Polar vortex antidote

We had a bit of a teaser with 70 degree days in February, but winter wasn’t going to be usurped so easily, and it returned in full force earlier this month. The theme for this year seems to be that there will be a polar vortex whenever I have theater tickets. The first instance occurred in December, at which point I decided to invest in a long, heavy skirt that I could wear with tights and boots, which would keep me warm and still be appropriate for the theater. I chose the Burda 105 pattern, and a velvet fabric I picked up at Mood Fabrics in NYC (a gift from my husband). My second polar vortex encounter occurred at the beginning of the month, which strengthened my resolve to get this skirt done.

The velvet turned out to be heavy, slithery, and unstable—but so beautiful! Every seam of this skirt was arduous. Instead of chronicling the whole process, I’ll share one of the more brain-teasing aspects of it—putting in the invisible zipper. Here I’ve hand-basted the zipper line:


However, the velvet was far too unstable to support a zipper. I stitched twill tape to the zipper seam allowance to stabilize it:


I then opened and stitched the invisible zipper to one side of the skirt back:


At this stage, most tutorials instruct you to keep the zipper open, and pin the other side of the zipper to the opposite side of the back. Here’s how it looks:


I then tried to close the zipper, and realized I’d gotten it twisted:


I attempted it again, with the same result. I decided to march to the beat of my own drummer, and pin the zipper in the closed position. Here it is aligned to the zipper line, and then pinned in place:

The key to pinning is to insert the pin as far away from the zipper teeth as possible in the zipper tape, while still being able to bring the tip of the pin up through the same zipper tape. This makes it possible to open the zipper after it has been pinned in place. I just move the pin head away from the fabric as far as possible, and slide the zipper pull behind it. Sometimes the pins can also rotate to be nearly parallel to the zipper teeth.


I then stitched the second side of the zipper—here it is all closed up and invisible:


Here’s the almost-complete skirt:

I have to attach a hook and eye to the waistband, and hem the lower edge. Marking the hem took forever, because the bottom of the skirt is cut like a circle skirt, which means it stretched on the bias. The hem line is currently marked with a line of basting (hard to see in these pictures). I’m still debating the best way to hem it. I’m considering following advice from Threads Magazine to hand-stitch a strip of bias fabric at the hem line, turn up the raw edge of the skirt, and catch-stitch to the bias fabric. This will be hours of hand sewing, as the bottom circumference is quite large (due to it being a circle skirt), but the stability might be worth it in the end. Hopefully by next week this skirt will be ready to make its debut.


The proof of the garment…

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating;” or in my case, the proof of the garment is in the wearing (in neither case is the proof in the pudding, which many would have you believe). I seized the one semi-warm day last week to try wearing my Vogue 8781 high-waisted skirt out and about. Since winter has made a reappearance around here, I wore the skirt with black knit tights and my Burda blazer. It also prompted a coworker (who’s not very aware of fashion) to ask if I was dressed for a special event– which means that I really need to get going on making (and wearing) a more professional wardrobe. Here it is with a different sweater on top.


The proof of the skirt was to see whether it would cling to my tights. I line almost all of my garments, but had skipped this step a) because the pattern didn’t call for it, and b) mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to draft a lining that would attach to the facing, and didn’t want to use the lining in lieu of the facing (since the facing seemed to magically improve the shape of the waist line). I had asked my mom whether the skirt was likely to cling to tights/ nylons, and if I should figure out a way to line it. My mom is staunchly in the anti-lining camp, and assured me the skirt would be fine as it was a fairly thick, stiff fabric. It clung. Within a few steps it was hiked up to mid-thigh and firmly entangled around my legs. I decided to line it.

I used a cream-colored poly lining fabric left over from my Garden Party Dress. I cut out the skirt front and backs (using only pattern weights to hold the pattern pieces down), transferred the dart markings with a tracing wheel and wax paper, and stitched up the darts, side seams, and center back seam. I pushed myself to work quickly (pretending I was on the Great British Sewing Bee, which sadly may be canceled this year), and finished this in about an hour. I then flipped the facing up, shoved the lining in there, and stitched in the ditch of the skirt-facing seam to secure the lining in place. I used a black spool thread and white bobbin thread—you can see that the tension isn’t quite right, but it’ll do to keep the lining in place. Fortunately this seam doesn’t show on the outside.

I then turned under and stitched the lining’s center back seam allowance to the zipper tape at the upper edge, and at the lower edge stitched it to the slit hem. I also stitched the lining hem to the skirt hem (the latter with help from my mom—I think this is partly why she’s anti-lining, since I usually recruit her to help with the hemming!).


I tried the skirt on with the tights again, and it skimmed right over the them without any clinging whatsoever. Part I of my professional wardrobe is ready to go! Next is contemplating a good color for the coordinating blazer included in the V8781 pattern. Post in the comments if you have any suggestions for a blazer color/ print to go with this black pencil skirt.

Meanwhile, I’ve been making good (but slow) progress on my Burda velvet skirt, and will have lots of pictures to share next week. Til then!

Mid-winter knitting and sewing

I’m very excited about my next knitting design for the year, for which I’m thrilled and honored to be collaborating once again with A Hundred Ravens yarns. I’m using this beautiful fingering weight yarn, Llyr (a plied wool/ silk blend), in colorway “Rose Tyler.”


It is lovely to knit with, and the colors produce a gorgeous, subtle shading. (My Peony Shrug seems to have gotten me hooked on pink, after not wearing it for years). This design will be published by a 3rd-party publisher, so I can’t share any more details until it’s in print. But it will feature lots of lace, in many forms.

I’ve continued my diligent efforts to use up stash fabrics (my efforts not to add to stash have been less diligent). This skirt is from an out-of-print Vogue pattern, 8781, which I loved enough to purchase via Etsy (the seller—chajucreations– was kind enough to include a small crocheted doily in the package!).


I purchased this fabric when Grey’s Fabric went out of business (before being reincarnated as Mercer’s Fabric). I had just under 1 yard of this 60” wide cotton/ spandex stretch gabardine-like remnant. I was able to fit the skirt front and back pieces, but did not plan my layout well and didn’t have enough for the waistband facing. Fortunately, I had a bit of stretch satin left over from a previous project to use as the facing. I was highly skeptical of the skirt before attaching the facings, but the facings were magic, and the shape of the waist dramatically improved once they were sewn on. I’m glad I went with the facings, rather than trying to turn under the waist seam allowance and stitch it down with a grosgrain ribbon.

Holidays always seem to sidetrack my crafting plans, usually because I embark on last-minute gifts for loved ones. But my birthday in January had the same effect, since my mom gifted me two lovely cuts of fabric. I couldn’t resist turning this cotton flannel into my tried-and-true pyjamas from McCall’s 4320. The pyjamas are meant to complement the set I made my husband for Christmas. Here we are in our new PJs!


My next epic project is this Burda godet skirt.


(c) BurdaStyle

I was good and made a muslin of the top half to check waist and hip fitting, which revealed that I needed to take about 2” out of the waist circumference. Since this skirt has 4 seams (2 side seams, a center front, and a center back zipper), I simply curved each seam line ¼” inwards. I obtained a stretch lining fabric from Mercer’s Fabric during their Valentine’s day sale, and decided to make a partial lining (and not extend it all the way down to the flowy part of the skirt). Here’s the lining, a bit wrinkly, but otherwise fitting well.


I’m using a beautiful, but slinky, burnout velvet, grey with purple undertones undertones (gifted by my husband when we visited Mood Fabrics in NYC in December). Whereas cutting the muslin took less than an hour, cutting and marking the velvet ended up being a day-long production. All the tips I read online recommended:

  1. Cutting out in a single layer of fabric.
  2. Using a rotary cutter and pattern weights to hold the pattern pieces down.
  3. Not using a tracing wheel to mark up the fabric.
  4. Hand-basting everything before sewing on the machine.

I obeyed all of these guidelines, and immediately saw why they were necessary. The fabric is so slinky that two layers will never stay put, and even slipping a scissor blade underneath will distort the fabric. I did manage to pin the pattern successfully to a single layer of fabric. For transferring pattern markings, I folded back the tissue paper along the mark, and used chalk to draw a line (or dots) adjacent to the fold. I then thread basted. I’ve hand-basted the darts, visible here from the wrong side and right side.

The proof of the pudding will be when I put it on the machine. If all goes well, I’ll have a finished skirt to show off next week!



Welt pockets, take 2

Holidays always put a wrench in my best thought-out sewing plans, and Valentine’s day was no exception. While in the fabric store searching for a pink lace fabric (more on that in a later post), I came across wool suiting remnants for $2.99/ yard. Thinking that I know a deal when I see one, I picked up a 3.25 yard piece, with the intent to make my husband a pair of pants for Valentine’s day with one week to spare. Here’s the fabric— it’s actually navy blue (as is evident in subsequent pictures), but showed up grey under the flash:


After the Vogue 8890 fiasco, I chose the Burda Jochen pant, which I had purchased some time ago (together with their sew-along class when it was on sale, since I’d been sufficiently traumatized by Vogue 8890).

Red flag #1— I got home and promptly washed the fabric by hand in cold water (after basting a 4×4” square in one corner, to monitor shrinkage). The fabric lacked the characteristic sheepy smell of wool. Even my wool blends smell sheepier than this did. The fabric submerged quickly (unlike wool), and when I pulled it out, it went drip-drip-drip like an umbrella. I concluded the fabric was polyester, but I proceeded undeterred.

Red flag #2— the smallest size for the pant pattern was for a 30.75” waist. My husband is closer to 28”. I took out 1” by shifting the dart legs over by 1/8” plus tapering the side seam at the waist by 1/8”. That would bring me to 29.75”. However, I had no idea if the pattern was drafted correctly, nor how much ease there should be at the waist (2” is standard for women, I have no idea for men).

On to the topic for the day, I started off making the welt pockets. The sew-along instructions don’t always follow the written directions, and I decided that the written directions made more sense in this case. As far as welt pockets go, these are conceptually more straightforward (though perhaps less elegant/ clever) than many others (certainly more so than Vogue 8890). This is not meant to be a comprehensive tutorial on making welt pockets (there are many available online), but my goal is to show some highlights and/ or things that caught be by surprise even after reading tutorials.

I thread-traced the pocket markings. This was important because there later came times when it was necessary to see the marks from both sides of the fabric. The center horizontal line, along with the two Y-shaped ends, is the cut line. The upper and lower long edges are where the welts will be sewn. The short sides are largely irrelevant.


I interfaced the back of the pocket on the pant piece. I used a woven fusible shirt-weight interfacing throughout. This was nice and stable, and I think was the key to success.


Because I don’t have x-ray vision, I stuck pins through the pocket markings on the right side, then drew the markings between pins on the WS. In retrospect, it would have been easier to transfer them with tracing paper and a tracing wheel.


I cut and interfaced the welt pieces (called “piping” in the directions), folded in half lengthwise (WRONG sides together), and basted very close to the long raw edges.piping1047

I pinned one welt to each top and bottom pocket marking line. The key here is to have the raw edges of the welt pieces meet in the center. Here’s the top welt pinned in place.


I stitched along the pocket stitching line from the WS (since I don’t have x-ray vision to see through the welt piece to the stitch line underneath). Here are the two welt pieces stitched in place on the right side. The key here is to start and stop each stitching line right at the corner of each stitching line.


By pushing the welts apart, I could see the cut lines underneath.


I cut along these lines,


folded in the overhanging welt bits


and shoved the welt pieces to the inside:. Here they are before pressing:

Here is a triangle generated by the Y-shaped cuts, and shoved to the inside:


I stitched this triangle to the overhanging welt bits, in the orientation shown above.

Here are the welts looking tidy after a good pressing. There’s a little pucker in the upper left corner, where I overshot the corner of the welt stitching line by one stitch. I undid that stitch later, and eliminated the pucker.


Next up, the pocket lining was attached to the welt. The lining was first aligned to the lower welt upside down


and the lower welt stitched in the ditch from the RS. I placed several pins like this to make the ditch more easily visible/ accessible:


Then the lining was turned down over the stitching line.


At this point, Burda did the sensible thing and instructed you to sew a buttonhole through the pant piece and pocket lining, right below the end of the dart tip.

The pocket bag was then overlayed on top of the pocket lining from the wrong side, and the pocket lining and pocket edges were stitched together, catching the welt overhangs and triangle in the stitching. Here’s the pocket from the wrong side in the finished pant:


and here’s the bit where the triangle was stitched to the welt overhangs and then to the pocket.


And here’s the finished pant, not yet pressed


After finishing the whole thing (other skills required are inserting a fly front zipper, and side slant pockets), the pant was about 2-3” too large all around. I managed to take about 1.5” out of the center back seam, the only place I could make adjustments after the waistband was attached. Because the fabric was not a true wool suiting, it has stretched a bit all around over the course of many fittings.

Overall, though, the construction and fit is much better than for the Vogue 8890 pattern, and I plan to try again with the remaining fabric, this time reducing the width of the front pieces as well. My husband is looking forward to wearing the pants this week.

Blazer rehabilitation

The last of my January TBD (To Be Done) pile was completed today— the infamous blazer. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn’t take any pictures before the alterations, but here’s the finished result (shown with the skirt I altered earlier in an effort to clear the TBD pile):


And here it is after giving the sleeves a good press:


Here’s what I did to rehabilitate this blazer:

  1. Unpicked and restitched the sleeve caps. One sleeve required multiple attempts. The secret to that one was pinning and then hand-sewing directly on the seam line.

  2. I undid the attachment of the sleeve hem to the lining, and restitched it. I used a stitch that the Colette Guide to Sewing Hems calls a “slip stitch.” Basically it makes tiny stitches anchoring the lining to the fabric, with large intervals between stitches where the thread travels through the folded edge of the lining.

  3. I undid the lining attachment to the bottom hem. This one had me stumped for a while, because it results in a quarter to half inch being left raw on the side of the facing (potential raw edge indicated with arrow– the bottom edge of the facing really is flush with the bottom of the jacket!):


I couldn’t find any tutorials that addressed the issue, even in a Craftsy class on blazer-making. Finally I found this tutorial from  Threads Magazine, which instructs you to slip-stitch the raw edge closed (which would have been my default option in the absence of any better solutions).

I slip-stitched the lining in the same way as for the sleeves. Here’s how the pleat looks when pushed up.


And when folded down:


In knitting news, I revisited an epic stole project that I began last year. It’s in a beautiful cobweb silk yarn. I’m about 1/8 of the way through, hopefully it doesn’t take me 8 years to finish it!


I think I’ll finally move on next week to starting a shiny new project with tempting new yarn and/ or fabric, of which I have plenty.

1960s color-blocked top

My favorite TV show of last year (in fact, the only show I watched at all), was The Great British Sewing Bee, and I was overjoyed when my husband gave me the associated book, “From Stitch to Style,” for our anniversary. Last week I began by tracing off two patterns from the book, and noticed some issues with the pattern pieces. I forged ahead this week with the “1960s color-blocked top,” a tank-top version of the famous Yves St. Laurent Mondrian Dress. Without further ado, here it is:


This pattern is a great stash buster, and the fabrics I used may be familiar from earlier posts. The brown is a hemp-backed silk that I used to make a neck-tie for my husband. The tiger print is a very slippery polyester charmeuse that I used to make a bias-cut wrap top. I used up nearly every last inch of the brown fabric (the back of the tank is entirely in the brown fabric), and almost all of the tiger print.

The pattern itself is well-drafted. The pieces fit together, and it comes out to the advertised size and shape. The pattern markings and instructions, however, leave a bit to be desired. Perhaps to be more fair, there is a discrepancy between the stated goal of the book (to guide sewists of all skill levels, particularly beginners, through the process of making the pieces seen on TV), and the level of detail and accuracy provided by the pattern pieces and instructions. I have no issues with patterns like Burda’s, which don’t purport to teach sewing from scratch, nor Marfy’s, which are explicitly for advanced sewists and don’t come with instructions at all. The issues I had with this pattern are:

  1. The neckline is supposed to have a 3/8″ seam allowance, but this is marked on only 2 of 3 pieces that comprise the neckline, and not marked on the facing pieces at all. The instructions don’t tell you to sew with a 3/8″ allowance at this stage (other patterns in the book with 3/8″ allowances do include this instruction).
  1. The position of the zipper stop is about 1.5″ short. The pattern calls for a 10″ zipper, but the notch marked for the zipper stop is only 9″ from the top edge (the instructions call for placing the top of the zipper 5/8″ from the top edge). There are no instructions for shortening the zipper.
  1. Many notches don’t have partners. It became clear that some notches on the horizontal brown stripe were meant to align with the edges of the vertical brown stripes. The instructions only call for “aligning notches,” with no explanation of the partner-less notches.
  1. Because the darts are in the front pieces, the horizontal brown stripe must be eased to fit the lower bodice. The instructions don’t indicate this, and I can see a beginner being thrown off because the seamline of one piece is longer than that of the piece it’s being sewn to.

Nevertheless, because the pattern was well-drafted, and I’ve sewn tanks before, it was fairly clear what was supposed to happen, and I plowed ahead. I spent a long time on the facing, using my own method to attach it. I first finished the edges of the facing pieces, so they look like this:

Someone at sewing club was intrigued once by this finishing technique, so I’ll describe my process here:

  1. Cut all facing and interfacing pieces as indicated.
  2. Lay the NON-GLUEY side of the interfacing on top of the RIGHT side of the facing. This is the opposite of the way you’d align them to glue them together.
  3. Stitch the edges that will not be seamed to each other with a ¼” allowance (these are usually the un-notched edges).
  4. Trim the seam allowance, and turn so that the gluey side of the interfacing is against the wrong side of the facing. This may take a bit of effort if the edges are curvy; clip the seam allowance as needed to make a neat turn.
  5. Fuse the interfacing to the facing, and proceed as usual. No floofy bits coming off the interfacing, nor stray threads coming out of the facing fabric!

Because my two fabrics frayed like crazy, I finished the seams with pinking shears. The front section had far too many seams to do mock-French seams, which is my favorite finishing technique. Well, I suppose someone with more time/ effort/ motivation could have managed it, but it wasn’t happening at my end this week!

If I were to make this again, and I might, I would take in the side seams a bit under the armhole, tapering to nothing at the waist. I would also take a bit of fabric out of the upper back area. Overall, this is a well-drafted pattern, with unfortunately inadequate instructions.

In addition to making use of my stashed fabric, I’ve made progress on my TBD pile. I unpicked the lining and armhole seam of a blazer, and reset the sleeve at sewing club. I pulled it off with only the tiniest ripple remaining. I’ll try once more to steam it out, or unpick and resew, but I may have to come to terms with it. I’ll tackle the other sleeve at sewing club this week. It’s much easier to do it with friends around!

On the knitting front, I received Barbara Walker’s 4th volume of stitch patterns for my birthday, completing the set. I will be experimenting with some of those soon, and I’m hoping to find inspiration there for a sweater-quantity of grey worsted-weight wool yarn I purchased on sale before the holidays. Hoping to have pictures of the outcomes next week.


Mittens and upcoming sewing projects

After the whirlwind of productivity and the excitement of a new pattern release last week, this past week was much more calm. The good news is that my alterations to the tunic for my mom worked for her, and I was able to present her with a fully finished piece, ready to wear. Unfortunately, I don’t have a modeled picture. Wrapping up my Christmas gifts so early in January is a bit of a record for me. I think last year’s Christmas gift for my husband wasn’t completed til late spring!

Now that the TBD pile is resolved, I’m making a concerted effort to decrease my yarn and fabric stash. I’ve had this skein of yarn since last March, earmarked for mittens. The yarn is basically an enormous strand of roving, definitely not my cup of tea. It is labeled “100% super soft wool,” for what that’s worth (my first time seeing a subjective descriptor in the fiber content info).

In any case, the only use of this yarn to me was in the form of mittens, and I found the perfect pattern during the Ravelry-hosted Indie Design Gift-Along in December. Daisy Bulky Mittens, by Triona Murphy, turned out to be the perfect thing for this yarn. I had to adjust the cuff pattern a bit because my stitch gauge was a tad looser than called for, and I started with fewer stitches to compensate. However, the adjustment was quite straightforward to make. I had to adjust again for the top of the mitten, which again was straightforward working in stockinette stitch. Each mitten took at most 2.5 hours. Even though I was less-than-excited about the yarn, I was thrilled with the instant gratification the yarn/ pattern combo provided. Here are the mittens.

In keeping with my stash-reduction efforts, I’ve decided to embark on two projects to use leftover fabrics. Both projects are from the 2016 Great British Sewing Bee book “From Stitch to Style.” The first is a “Chinese-inspired Top,” which is a Qipao-style tank top with a mandarin collar and diagonal opening across one shoulder. The opening closes with an invisible zipper, but is embellished with decorative frog closures. I have quite a bit of leftover brocade from my earlier bomber jacket adventure (I’d purchased enough fabric to make the entire jacket in brocade, but then made the sleeves and trim in a plain satin). The second project is a “1960s color-blocked top,” based on the Yves St. Laurent Mondrian Dress. I’ll be using a brown hemp-backed satin that made an appearance in a tie for my husband, and a tiger-print charmeuse that was used for a wrap top. Ideally the back will be solid brown and the front window-pane panels will be tiger-print (separated by brown stripes), but I haven’t laid out the pattern pieces to make sure I have enough of each fabric. If not, I can change how I color block the piece, and facings can be a different fabric altogether if needed.

This week I only got so far as tracing the patterns. The patterns are printed in color in an overlapping fashion, which I suppose is a necessary evil when you’re trying to provide as many patterns as this book does. The book implies that it’s a great starting point for beginners, but I have to say that some knowledge of how sewing patterns are drafted goes a long way in tracing off the convoluted map of patterns on the printed sheets. I suppose that such knowledge is not essential, but it definitely made things easier.

Secondly, I thought the labeling was a bit inadequate. There are often rows of notches, with no indication of which notch corresponds to which size.

Otherwise the patterns appear straightforward, with the expected elements (darts, zippers etc.) in the expected places. Overall I think the patterns are not tricky, and the book gives good instructions in what they call “Core Skills,” such as inserting a zipper or sewing a hem. I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for learning to sew.

My plan is to make a muslin for the Chinese-inspired top, since the fit through the neck and shoulders needs to be precise for the design to work. When it comes to the color-blocked top, however, i’ll throw caution to the wind and go for it. The color-blocking introduces enough seams hat any adjustments can be made after the fact. And I’ll also make a muslin of the skirt pattern that’s intended for the lovely grey velvet I posted about last week. Hoping that at least one of these is finished by next time!