Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blocking Magic: From Too-Tight to Just-Right (Cardigan Progress)

Georgina Cardigan progress-- back ready for blocking

The sad, tiny sweater upper back of lost hope--or is it?

A few weeks ago, I was starting to lose all shrunken cardigan hope. I had made decent progress in my odd moments on my lacy chartreuse Georgina sweater... but after the third time a coworker politely asked me at lunchtime if I was making another sweater for my daughter, I began to worry.

Before starting the sweater I had carefully knit and blocked swatches in both plain knitting and lace to make sure I was getting Perfect Gauge, and I had followed the directions exactly. Yet when I held out the piece that should cover my shoulders and back, well... it did look rather toddler-sized.

Enter the magic of blocking.

I had always heard about this mystical wooly transformation, in which lace knitting enters a gentle magic bath and emerges damp and slightly smelling of sheep and stuck with carefully placed pins to expand to its full glorious potential.

But while I've dutifully blocked everything I've knit, it never really seemed all that science-fictionally spectacular before. Sure I'd give my knits a gentle bath in tepid water and Eucalan, roll them in a towel to remove excess water, pin them to desired size until dry... and they always came out a bit neater and prettier, and maybe a bit bigger or smaller as desired (or not). THE END.

I'm guessing this is because everything I'd knit before was either not all that lacy, or wasn't lacy AND made of non-superwash-treated wool. Because when I finally got up the nerve to block my Georgina to match the ambitiously stretched out blocking diagram...

Blocking the Georgina Cardigan back

OK, maybe you can't tell at all here, but it grew by over three inches in each direction. CARDIGAN CRISIS AVERTED--for now.

So: for those of you who knit--have you been successful, or largely disappointed, in your blocking attempts?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Serger-Free Spandex (Mermaid) Skirt Sewing

BurdaStyle "Melissa" knit mermaid skirt

We never made it to the Coney Island Mermaid parade last weekend, but plenty of DIY sparkly spandex fun was had by all at Z's mermaid-themed birthday party on Sunday. Shockingly, I finished the toddler's mermaid skirt AHEAD of schedule (without using my serger OR a walking foot)...

Z showing off her mommy-made mermaid costume

And somehow found time to whip up a skirt for myself. Not to mention hair accessories for me, Z and Z's cousin T who was visiting for the weekend. T is nine, so she was actually able to help me--she drew and cut out the stars for the headbands, turned them inside out, and stuffed them, all very carefully. We had so much fun collaborating, and it got me excited for that far-off day when Z can actually be trusted in the sewing area.

T cuts out her mermaid headband

The results were fabulous:

Z and T, with their mermaid headbands and dresses

As for the details:

Serger-Free Spandex Sewing

My original plan was to do the smart thing and serge this super-stretchy stuff with wooly nylon. But if I had had to pull the serger out of the chest and set it up every time I wanted to sew... none of these things would ever have been finished.

So I used the same method my mom used when she made swimsuits for me as a kid--just zig-zag it. I lowered the presser-foot pressure to 2, and sewed everything with a medium-width zig-zag stitch using a size 90 stretch needle. The fabric was so heavy there was no rippling or waving like you get with delicate rayon or cotton knits. EASY. (And seriously--if you don't have a serger, there is no reason to fear knits!)

And I didn't bother overcasting or hemming, but I did reinforce the bottom of the split seam and side opening areas.

My Melissa Mermaid Skirt

This quick knit skirt came together in like, an hour, including the cutting. You might even call it a TNT pattern--except last time I made it I was pregnant and cut a larger size.

Mermaids posing out...
  • Pattern:BurdaStyle Melissa knit pencil skirt with high-waisted yoke band--no elastic necessary! Seriously, it's just three pieces, and I didn't even bother hemming this one.
  • Size: I cut a 38 and it worked just peachy (note that my weight seems to be fluctuating again--I'm currently at a 29" waist and 38.5" hip)
  • Fabric: Thick, sweaty, glittery fish-scaly spandex from Spandex House for the skirt--I think it was $10/yard. And shimmery metallic spandex in a contrasting color for the yoke/waistband.
  • Alterations: I just made it longer, but only sewed it down to the knee, for ease of walking.
  • Wear to: My daughter's birthday party. Other occasions may be more challenging.

Z's Split Mermaid Skirt

Trying to get Z to take this thing off after the party was NOT fun.

Z and T, with their mermaid headbands and dresses

I started out with this excellent mermaid tutorial from ikatbag (thanks to commenter June for the tip!), but was worried it would be tough to run around in. So I tapered the skirt pieces to points, turned them sideways, and added ruffles (see above photo for the latter).

Mermaid costume in progress

The fabric is mostly the same, except I used a sequined net for the side ruffles and a very soft rayon knit from my stash for the waistband to protect Z's sensitive eczema-prone skin from direct metallic spandex contact.

This one does have elastic in the waistband--she doesn't have much difference between her waist and hip measurement, so anything that helps keep her clothes up is necessary.

Mermaid Headbands and Hairclip

Z in her starfish mermaid headband

These are just a folded strip of the metallic spandex (2" less than the head circumference) sewn into a tube, with a stuffed spandex star handsewn on. DONE.

I also sewed a bunch of random bits of fabrics to a hairclip for myself--here's a detail view:

Mermaid hair accessory detail

Finally, here's the three of us under the ocean at Z's party. The fabrics and shell trims that didn't make it into our costumes were strewn about the room for ambiance and suchlike--no idea how else I'll use them.

Three mermaids under the sea

So: do you ever sew knits without a serger, even if you have one?

Oh, and next up... sewing something, like, wearable. To work and stuff. And a cardigan blocking update!

P.S. I almost forgot--we weren't the ONLY mermaids at the party!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sparkly Spandex Shopping Spree

Sparkly Spandex Shopping Spree

I had a bit of a sparkle attack today in the Garment District while shopping for mother-daughter mermaid costume fabric. (For Saturday's 30th Anniversary Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and Z's upcoming mermaid-themed 2nd birthday party).

I didn't really have a firm idea for the costumes, only that the skirts should be scaly looking, and the tops should be more floaty/meshy/gauzy. So went to Spandex House and, was totally confused and overwhelmed by all the hologrammy sparkly sequiny spandex-ness of the place, and finally ended up with what you see above. The shell trims are from Pacific Trimming.

Anyone have any tips on sewing with really heavy-duty hologram spandex fabric? This stuff is THICK, and every time I stretch it, the sequiny sparkly bits crack! I'm guessing serging with wooly nylon will be the way to go here once I have the skirts basted together and fitted.

I think the skirts can just be elastic-waist tubes to the knee (or maybe a bit above for Z--I want her to be able to run around and have fun) with big gauzy/meshy flounces at the bottom. Kinda like the girl in the middle here with the pink top:

For the tops, I'm not so sure--the other fabrics I got are really sheer, so maybe I'll have to do a two-layer thing or put tank tops underneath for bra coverage (for me) and sun protection (for Z). Shell bras are not my thing. Here's my illustration of Z as a mermaid:

Z as a mermaid illustration--almost done!

Once again, I think I'm just going to wing it, pattern-free! At least for the skirt--I might use one of her knit summer shirts as a rough guide for the top.

So why mermaids? Z has been obsessed with the parade and mermaids ever since she went to a live reading by Melanie Hope Greenberg of her picture book Mermaids On Parade.

I swear I'll get back to sewing something actually wearable in real life at some point, but whatever. Costumes are fun!

P.S. A few of the mermaid inspiration images I collected on Pinterest:

And randomly (for my costume idea, not Z's, of course): Bettie Page Mermaid...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Finished: Draped, wrap-style (T-shirt) wedding dress!

Finished: Doctors Without Borders T-shirt wedding dress costume

Making this dress was so much fun I kinda wish I could go back in time and sew my own wedding dress instead of worrying that I didn't have the right skills.

My T-shirt wedding dress costume was a big success--it fit the star of the little skit perfectly and garnered lots of compliments. (It's not quite as good a fit on me--the wearer was half a foot shorter than I am).

Inspiration: I won't get into all the insider details of the skit (which we put on at an informal afterparty for our general assembly). But the basic idea was that the people who are part of the international Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) movement care about MSF so much, we would actually marry it. It's not much of an exaggeration, either--we are a passionate, committed--you might say obsessive--bunch. So the skit had a wedding theme, and the character who wore the dress was the personification of MSF.


The pattern: I made this up as I went along, with pins and scissors and basting directly on the dress form, and then just sewing it together with no regard to finishing technique or sturdiness or whatnot--it only had to last for one night, after all. I originally intended to shir the bodice, but totally failed at it and switched to a wrap style with ties. Here's a detail shot revealing the total slapdashedness of it all:

Draped wrap T-shirt wedding dress: front detail
Pattern Description: Two-piece wedding dress. Top has a draped/surplice wrap style with wide straps secured with a tie. Skirt has loose elastic waist and back bustle/flounce that secures with several messy ties. Cheap single-faced discount red ribbon, a mosquito-netting veil, surgical gloves and a stethoscope complete the medical humanitarian look.

Fabric: Dress made from old XL MSF T-shirts from the office storage closet. Veil made from a cheap non-chemically-treated white mosquito bed net (I just cut a few strips of the netting and sewed them to an old haircomb).

You can see that it's a bit baggy on me in the back, and I had trouble tying the sash myself for the photo shoot:

Finished: Doctors Without Borders T-shirt wedding dress costume

The intended effect was more this:

Draped wrap T-shirt wedding dress: back view


  • Back at the sewing machine.
  • I love making costumes.
  • Everyone loved it, especially the wearer.
  • I actually sewed something for someone who wasn't my husband or daughter.
  • "Draping" (or my sad attempt at such) is fun.

Draped wrap T-shirt wedding dress: side view
Room for improvement?:
  • NONE. It got the job done.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I won't sew it again, but I do recommend playing around with knit fabrics on your dress form if you have one, and just seeing what happens.

Finished: Doctors Without Borders T-shirt wedding dress costume

Wear to: A skit. Or maybe just around town to help spread the word about MSF. (I did actually try this on at my sewing club, though I didn't wear it home for fear it would fall apart on the way).

P.S. Z found the dress very inspiring (as you can see from the surgical glove she is wearing in the above photos), and grabbed one of the leftover T-shirts and a hat to make her own MSF look:

Z in her Doctors Without Borders T-shirt

P.P.S. I would be remiss in not getting on my soapbox for a minute with a poster from the advocacy side of MSF about access to essential medicines for all. Look closely.

Accordingly, today's question doesn't relate to sewing: What issues are you most passionate about?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

And the vintage pattern illustration giveaway winner(s) are...

If you're wondering why it's taken me so long to announce a winner for my "You on a Vintage Pattern Envelope" giveaway, well... that'll teach me to have a non-random giveaway! I got 17 fabulous, fun and well-thought-out entries, plus lots of sweet comments and birthday love, and I hated having to choose just one!

But as promised, I picked five names at random out of the 17 qualifying entries, tried to evaluate them based on fun/long-time readership/creativity/etc... and totally failed to make a clear decision. In the end I changed the rules and picked one random winner out of the five. The five finalists were:

#1: Alexa, with Simplicity 3868

Alexa said:

ohh what an awesome giveaway. I have been reading since you had your daughter, who is a little younger than my oldest. I found you through you after admiring your work.

I sew, but am not at vintage pattern making level yet. So this is just pretend for me. I think Simplicity 6838 is gorgeous. I like version 3 in a jewel tone like deep purple or dark turquoise.

I would print out your illustration, frame it and hang it in my studio (the part of my bedroom where my sewing stuff lives.)

Alexa is right--how awesome is view 3 with those awesome cutouts?

#2: Beata, with a cover from Australian Home Journal

Source: via Beata on Pinterest

Beata wrote:

Hmmm, would you put me on an "Australian Home Journal" cover? Like this one.

It's not quite a pattern envelope, but pretty close! Otherwise I'll pick a pattern later :)

I'd like to be in the pink dress, but made up in a purple floral, maybe something like this.

I love the shoes she is wearing, but I'd leave off the other accessories...

As for hair, I want big, bouncy curls like the main picture here.

Thanks for the awesome giveaway!

Oh my goodness, I LOVE all three of those dresses... surplice necklines, gathers, scallops, pockets, peplums, directional stripes... all kinds of awesome, really.

#3: The ever-inspiring Laura Mae, with Advance 5470:

Laura Mae said:

While I wish I looked like those beautiful vintage pattern envelopes, it just isn’t meant to be. I wonder what their stats are? I would imagine they are at least 6 feet tall with a 20” waist. So maybe that would look rather freakish in real life.

But what pattern to choose? I think I would choose my most recent creation, Advance 5470, which is special in so many ways. First off, the pattern came to me via Mr. Male Pattern Boldness, himself. It doesn’t get much more special than that! The black and white floral fabric is something that I have been saving for quite a while now, earmarked for a Vintage Vogue pattern that I just have not had the proper opportunity/event to cut into the fabric. The huge shawl collar, full skirt, and lantern sleeves may just be the most perfect pattern I have ever come across.

I did not have the perfect hat to top the outfit off when I wore the dress yesterday. In a perfect world, I would have whipped up something, but time ran out, as it often does . . . But with a drawing I can pretend that I finished that exquisite hat and my softly curled hair looked perfect and fabulous even though rain was threatening all day long and the wind was ridiculous! ...

Wishing you a Happy Belated Birthday! And thank you for the opportunity to win such an amazing prize!

Laura Mae is, of course, way too modest, because I do believe she DOES look like she stepped out of a vintage pattern envelope (or at least a vintage fashion magazine) most of the time with her amazing vintage-inspired creations.

#4: Lee, with Simplicity 1668:

Lee said:

Mikhaela, this is such a cool project and a generous offer. I've been following you since you commented on my blog earlier this year, though I only recently formally subscribed. I like reading because your sensibility and array of projects and thoughtful way of proceeding all appeal to me. You have smart commenters too.

I would love to see myself on a vintage pattern envelope, specifically Simplicity 1668, a 40s dress with scallop details, in bright blue and white polka dot fabric, red shoes, red lipstick, and hair kind of like my own but more 40s-styled, less frizzy and unkempt. I would use the image wherever I could! Definitely I would frame it and display it next to a photograph of my much missed grandmother in a similar dress.

Now that I know Lee in real life through the Brooklyn BurdaStyle Sewing Club (in fact, I saw her there last weekend!), I can easily picture her rocking the dress she describes. Polka dots + scallops... yummy.

And last but not least...

#5: Cosmo, with Simplicity 3471:

Cosmo wrote:

I love your blog mainly because you are a cool mom vintage sewing knitting graphic designer. You have a perspective similar to mine.

I am cutting it pretty close on this one because I forgot it was EST midnight not my midnight. I am still not entirely sure that this is the pattern I love the best but Simplicity 3471 is adorable and I would love to have it in a bright Pucci or Marimekko style print. I was also looking at some 70s maxi dresses, but I am really more of an early 60s kind of girl.

I am getting ready to start up a new sewing and fashion blog and would love to use artwork like this. Also I am getting ready to chop several inches off of my locs and would love to have them memorialized this way.

Oh and I would wear a bright pair of wedges and a chunky necklace and my locs in a braid out with one side pinned back with a giant ranunculus.

So yeah. Clearly impossible to make a choice here, so I grabbed the old digital hat and drew a number.

And the winner is...

Cosmo! Congratulations! I'll send you an email--since you already gave me most of the details, the main thing I need is you preferred reference photo of yourself. (Perhaps a bicycle should be involved?)

But you might have noticed I said WINNERS (plural). Did I mention that in my own totally arbitrary way I decided to award a special prize?

The arbitrary because-I-felt-like-it Doctor-Who-Obsessed TARDIS Prize goes to...

Meg the Grand! Meg wrote:

I want this so very badly. So very very badly. I don't suppose you could draw me as a Tardis? An illustration of me as a Tardis would need me in blue, of course, with a light bulb as a little hat, and some rocking blue heels. This would go in the Tardis bedroom, next to my bed, so I could always giggle when I get up in the morning. It would also need to go on my blog somewhere so people know what they are getting into when they click on my page. I have a Doctor Who problem - I'm sure there is counseling for this somewhere.

In my next life, please let me come back as Alex Kingston's duplicate. With her wine colored Louboutin heels.

Seriously, though - this giveaway is truly special. I think any of us who read your blog regularly would be so honored to be drawn by you. I know I am getting misty at the sheer generosity of this!

If I had to pick a vintage pattern, I would pick the Mail Order 9388 that was my Sassy Secretary dress. I would love big hair (I long for big hair in my real life), cobalt blue dress, and then blue heels. I love that outfit. It makes me so happy to put it on, so to immortalize it as one of your drawings would be one of the best things in my life. This would have to go on my blog, and if I ever got around to business cards, it would be there too. It would also get printed and put above my sewing machine so I could always smile when I am seam ripping a zipper.

Now, there are of course several ways to go about this, the main two being either putting Meg in a TARDIS dress, like this awesome one by Tara Reich:

Or by drawing her as Idris (when the TARDIS was temporarily in a woman's body in a super-awesome episode called "The Doctor's Wife" penned by Neil Gaiman):

Congrats to both winners, and guys, I'm so sorry I couldn't draw every one of your awesome vintage envelope ideas!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Shirring Fail + a Draping Attempt (T-shirt wedding dress progress)

So I finally started Monday night on that T-shirt wedding dress costume project for work--the skit is this weekend, but I have to have it ready for a fitting on Thursday. The above is my attempt at "draping"--it's just a bunch of XL size shirts cut up and pinned together on my dress form (which has now been adjusted to approximate the woman who will be wearing it). I'm digging the wide straps and the plunging wrap / sweetheart / surplice neckline.

My original plan was to fit the bodice with shirring:

But as I should have remembered from the great elastic shirring debacle of 2010, my sewing machine REFUSES to shir with elastic thread in the bobbin. Unfortunately, this T-shirt fabric is so thick and rough, it wouldn't even shir via the zig-zag method (sewing with a zig-zag over the stretched elastic thread).

So I sewed the skirt together from two of the shirts with an elastic waistband instead. The bustle or flare or train or flounce thingie is just part of those two shirts left on. I was disappointed that the logos on the shirts are so small, so I may (if I find the time) apply larger ones with T-shirt transfers or just fabric paint.

It was such a relief to actually get back at the sewing machine. I'm a bit stressed out by the deadline, but my husband (who helpfully cut up all the T-shirts for me) keeps reminding me that this thing only has to look OK from 20 feet away from the stage, and that it is supposed to look rugged/thrown together.

It is pretty freeing to be going pattern free and just randomly cutting, draping and sewing. I am the sort of person who usually spends hours carefully aligning and smoothing and pinning and cutting my fabric perfectly on grain and making sure I cut the pattern out precisely without slicing off any tissue and... no wonder I barely sew one garment per month.

I do hope that somehow I will also find the time to sew something normal for myself to wear in time for the Brooklyn BurdaStyle Sewing Club meetup Sunday, but if not, I suppose I could bring this.

So: do you ever go pattern-free and just wing it? What have your results been like?

P.S. Tonight, June 6, at midnight EST is the deadline to enter my vintage sewing pattern illustration giveaway! Thanks to all of you for the awesome entries so far!

P.P.S. My daughter's comment looking at the dress in progress on the mannequin: "Oh a dress! Pretty! Boobies!" Toddler wisdom at its finest.