds of fancy laces from Daytona in NYC. I bought a presser foot that sews precise 1/4" seams. I traced the 34G pattern and... cut out the left cup pieces.
  • What's not: I haven't even tried to seam them together to test the fit.
  • What's stopping me: Bad timing--while waiting for some of the supplies to arrive I began work on my orange silk floral maternity dress.
  • Urgency/guilt factor: High. Those books and supplies were not cheap, and while I was procrastinating, my cup size went up AGAIN and I had to make another trip to the overpriced bra shop.
  • Status: On very temporary hold.
  • Hope for eventual completion? High. I will learn to make my own bras. I've calculated that, not counting pattern or books, each homemade bra would probably cost about $10-$15 in materials and probably much less if I can do some clever sourcing.

The "easy-to-sew" Simplicity 3765 baby dress trio (blogged here)

Turquoise and brown polka dot quilting cottonSimplicity 3765 flats
  • The dream: While in Massachusetts visiting family, I'd whip up some baby outfits on my mother and mother-in-law's respective sewing machines in no time! My mother-in-law was impressed when I said they'd be done in a day. Oops.
  • The reality: I got a bad cold and my mom's sewing machine had to be taken to the shop.
  • What's done: All three dresses/outfits are cut and bundled, and the first two are mostly sewn.
  • What's not: The skirts and fastenings.
  • What's stopping me: I got to the part where the directions said to sew on the back closure button and make a thread chain and had to look up the latter in my Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. Then I realized I should be working on my mini-wardrobe contest sewing instead.
  • Urgency/guilt factor: Low. These things are so over-sized she won't be able to wear them for at least a year yet. Though I do want to show them to my mother-in-law.
  • Status: On hold.
  • Hope for eventual completion? High. I can't let a little thing like a thread chain stop me!

All four pieces for my mini-wardrobe contest entry

My Plum Polka Dot Mini Wardrobe, V2
  • The dream: I can whip up an entire stylish maternity mini-wardrobe from four patterns I've never sewn before and which all require extensive maternity alterations in just one month while taking childbirth classes and two online PatternReview classes. And working fulltime and blogging and... NO PROBLEM.
  • The reality: I don't have a single finished piece yet. Crap. And April 15 (or is it 14?!) is not far away.
  • What's done: I've made some lovely sketches and color choices, acquired all the patterns and fabric (except one fabric that's on its way) and most of the notions, ironed a big pile of muslin and traced the patterns that needed tracing.
  • What's not: Um... EVERYTHING? I need to alter the patterns, make muslins, and construct all four garments. Er...
  • What's stopping me: It's been a hectic few weeks. And I was in desperate need of more skirts, and one of my fabrics was missing, and the circle skirt pattern wasn't working and I'm behind on my Sencha blouse for the facings class (see below).
  • Urgency/guilt factor: High! It's not just the deadline—I'm running out of time to sew for maternity and I really need spring clothes.
  • Status: Full steam ahead!
  • Hope for eventual completion? I will not be defeated... or maybe I will.

Sencha Blouse Maternity Modification

Colette 1007 Sencha Blouse Maternity Modification Sketch
  • The dream: Just because I have a GIANT PREGNANT LADY BELLY doesn't mean I can't make a fabulous vintage-style button-backed blouse.
  • The reality: It may be "loose-fitting" but I still have to add at least 5" to the bust and 12" to the belly.
  • What's done: I did the aforementioned FBA and tummy adjustments to the pattern and made a muslin.
  • What's not: More FBA and belly adjustment is needed to the muslin before I can even attempt to cut my slippery silk fashion fabric. And I need to redraft the neckline to a scoop.
  • Urgency/guilt factor: The online facings class I'm making the blouse for (the exercise is to make a simple blouse, redraft the neckline and make a new facing pattern for said redrafted neckline) ends Sunday and I would like to finish in time to get feedback from the instructor.
  • Status: What else would I do on a Friday night?
  • Hope for eventual completion? I'm slightly concerned.

That makes ten pieces in various stages of completion (eleven if I count this muslined BurdaStyle magazine top, but I'm wearing the "muslin" right now). How many UFOs are haunting your sewing space?

Update: Just so I don't scare anyone away from the fabulous pursuit of bra-making, I actually HAVE made two cute well-fitting maternity bras that I love and adore and are way better than RTW, but they are non-underwire sleep/nursing bras, and no good for everyday daytime support. I won't show them on me here, but trust me that they fit perfectly and look great:

Sleep/Nursing/Maternity Bra Test Muslin fronthotmamasleepbra

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Digital Fabric Printing Fun: The Blue Doodle Baby Hoodie

Masheka w/ the Blue Doodle Hoodie

Of all things I've made for Cartoonist Baby so far, this little custom-printed hoodie (modeled here by Masheka) has to be my favorite. The sewing pattern itself is nothing fancy--it's just the hooded raglan sweatshirt from Kwik Sew's handy Sewing for Baby. The real star is the fabric, adorned with Masheka's strange little doodles. He can't sew, but he sure can draw! Take a closer look:

Blue Doodle Baby Hoodie

And closer...

Blue Doodle Baby Hoodie detail

And much closer (too close to include the image here).

The eagle-eyed among you might even see my head, Masheka's face, our cat... not to mention random cows, brains, vampires, skulls, bows, candy canes, toilet paper rolls... everything a stylish Cartoonist Baby could ever need on her sweatshirt, all drawn by her proud dad-to-be! You can view the fabric itself at various magnifications at Spoonflower, but here's a few repeats of the flat design in two colorways:

Blue Doodle Fabric Design

Deep Doodle Fabric Design

And here's the source, the cover for Masheka's 2007 cartoon collection Deep Doodle:

(Yes, that's a self-portrait of Masheka throwing up--my husband is a Mad magazine kind of guy, what can I say? One of his most beloved cartoons back in his college days was called "The 11 Types of Vomit.")

Custom digital fabric printing is thrilling--the exact print you want in as little or as much yardage as you want!--but not cheap. For example, at Spoonflower (the only site I've tested so far), prices range from $18/yard for quilting cotton to as much as $32/yard for upholstery-weight twill. The organic cotton interlock for the above hoodie was $27/yard (though I used far less than a yard), and I also bought fat quarters of the upholstery weight to make some softie skulls and mouths that I sold at a cartooning convention last year (but I've sold all my stock and forgot to take pictures). In between those prices they also have organic cotton sateen, lawn, a rayon/bamboo blend fabric and more. Spoonflower also has a marketplace for selling your fabric designs and fun weekly fabric design contests (the prize: free yardage!)

So have you ever tried custom digital fabric printing? Do you plan to? Have you ever bought fabric from a small-scale designer who used a site like this via the site itself or Etsy? If not, what's holding you back--the price or the design skills/tools required? The former is the main reason why I haven't done more than baby clothes and softies with this one design. As for the latter, Masheka and I used PhotoShop for our experiment but I know there are many free tools and tutorials out there to help non-professionals create the digital fabrics of their dreams.

If you'd like to learn more, the fabric blog True Up put together a great comparison chart (also available as a PDF) of digital fabric printers and their offerings, fabric types, pricing, yardage requirements, et al. Also via True Up I just learned that tonight's Project Runway will feature a digital fabric printer!

I'd like to collaborate more with Masheka on projects like these but unfortunately he's currently trapped in this cardboard figurine:

Quoted: Kenneth King on Sewing & Perfectionism

Reading the Threads blog, I was really struck by this great advice from an interview with Kenneth King:
If I were to say one thing and only one thing, it’s this: perfectionism is a disease, and a form of fear!

When learning the craft of sewing (which I believe is absolutely necessary in order to know what’s possible when designing), you should expect to destroy several acres of fabric before you get good. This is an acquired skill which can only be perfected by means of repetition—practicing over and over, learning from mistakes, learning when you can save something, and when you need to cut your losses and start over.

If you are afraid to make a mistake, afraid to ruin some fabric, or afraid to waste some time, you won’t ever get really good at this craft.

I've had issues with perfectionism over the years in a variety of fields, but not so much in sewing. Although I always try my best to go slowly and carefully and do things right, I don't get too hung up if a project doesn't turn out exactly as hoped. Even if the finishing isn't perfect or the stitching isn't exactly even, it's still the fabric and style that I wanted and usually fits me far better or is just more FUN than RTW. (Besides, if you look closely at a lot of RTW, you'll realize there's plenty of mistakes and uneven seams there too!)

(I realize after I decided to post this that Sarai had done so as well on the Colette Patterns blog, so clearly this really resonates!)

Some other odds and ends I've been reading:

  • b. vikki vintage has some wonderful images of lindy hoppers from various eras.
  • Susannah at Cargo Cult Craft has kindly scanned and posted the entirety of a fabulous 1940s booklet called Make and Mend for Victory as handy PDFs--learn to cut your own clothes (and baby clothes) from men's shirts and suits and more!
  • Peter at Male Pattern Boldness hosted a mini-debate on fancy seam finishing, the importance or lack thereof.

I have a tendency myself to want to finish seams perfectly, but my mother (who often doesn't bother at all) finds this funny. And when I did a little poking around inside the 40s, 50s and 60s dresses at a vintage store recently, I found most of the seams were just pinked, so I've been laying off the obsessive overcasting in favor of that finish lately.

In other news, lime won the day for my mini-wardrobe cardi!... and of course in order to reach the free shipping threshhold, I HAD NO CHOICE but to buy two yards each of these rayon lycra polka dot fabrics... enough for a top or skirt, depending. Sigh... I had better get to destroying that mountain!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not Sewing: Why I'm Quitting Political Cartooning

As you might have noticed, I'm a cartoonist. And I'm still a cartoonist, but last night I retired from regular weekly freelance alternative political cartooning after eight years of doing it professionally (and another four before that). I've been considering this seriously for over two years now, but I'm not ashamed to say that when I came to my final decision yesterday and notified my major remaining clients via email there was indeed some uncontrollable sobbing on my part.

I explain my decision in excruciating detail here, but in short: I was doing too much work for too little reward, getting far too many abusive comments and emails, and I needed to make room for more positive projects and people in my life--such as sewing, and most importantly of all, my daughter-to-be. I'm going to be going back to work full-time after a 12-week maternity leave, and if I'm barely able to motivate myself to do freelance political cartoons now, I can't imagine I'll be more excited about it when I've got a newborn who needs as much love and attention as I can give her.

I will say that I was one of only a handful of regularly working paid women political cartoonists (who recently represented only 3% of political cartoonists as a whole) and now there are even fewer. But, as my Bobie (that's my grandma to you not of the Jewish persuasion) would say: "What can you do?"

This relates to sewing only tangentially, but I thought I'd post about it here because in a small way starting this blog helped me realize this was something I should have done a long time ago. As I said on my 32nd blog post here, I was surprised to find that blogging could actually be a rewarding and positive activity... as opposed to a source of abusive comments and emails.

Just so I don't get you all down too much, I thought I'd share an amusing old photo shoot I did some years back that ended up being the basis for the cover of my 2007 cartooning collection, Attack of the 50-Foot Mikhaela:

And now back to your regularly scheduled sewing-and-style-related posting...

So much for stash-busting...

Some ruthless stash-buster I am. In the process of picking up my B&W polka dot ITY jersey at Spandex House, I spied this lovely green and white ITY print, also $6/yard. I got 3.

Green and White Floral ITY Jersey

It's crying out to be a wrap dress, don't you think? Though it's not nearly as large-scale as this wonderful $300 DVF dress, I think it's a good $18 substitute.

I have this McCall's 5974 pattern in my stash and others seem to have had great luck with it... I'd go views C or D here (the wrap/belt ones):

McCalls 5974 Perfect Knit Dress

After the mini-wardrobe contest is done, this could be a good, quick maternity/nursing transition piece. Most of my pre-preg knit wrap dresses are actually stretchy/adjustable enough that I'm still wearing them even in my gigantic third-trimester. Though I was already hoping to make View A and make it more empire-waisted... damn pattern ambitions anyway. Never enough time to sew!

McCalls 5974 Sewing Ticket

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: Built By Wendy Dresses

I reviewed this book on PatternReview shortly after it came out, and thought I'd share here if you haven't seen it yet.

Another beautifully designed and illustrated, smart, fun and inspirational book from Wendy Mullin! Built By Wendy Dresses: The Sew U Guide to Making a Girl's Best Frock encourages even relatively beginning sewers to take basic dress patterns and adapt them to make the dresses of their dreams. In no time you'll be slashing and spreading, drafting facings and collars and linings, adjusting length and fullness, playing with necklines and sleeves, adding flounces... In other words, drafting and pattern-making! Only less scary somehow.

However, unlike her previous two books (Sew U and Sew U Home Stretch), this book is probably most beneficial to the advanced beginner or intermediate sewer--or even a more advanced sewer looking to break away from just making commercial patterns to deconstructing and designing her own. A true beginner would be better off starting with more basic books.

Built By Wendy Dresses comes with three basic tissue patterns in sizes XS - XL (from bust measurements of 32"-41", and hip measurements of 35"-44"):

  • A sheath dress with raglan sleeves and double vertical darts (the bodice and skirt are one piece)
  • A loose-fitting one-piece shift dress with horizontal bust darts. This style isn't for me, but at the Brooklyn BurdaStyle sewing club meetup this past weekend, I saw two lovely variations made from this pattern.
  • A dress with separate bodice (with french darts) and full gathered dirndl skirt

NOTE CAREFULLY THAT THESE PATTERNS HAVE NO SEAM ALLOWANCES! This is different from her previous two books, and a welcome change, as it allows for easier pattern alteration.

These are basically used throughout the book as blocks or slopers to create 25 total dress variations, though they already have more styling/design/ease built in then a close-fitting neutral Big 4 fitting shell/sloper pattern (like this one) does. They are intended to be traced so they can be re-used and reshaped as needed.

That said, you don't need to actually use these patterns if you don't want to--this book could just as easily inspire you to make design changes (drastic or basic) to other commercial patterns or slopers.

Some of the 25 variations seem to skew a little bit young/cute/trendy (or just too shapeless for my liking, especially in the shift dress chapter)--I won't be making the overall dress anytime soon! Still, there is something in here for every dress lover--sun dresses, work dresses, dresses with empire waists, drawstring dresses, mod-style dresses, tunic dresses, a shirt dress, party dresses, a fitted LBD, a (woven) wrap dress. And every variation includes detailed illustrated instructions for altering the block pattern, drafting facings and collar pieces, and construction.

What this book does:

This book inspires. It gives advice and ideas on designing and constructing a wide variety of fun dresses and on choosing fabrics and experimenting with design details. Anyone spending time on any of these projects would learn valuable drafting skills and gain confidence to play with existing dress patterns to make them her own. I particularly loved the fun spreads with line drawings showing different kinds of collars, hems, necklines, sleeves and hemlines.

There's even a (little) bit of advice at the end on altering thrifted dresses or cutting apart old clothes to make new dresses.

What this book doesn't do:

There are some rudimentary notes on sewing and finishing techniques and basic attention paid to zippers and buttons, but it's quite basic--you'd probably want to use a more comprehensive reference on finishings and closures in conjunction with this book (like my beloved The New Complete Guide to Sewing).

And this is most definitely NOT a fitting book--there are a few basic pages where she asks you to analyze your figure in the usual "hourglass" "pear" etc. manner, and gives basic suggestions on what to do if a dress is too tight or loose in the bust or hips... but I wouldn't use any of her fitting techniques, especially if you're, say, full-busted. For example, she makes no mention of altering darts--her instructions for fitting a pattern that's too tight in the chest are to just to enlarge the side seams--a terrible idea and sure to result in a poor fit!

Instead, I'd suggest fitting the block patterns to your liking using a book like Fit For Real People, and THEN trying the design variations.

In sum, this fun and fabulous dress cookbook is definitely a MUST HAVE for those looking to branch out from just making commercial patterns to playing with drafting and design details. Make the dresses of your dreams!

Finally, this book makes an interesting companion with Adele P. Margolis' 1985 classic Make Your Own Dress Patterns. It's much more of a detailed pattern drafting book, but also very inspirational and encouraging, and the two really complement each other. I used both in conjunction when redrafting the front bodice/skirt for my orange silk floral maternity dress.

Mini-Wardrobe Progress--Double Knit Color Options!

I mentioned before that after initially purchasing gray double knit for my mini-wardrobe cardigan jacket, I began to have some serious doubts--gray, after all, just Isn't Very Mikhaela. But I wasn't sure about the color Fabric.com was calling "Chartreuse," so I ordered a variety of their double knit swatches and picked up a few from the Paron's 50% Off Annex as well. The Fabric.com swatches finally arrived today (much slower than their actual yardage fabric orders).

I'm happy to report that the chartreuse is indeed chartreuse and not mustard, though it's somewhat on the subdued side. I dropped the best colors into my digital sketches and here's what I came up with.

Chartreuse--my original idea, and still promising, if a bit subdued:

Mini-Wardrobe Cardigan Color Choices

Purple. Too monochromatic, I think--I look like a pregnant grape.

Mini-Wardrobe Cardigan Color Choices

Lime. This one intrigues me--green and purple are such a great combo. But THIS green?

Mini-Wardrobe Cardigan Color Choices


Mini-Wardrobe Cardigan Color Choices

Fuschia--like chartreuse, I firmly believe fuschia goes with almost ANYTHING.

Mini-Wardrobe Cardigan Color Choices

I don't have much time to mull it over, as a few of these colors are running low in stock (not the chartreuse, though). I'll give it a day and make an executive decision. Your thoughts? And remember--I like bright colors! By the way, Masheka strongly prefers lime or purple--he doesn't think this shade of chartreuse is eye-popping enough for me. He might be right.

As for progress on the patterns themselves, my hopes for getting a few of them muslined this Monday (I had a day off) were dashed when I ran into the hard cold realities of maternity alteration sewing. I can't just start cutting patterns willy-nilly if I want to be able to use them later, so I spent Monday tracing the patterns and ironing like, 6 yards of muslin (why I washed it is beyond me--it's not like I'm going to wash the muslins, so all the tiny little wrinkles I had to get out were just pointless pain). I'm still working on my FBAs and belly adjustments before even getting to the muslin stage. I have only three sewing weekends left for this contest so I had better get cracking!

I'll be doing a detailed post on this (tentatively titled "Sewing at a Moving Target: Maternity Modification Strategies") sometime soonish.


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