Monthly Archives: July 2012

Some Thoughts on Costumes

Today I took a pair of scissors to an old t-shirt with the idea of turning it into a dirndl-y sort of bodice with ribbons up the front. I cut off the hem, the sleeves, and cut out a square neckline, then looked at it and thought “This won’t look the way I want it to and will probably fall apart–why not just wait until I make a quality one?” And then I didn’t go any farther. I think this is the beginning of a victory over shoddy and unsatisfying costume pieces. Hurrah!

Here are some pictures of a costume that has inspired me since I was six years old: Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations of Snow White.

Snow White

I think I might try to replicate it. It looks like a fairly simple dress, with maybe a crimson shift underneath. Aprons are easy, the belt might be harder . . . I did try to make the belt when I was younger but the leather was too soft and scrunched up around my waist.

The evil queen has a pretty awesome dress too, which I can maybe aspire to sewing when I have a better grasp of princess seams. I can only imagine sewing it in a knit fabric, and that feels like cheating. It should probably be velvet or satin-y, to be honest.

Oh, to be reunited with my sewing machine! In the meantime, I suppose I can scour the internet for suitable patterns for the Snow White dress (or I could just wing it like I usually do). Any pattern suggestions?

Almost a Violet, or, The Tale of the Unremarkable Sundress

Well, this weekend was the last one with my beloved sewing machine until September! I’m off to go work on a lavender farm for a month, and then I’m rushing about thither and yon and though I will have a few days at home at some point, I’d better be packing, not sewing. Anyway, I’m out of fabric! I will update occasionally with outfits, probably, and I’m going to be making a Stripe Study Shawl, which will hopefully be finished by the time it’s cold enough to wear a shawl and academic enough to study (i.e., finals). Can I finish a shawl before December? We’ll see.

Anyway, my last sewing weekend this summer. I spent most of it making a blouse, which is almost but not exactly a Colette Violet. By which I mean that I had the pattern booklet, kindly loaned me by my mother/Shannon, and, actually the pattern pieces as well, but I didn’t really feel like ironing the paper and tracing them out onto paper bags and then having to fold the paper back up, so I made up my own.

blouse

The booklet kindly advised me to “Measure twice, cut once” and Mother is always telling me to do a paper fitting, so I tried, I really did. But it’s no easy feat to fit patterns to your own back, especially when they’re made out of paper bags instead of tissue, so after a while I just gave up and decided to fit the fabric instead of the paper. I’m afraid I forgot to take into account what bust darts would do to the grain of the fabric, so it wrinkles in sort of a weird way under the bust.

blouse

Also, the collar is asymmetrical, despite my careful pinning. Oops. I’m still not sure how upset I am about that. I do like the sleeves though–I’d never made up my own sleeves before and it was surprisingly easy! And I did all seven buttonholes by hand–I’ve done all my buttonholes by hand and I really dislike it but somehow I keep making things with buttons. My shipment of 62 vintage zippers arrived though, so maybe I’ll avoid buttonholes for a while.

blouse back

Here is a picture of the back of the blouse. The fabric is cute, but it photographs absolutely terribly because it’s so busy. It hides darts pretty well though, which is nice. The collar was all wavy, probably because I didn’t use staystitch like the booklet said to do, so I darted it in a couple of places to make it lie flat.

It’s definitely not a perfect blouse. I learned an important thing making it: the people who make and sell patterns have years of experience, which is why they can make a living selling patterns, and I could learn a thing or two by actually following the instructions. I could probably make another of these blouses without a pattern now, but it would have turned out better if I had used one here, especially since I actually had one to hand. Oh well.

Next up–a high-waisted skirt in a mint green or pink to match this blouse that I have created.

Oh, but wait. I wouldn’t take two days to only sew one thing, would I? How silly! And I still had a piece of fabric!

Which is where the unremarkable sundress comes in.

sundress

There’s not that much to say about it. It’s been really hot the last few days, and I have a tendency to melt in weather above 75 degrees, so I wanted another low-effort sundress. I patterned it off of a green one that I frequently wear to ceilis, thinking hey, I could use another ceili dress too. Of course the green dress is made from drapey rayon and this dress is made from quilting cotton, so all the boringness of the pattern came through. It’s pretty much what I expected so I’m not all that disappointed. I think it’ll soften up with a few washes, and the fabric is pretty. I doubt I’ll be wearing it ceili-ing any time soon, as its stiffness sort of accentuates how short the hemline is (also what a terrible job I did hemming it straight…ugh), but it is actually pleasantly crisp in hot weather.

I am leaving on the train in a few hours and should go finish packing. I hope to see some spectacular outfits on the train that I can photograph, but I’m not counting on it.

I made a dress!

I think I have become a compulsive sewer.

It being the 4th of July, I had the day off, and yesterday I was so excited about it that I decided I would make a dress! I had a few yards of light brown sprigged quilting cotton, and it seemed the perfect stuff for a vintage-inspired summer dress, something with a fitted bodice and a full skirt. So I sat down to make one, because why not, really?

My dad bought me 62 vintage zippers on eBay, but they probably won’t arrive before next weekend, so I had to come up with a fitted bodice that didn’t have any zippers. Luckily for me (I thought), I have a lovely blue dress that not only buttons in the front, but also doesn’t have any darts, so I would just take a pattern off that–no adjustment required, since it fits me perfectly, etc. etc.

dresses on the line

(Sad side note about the blue dress: I’ve had it for a couple years and never washed it, and decided it was high time it was washed. I handwashed, but it still bled blue and red and purple all over the place and it is looking a bit faded and blotchy in spots. Not in a super noticeable way, but how do you wash things like that that bleed like mad?)

Of course the reason it doesn’t have any darts yet still fits perfectly is because it has armscye princess seams. I blithely traced it onto brown paper, cut out the pieces, and prepared to sew them . . . and then realized the edges of the pieces were curved. In opposite directions. I have no idea how it took me so long to realize that this might be problematic or confusing, but by the time I had noticed it was far too late to go back, and I definitely had no better plan, so I forged on ahead, found some video tutorials, and sewed the dress.

dress

dress back

It was a learning experience, for sure. I had no way of knowing how much seam allowance I would need, and tried using washable markers to denote where my pieces should match up, but in the end I was more preoccupied just trying to keep the pieces matching up at all while I curved them in directions none of them wanted to go, so the bodice didn’t fit perfectly. The dress being sleeveless, the armholes pooched out in unfortunate, boxy ways. In the end I ditched my armhole interfacing and added darts–even though it seemed silly to have darts and princess seams at the same time.

The internet cautioned me against french seams on armscye princess seams, but I don’t have a serger or zigzag or anything of that ilk, so I tried to finish my seams by turning them under and sewing along the edges, adding some decorative topstitching while I was at it. I can’t say that it worked splendidly, I’m afraid, but luckily no one is looking at the inside of my bodice and I can just handwash the dress from now on.

I stayed up until 2 AM sewing and finished the skirt this morning. I had to teach myself how to make a placket!

I cannibalized buttons from a cardigan that I’ve never worn and wouldn’t wear buttoned anyway…

buttons

…And a hook-and-eye from a blue cut-up evening-gown that I subsequently decided didn’t fit very well anyway and deprived of its zipper as well.

I also made a sash, not because it’s at all helpful or necessary but mostly because I still have lots of fabric and I like sashes. It’s good practice for sewing long, straight seams, anyway.

dress with sash

Yay! Overall I’m really pleased–it’s not perfect, by any means, and it definitely falls short of my imagination, but on the other hand it is way better than what I expected last night at 1 AM. It is something I will wear, and happily, and the next thing I make will be even better! I am not giving up on this bodice pattern, either; it’s lying scattered around my floor with scraps of fabric at the moment but sometime I might play around with the neckline and figuring out how to work with seam allowance.

skirt: an experiment

I made this:

skirt front

Totally patternless, no less. And I probably used about twice as much fabric to do so as was actually necessary.

My original plan was to make a pinafore dress–an empire-waisted, a-line skirt with criss-crossing straps and lots of buttons, mostly decorative. It would be really simple, not use too much fabric, and would mostly be practice in making seams, something I’m pretty bad at. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have to take a bodice into account.

So I cut out five skirt panels from my fabric, only part of the way through I got really concerned about whether I had enough fabric and started paying more attention to conserving fabric and less to how the skirt was actually going to look. In the end I succeeded in doing neither, because what I ended up with was three panels cut on the right side of the fabric, and the other two backwards. Eventually I sorted it out, by shortening the panels and disregarding the actual grain of the fabric, but when four panels were sewn together and I tried on what I had created, it didn’t fit very well and the entire project was just getting more and more complicated. I didn’t even want a pinafore dress, I was only making it because it seemed simple.

And so I thought, why make an ill-fitting dress suitable only for children under twelve, when you can make a tasteful, high-waisted skirt instead and with less trouble?

So that is what I did. I used the last piece of fabric to make a sixth panel, and voila! A skirt!

skirt side

I kept the sash, because I had already cut it out and I needed a waistband. I think it adds a nice detail and it is good to be able to cinch up the waist a little bit, but even as I was making it I was aware that the sash I was envisioning was not made of quilting cotton, but maybe of some material that gathers and drapes. Hopefully, though, this fabric will have an opportunity to soften up, because I will be able to wash this one with impunity!

Which brings us to the highlight of the skirt–French seams!

french seam

I’m really proud of them. You can see from the picture at the top that the first one didn’t turn out ideally–there is a thin line of unfinished edge showing in one of the seams, but I refuse to let that bother me.

I also kept the button fastening from the original dress design, mostly because I didn’t have any zippers, but buttons are cute so that’s all right.

buttons

The closure was kind of tricky and is less than perfect and probably not the most durable thing ever, but it’s almost my favorite part, if you don’t look too closely at it.

Now that I have purchased an iron, I have no excuse not to sew things and I am already trying to figure out what my next project will be. Though I am somewhat limited by lack of skill and having only one pattern (well, two, but one needs all sort of fitting work first), I am sure I will come up with something, and if I don’t come up with anything soon I will maybe make myself curtains with beautiful seams.