Lacey Goodness

*Sigh* I don't think I ever get tired of making pretty dresses. We're still averaging about three weddings a year and I treat each as an opportunity to make my next idea. A girl's gotta have some excuse to dress up, right?

Pattern: McCall's Misses Dresses #M7719
Cost: $50
Fabric: embroidered poly netting with rayon/silk blend lining

This time around I tried out the new McCall's 7719, one of this past season's fancy dress patterns. I really wanted to work with some more lace or embroidered tulle (wedding dress making withdrawals?) so I found this beauty on the Joann Fabrics website on sale for just $7 a yard. I had to drive to the next town over to get it, but I scored over three yards for under $30. The Bay Area Sewists kept commenting on how expensive it must have been at our Frocktails so I think I successfully tricked them all. To enhance the lace effect I picked up a rayon/silk blend at a Hart's fabrics sale over the holidays in a tone that matches my skin color. As a lining it feels very soft and truly luxurious.

As with any new pattern, I like to do a bit of research on Pattern Review and Instagram to see how others have made it up and anticipate any issues. There weren't many versions of this view up yet but I did notice that several people had issues with gaping at the side of the bust cup. This meant a muslin was in order (enter amazing cartoon fabric from the stash). I was really glad I put in the extra effort because I had the same issue. I found I could pinch the excess out at the waist seamline (see the cup on the left side of the picture below). But, as you can see, that distorts the shape of the cup. To fix that, after pinching the excess out at the bottom of the cup, I re-centered the top of the cup so it pointed toward the strap as designed. That fix is shown on the dress form on the right and the patter pieces below. Much better!

But you can't leave it there! I pulled a favorite trick from Mrs. Mole of Fit for a Queen and snugged up the sides of the cup. She uses twill tape to gather some of the extra ease; I used elastic and stretched slightly as I sewed. The result is a cup that hugs to your body and stays just where it should. I also added a second piece of lining and tucked a bust cup in there for added shape. This is definitely not a dress you can wear a regular bra with. See how the elastic makes the pieces cup inward even as it lays flat on my table? That's what you want. 

Much better! From there the dress was smooth sailing. I just had to pick my pattern placement carefully and sew it up. As opposed to, say, a Vogue pattern, this dress doesn't have too many pieces and comes together easily once you have the fit of the cups and waist worked out. I didn't add boning but I did innerline the waist pieces with a sturdier canvass for a bit of shaping. 

The outer skirt is just a gathered rectangle of the lace. The lining uses an A-line skirt pattern with no gathers to reduce bulk at the waist. I have also used a circle skirt for this purpose in the past to good results. 

Perfect! Loving it! Just one problem. Is it too slutty for a church wedding? Hmmm....

I had just enough fabric leftover to make a cover up that I could wear to the ceremony. I was able to squeeze this little crop top out of it and I think I might like this look even better! The trick was to cut it short enough to still show off my waist shaping. It feels like a cute little 60s two-piece set!

Isn't the back fun? Here's the scoop: I knew that I wanted to be able to take this on and off myself with little difficulty to transform throughout the night. So I devised a plan where the back of the top crosses over and secures at each shoulder. To make it extra easy, I chose some magnetic snaps so I wouldn't have to fiddle too long with my outfit. Just unsnap each side and you can pull the crop top off with little effort. Here's a little sequence of the transformation. Fun, right?

As I mentioned, I already got to wear this baby to Frocktails and will be dragging it up to Vancouver later this month for the wedding. It was such a fun project all around and I can't wait to wear it dancing (especially since I now know everything will stay in place!). 

New Pants! Deer and Doe Safran

Those who have been following along might know that I've spent the last three years working on my personal pants block made from an amalgamation of several different jeans patterns (my Mambo No. 5). But this past month, I decided to try something new - a new pattern! And because you can't make just make, I made three pairs of the Deer and Doe Safran pants to test it out. 

Pattern: Deer and Doe Safran Pants
Fabric: stretch denim, corduroy, and canvas
Cost: $20-35

One reason that I decided to try out a new pattern is that I wanted something with a higher waste. My Mambo No. 5 was mid-rise and my past attempts at tweaking them to sit higher hadn't worked well. I also admit that I am no pattern drafter, so after all the work on my other pair it's interesting to see how others draft things. And finally, I've had a lot of success with Deer and Doe patterns this past year and find they work really well for my pear shape. Having a larger hip size than waist size has made fitting jeans difficult in the past, so I wanted to give Deer and Doe a try. 

The Deer and Doe Safran pant is drafted for ~25% stretch fabrics. And lucky for me, my waist and hip measurements fall into the same size on the size chart, which almost never happens to me. I pulled some denim from my stash that were of good quality but from a discount store and got to work. 

Out of the envelope, the pattern worked pretty well for me. However, there were a few adjustments I made on the first pair. While my hip measurements matched the size I chose, many of you know that this doesn't mean that my body is distributed the same as the pattern. I tend to have more in the back than the front. Because of this, the pants pulled down at center back, while the front had too much fabric leading to folds at center front. To make this first version work for me, I trimmed the top of the pants so that they were straight and removed some of the fabric from the front inner thigh to shorten the front rise. This worked pretty well but I knew I needed to tweak the actual pattern for the next version.

The only gripe I have about this pattern is that the garment measurements at the waistband match the waist measurements in the size chart, meaning there is zero ease. This works fine on a stretch pattern. However, the instructions ask for you to interface the waistband, meaning it won't stretch at all. I dutifully followed the instructions but ended up having to rip out the interfacing as the pants felt too tight! After I did that though they fit well. 

For ny next version I did a full seat adjustment by slashing a vertical line across the back to raise the center back by one inch. I had already shaved off some from the front inner thigh (shortening the front crotch height) but now added that amount to the back inner thigh. I also made a knock knee adjustment, which is a pretty standard one for me and involves changing the angle of the leg to shorten the outer leg seam. This should help reduce some bunching there. You'll also notice that I played with some faux leather pocket accents on this one. 

I felt the legs fit much better after this. Unfortunately, I found I was still having the same issue with center back pulling down. I again leveled out the waistband but knew I'd have to adjust the crotch curve on the next version. I also found that I was disliking the instructions for inserting the zipper. Can you see it poking out there from under the fly? It is too centered. I vowed to go back to my usual method, which is from the Closet Case Patterns Ginger Jeans, for the next version. 

I actually might have stopped here except the fabric I chose for my second version was terrible and bags out over the course of the day. It was very cheap and leftover from an experimental pants project I did for my brother. It was a bummer to waist sewing time on an unwearable pair of pants, but I'll call it a muslin and move on. 

For my final pair, I deepened the back crotch curve by one inch and leveled out the side seams, which were too high on me. I also trued up the adjustments I'd made to the legs a bit more. If I were to do a fourth pair, I think I'd also shorten the front crotch curvey by making it shallower, as there's still some wrinkling there. Finally, I lined the waistband in power mesh to account for the fact that I didn't use interfacing - I still wanted it to stretch, but not bag out. Overall I'm very happy with these pants and they, along with the jeans, have found a home in my wardrobe. 

If you're curious, here's a diagram of the changes I've made, with the original in white and the changes in red. In sum, I raised the center back, deepened the crotch curve, and shifted the center crotch depth from the front to the back to account for my rear. I made a knock knee adjustment. And I gave the side seams a 1" seam allowance to allow for fitting tweaks. 
If you are pear-shaped like me, this is a great slim pants pattern. I'm most impressed by the fact that they don't have a yoke or darts yet have a great fit at the waist. They fill a big wardrobe gap, as many of my staple pants had started to feel a bit, erm, tight over the years. I blame this to five years in the dryer. I will probably make some more in the future as I'm a pants fitting addict, but for now I have promised my husband a new coat...

Skeleton Cable Knit Sweater

I'm not even quite sure how to start this post except to say that this was a labor of love. Before I even cast on the first stitch I spent weeks researching stitches, doing test swatches, and creating diagrams. I then spent months knitting, re-doing, and knitting again every inch of this sweater. I loved every minute of it, and am incredibly proud to present my newest creation. 

Pattern: stitch pattern my own on Yarspiration Patons Boxy Cabled Crew Knit Sweater
Yarn: Uptown Worsted in White
Cost: $35

To back up a bit, one of the reasons I love knitting is the ability to manipulate your "fabric" in a way that you can't with sewing. You can "draw" designs right into your textile with cables, ribs, bobbles, and color in a way that I find fascinating. 

In this vein, sometime last year, I became enamored with this snap of the back of what I think is an Alexander McQueen sweater. I never quite found more info about that particular sweater, but I did explore several similar ones from his collection. I loved the way the knitting looked like a skeleton, especially the spine and rib cage. 

I became obsessed. What cables look like vertebrae? How do I form the shape of the ribs? And what other rich patterns and textures could add interest? After researching and trying various techniques, I put my thoughts down in Excel - I am very visual so making a knitting chart was much more helpful than written instructions. I used a basic Yarspiration Patons Boxy Cabled Crew Knit Sweater pattern as the basis and just laid my ideas on top until it worked. 

Of course, it didn't all work out right away. Even with careful planning I worried that my first cast one would be too big. I re-knit smaller (adjusting the details) only to realize that the original size would actually work best. I also realized that I hadn't planned for the body to be long enough (I knit bottom up) so I re-did that as well. Each of these involved frogging my knitting, re-adjusting my stitch chart, and trying again. 

Unline other projects, I also found how exceedingly complex I'd made my stitch pattern. Sometimes I'd nail the tricky bobbles and slanted cable on the sides only to find that I had forgotten to do my center vertebrae cable and have to re-do the whole row or several rows. There was a lot to keep track of! I love knitting though and don't really mind re-doing, especially because I knit without a deadline and am usually in front of the TV.

So what went into this pattern? I knit the front and back separately, starting at the bottom with a basic 2x2 knit rib. The rib then continues up the side and starts to form little branches with baubles on the end. It is bordered by a slanted cable which I had seen pictures of before but couldn't find instructions and had to re-engineer myself. Meanwhile, the center starts to form some vertebrae which eventually branch out into the ribs on the chest. The neckline is finished with ribbing and baubles.

The back is mimics the front without the rib case. You'll notice how the vertebrae gets smaller as it goes up the back. 

The sleeves were also fun to design and are meant to look like the humerus, ulnas, and radius bones. Unfortunately, this is where my base pattern broke down. Somehow the pattern called for sleeve caps that were narrower than the armscye. Usually they are bigger and eased into the armscye. It did NOT work for me and required I re-knit the sleeve cap about four times before I got something that worked. It shouldn't have been so hard given that it's a drop sleeve, but the pattern was really terrible in that area. 

Of course, the final project doesn't look exactly like a skeleton, but I hope you'll see the inspiration for the various stitches. It was marvelously complex and fun to knit and I'm actually a little sad it's over as it was so much fun to watch it come together. If you are interested in peeking into my notebook, you can see my full stitch pattern in PDF or Excel. It's not as well documented as paid pattern, but if you have questions you can always send me an email. Mostly cables are marked with / or \ for the director of the cable and baubles are marked with X.

The whole sweater is knit up in Uptown Worsted, an acrylic yarn that sells for about $7 a skein at my local yarn shop. You may think I'm crazy to put all this effort into an acrylic sweater but I actually really like the weight and feel of this yarn, and it seems like the right medium for experimentation. I like how it holds its structure for cables and feels sturdy yet not as heavy as cotton and not as itchy as some wools. I also made my knit poncho in it last year and a dog sweater at Christmas.

I started this project in the spring and finished it up in December, which may be the best timing for finishing a sweater I've ever had. That said, it never seems quite cold enough to wear in the Bay Area, though I have found a few cold occasions. White sweaters aren't the most practical but I sure do love the look. Not to figure out my next knitting adventure because my fingers are starting to itch. 

Basic Tank, But Make it Fashion

Do you ever sew an exciting new garment only to find that you have nothing in your closet to wear with it? That was happening to me with my fancy pants. All of the tops I had just weren't working with it. I wanted something close-fitting, black, but still a bit interesting. So I crafted this concoction. 

Pattern: drafted using Simplicity 4070

For this project, I worked with Modes4U, a stationery, fabrics, and DIY store in Hong Kong that carries a wide array of Japanese and American designed fabrics like Robert Kaufman, Art Gallery Fabrics, and Cotton and Steel. They sent me this great Robert Kaufman cotton jersey to try out for this project. It shipped pretty quick from China, too! 

To make the top, I started with an old standby, my Simplicity 4070 princess seamed dress pattern. The bodice by itself makes an excellent crop top or, as in this case, can be lengthened to a full-length shirt. 

For this top, I straightened out the side front and side back armhole so that it met the bodice at a 90-degree angle. I then added an asymmetrical neckline to keep things interesting. 

I also added bust cups, because I just can't be bothered to have my bra showing! To do this, I partially lined the top of the bodice and attached bust cups to the lining. It gives the whole shirt a clean finish as well!

My hope is that my new top will allow me to wear my fancy pants and other high-waisted pants more often. Plus it's the star all on its own!

Charlie Brown in Drag

My friend recently complimented my dress, saying it reminded her of one she had when she was a teenager. She liked it a lot and wore it to her aunt's wedding. Apparently, however, not everyone was a fan. Later, she learned that the same aunt had commented to another relative that she thought it made my friend look like Charlie Brown in drag. Ha!

Luckily, now our egos don't bruise so easily and we've decided that being Charlie Brown in drag is a wonderful compliment which I will wholeheartedly embrace! So I present to you, my NYE dress of 2020. Oh brother!

Pattern: based on New Look 6460 with sleeves from New Look 6217
Fabric: velvet and sheer chevron stretch fabric lined in jersey
Cost: $30

Now that you can't get that image out of your head, let me tell you a little bit about it. I discovered this fabric at Crossroad Fabrics in my hometown over the holidays. Carla always has something interesting on hand, usually at killer prices. She gave me this amazing 2-yard cut of velvet and sheer chevron fabric for $13! On my way out of town, I picked up the coordinating yellow jersey at a Hart's Fabrics sale to line the dress. 

I knew I wanted to make something for New Year's Eve but was away from my machine. So I spent my nights dreaming up the best way to use this special fabric. I fell in love with this inspiration dress and was left figuring out how best to construct it.  

There are a lot of similar dress patterns on the market, but I wanted to work with the patterns I had on hand. I used New Look 6460 and grafted on the large cut-on sleeves from the jacket in New Look 6217. I cut the front as two pieces, making it easier to do the v-neck and the front slit. It did make for some work matching the front. I used lots of pins and the chevron pattern still isn't quite perfect. 

It also took some thought to figure out how to line it. I ended up doing lots of understitching to keep the lining out of sight, which is a bit tricky in a knit. The neckline also has elastic to prevent it from stretching out. Also, there are boob cups. I put them in pretty much everything now and it really solves the issue of finding the right undergarments. 

I'd only had it finished for about a week and had already managed to wear it twice: once on New Year's Eve and again that weekend to my friend's bachelorette. It's comfortable and special at the same time. And I still have a little bit left, so we'll see what becomes of it. 

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