August 27, 2017

An actual bikini!

So, I ended up waiting for pictures again. And last week I ended up being very busy. In fact, I already know the coming month will be a very busy one. I will still try to keep up the blogging but I don't expect I will be able to do more than one post a week. 
At least I now have pictures from two more things I made during the summer holiday from my teaching job.

In the swimsuit post, I told you I was inspired to try and make more swimwear, in different styles. And that I had to wait for new swimwear elastic to be delivered. This is what I made once I got my hands on that elastic. A bikini!

My sister bought this fabric, lycra with a print of reeds or leaves of grass on a background which is a gradient from black to white via turquoise, years ago. A year or so later, she gave it to me. The colours suit me, so I thought it would be nice to put it to good use now.

I used the darker parts of the gradient for the bottom and the lighter ones for the top. I didn't pay to much attention to the placement of the, very random, print. Maybe I could have made the cups look better if I had, but I'm not so sure about that.

For the bottoms, I used the same low-leg cut as one the swimsuit. I picked a nice height for the top by playing around with the top edge of high waisted underwear I had made before. Which didn't turn out well. I was too low and I cut off the top edge elastic and put on a wide-ish band of the fabric instead.

For the top, I used my tried-and-tested bra pattern with the horizontally seamed cup. This works as a strapless bra but here I added halter straps (which are not very supportive but they don't have to be). 

I made things more difficult for myself by using an alternative method to apply the elastic at the edges. For this, you sew the elastic to the edge on the inside and then under stitch only through lining and elastic. The good thing about this is that you avoid extra stitching on the outside of the garment. The downside is that it is fiddly, takes more careful planning and handling and even with that, it can still go horribly wrong if the amounts of stretch of fashion fabric and lining are too different. In this case, the lining had a lot more vertical stretch which caused all sorts of problems with the bottoms. Fortunately, I could fix those when I had to cut off the top edge anyway. To avoid more drama, I stitched the elastic on the top edge of the wings of the top in the normal way.

So, now I have a bikini! With a foam cupped top no less. I may still make another set of swimwear: the most practical one, a bikini which would work well under a wetsuit. In fact, I already tried to make bottoms for those but in that case, I had issues with a not sufficiently stretchy lining and I haven't tried again yet.

P.S. There's just nothing like trying to show off a bikini in pictures to make you feel REALY self-conscious! ;)

August 16, 2017

a nice little skirt

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous... Well, not really. Just from fabulous to very simple fabric, from quirky chique to casual and from simple but precise tailoring to an easy fit created with unusual cutting.
This was the last item from my piled-up photoshoot. You can kind of tell from the pictures. I didn't really take it serious anymore, which is probably a good thing. 
After finishing the African wax print dress, I decided to make something from a left-over bit of black twill (I think I used it for jackets for E before). It was just a small piece so the only options were a shortish skirt or maybe shorts. I chose a skirt.

Of course, a casual little skirt needs pockets. And this fabric is very jeans-like and I know from experience that the colour fades quite a bit after washing. I wanted a design which would suit the material... 

After a bit of sketching, I came up with a this pattern, built up from curved panels. It's a short skirt (for me), a bit of an A-line, with pockets, a faced waistline and a center back zipper (it's a bit wrinkly because I had been wearing it for a while).

For the past few years, most of my skirts were either at least half-circle or narrow and past the knee. All very pretty and feminine but not great for every occasion. I still love those skirts but I guess doing more sports is starting to influence my style a little bit. I could not have made a longer skirt from this piece of fabric but I also think I needed a casual little skirt like this in my wardrobe.

August 13, 2017

Clean lines and twisting vines

After the bit of fun I showed you in the previous post, I went on with making a proper dress. In fact, you have already seen a bit of it: This is the dress which has the invisible zipper and the facing...

Early this year, I bought some fabric in a gorgeous African wax print. This one: 

Twisting orange vines, outlined in black, on a blue background. A great print and colours which actually suit me (I love African wax prints but usually, the colours are much to intense for my pale skin and hair).
The print is pretty big and runs along the width of the fabric. So, I quickly decided I would have to cut whatever I was going to make, on the crossgrain. But unlike with the other wax print I used before, this one could be a dress on its own (because those colours could work for me). 
At first, I was thinking about a simple skirt. Then, a dress with a full skirt. But when I was really getting serious about cutting into this lovely fabric, I realized it would probably work best as a very simple sheath dress. 

Oddly enough, I have never made one of those before. I always felt I somehow didn't have the right kind of curves for the style. Now, I just decided to give it a go.
I drafted the pattern based on my normal sloper and sewed up a muslin. One with a zipper, so I could have a good look at the all-over fit.
When I tried that on, it was clearly too large. My normal sloper has a certain amount of ease added to it which works really well for a lot of garments. Not for this kind of dress though. I took out about 1 to 1.5 cm at the side seams.

I ended up with a pattern with vertical waist darts, two at the back, one at the front (on pattern pieces, so the dress has double that amount), a center back seam with the zipper in it, bust darts from the side seam, fairly wide but high neckline, slightly narrowed shoulders (compared to a sloper which was made to have sleeves added to it) and a back vent (which doesn't look right in these pictures but that is because I was sitting before and E doesn't notice "details" like that...).

I normally only do very close fits on strapless dresses but for this style, it seemed like the only way to go (the first muslin just looked frumpy).

I took great care with cutting the pieces from the fabric. I wanted the centers of the clusters of vines along center front and center back. This meant I could not cut in the most economical way. Especially getting part of the back seam to match up was a bit of challenge.

When I first tried it on, I was very happy with my decision to go for darts rather than princess seams or anything like that. Yes, the darts interrupt the print but somehow that hardly attracts any attention. And that big print is just SO lovely...

I finished the neckline and armholes with an all-in-one facing in simple black cotton. The treatment of the bottom of the dress is a bit different. Normally, I would hem, often by hand to make the stitches invisible. In this case I didn't. When fabrics like this one are put to use by African ladies, the selvedge is often left on display, usually at the hemline. I kind of like the way that looks here and decided to do the same.

Because African wax print fabric is nearly always sold in pieces of 6 yards (yes yards. We always use metric here in the Netherlands but this fabric is sold in yards) I still have quite a bit left so I'm sure I will use it again.

August 11, 2017

Cheap frills

As I mentioned before, making a swimsuit I like made me want to try out more swimwear ideas. However, I had used up almost all my swimwear elastic on said swimsuit. I only had two odd little pieces left over. So, I had to order more and wait for it to arrive. Of course I also had other ideas but one lazy weekend afternoon (after a climbing session in the morning), I didn't feel like working on anything complicated or serious. 
Instead, I started digging through my stash until I came across a piece of fabric which had been there for years. Transparant black viscose/rayon and just about a meter of it. What was past me thinking? It would be a good material for a loose fitting blouse but that would take 1.5 meter...

Anyway, this time I decided the fabric would be perfect for a very silly kind of project. A project which would also allow me to use up some notions I bought way back when I started sewing (I must have had "gothic glamour" on my mind back then). I hardly ever use lace or anything frilly anymore but when started sewing, black lace really appealed to me. 

I was going to make a neglige (or whatever you call it). I made a very simple, roughly A-line pattern for the body. No overlap at the front because of fabric limitations. I laid it out on the fabric and improvised a sleeve shape on what was left over. Basically, the sleeves are just part-circular ruffles stitched to the armholes.

It was a bit odd to pose in a swimsuit, but this is probably a bit worse... Luckily, E was there to make me laugh a lot!

Of the frills available in my stash, one really stood out for this project: a double layer of ruffled organza ribbon, about 4 cm wide. That's just one step behind feather trim!
I really wanted to use it along all the edges but I didn't have enough. So, I settled for neckline and front edge only.

Construction was very easy: I used French seams for all the straight seams and serged the seam allowance on the armholes. Then, I used the rolled hem setting on my serger/overlocker for all the edges. The trim was then sewn to that edge by machine.

Initially, I added big straps made from the fabric itself to close the whole thing at the chest. It didn't look good at all. So, I took them off and put on bits of thin organza-and-satin ribbon instead. Much better.

This has to be one of the silliest things I have ever sewn but it was fun! 

August 9, 2017

a bathing suit!

Of course, this is a garment which belongs in a different setting than my house. I opted for taking pictures in front of that bit of white wall in the living room because the other usual angles would just look more out of place. Obviously, it would have been better to take the trouble of going to the beach and really show this thing off in its natural habitat.
However, I didn't have a lot of time and I had several things to take pictures of. And although it is a bit too warm for that dress in the previous post, it's not exactly beach weather either. So for now, pictures in the living room will have to do.

I made a bathing suit again! Many years ago, I tried that for the first time. Back then, I had just started to draft lingerie patterns and this was my first attempt at swimwear. I was really ambitious and wanted to make a 1950's suit with a skirt front and bra-style cups. I had never successfully made a bra before, so I chickened out of inserting underwires. I still think it looks nice in the pictures but it had issues, some of which seriously compromised wearing comfort. 
Then, years later, I made some much simpler pieces. The bandeau top and high-waisted panties can still be used, the other top has always had issues. 
To those, I added a highly utilitarian, but not so good-looking, sporty bikini-top a year later. 

The truth is, I don't actually need a lot of swimwear. I've never enjoyed sun bathing (which is likely a reason why my very pale skin is quite healthy...) and I'm not a huge fan of swimming either. I do like the occasional spa day (for which you don't always need a bathing suit) and, when on holiday, I love water-y pursuits like rafting and, especially, canyoning. So, to be honest, I only really need a simple piece of swimwear which doesn't cause issues when you have to put on a wetsuit over it. But where's the fun in just making useful things?

I thought it was high time to try my hand at swimwear again. And I would start of with what would just be my second-ever one-piece. Of course, the bodysuits I made last year really helped to fine-tune the fit of my sloper-for-lycra. 
For the design, I took inspiration from a RTW swimsuit I tried on years ago (and didn't buy, because of a fit issue). I went for asymmetry: One shoulder, and a big cut-out at that side. In retrospect, I guess the cut-out on the RTW suit was probably smaller but I like how this turned out.
The leg-shape is the one I also used for the bodysuit and some of my retro-style panties.
I was planning to use black lycra, but ended up going for this dark red-brown from my stash instead. I'm glad I did, this colour really suits me.

All in all, it's certainly not your average bathing suit but can function as one. It can be pulled on like most other bathing suits and it stays put. Although the cut-out is not revealing anything you wouldn't see in a bikini, I still think it looks kind of sexy. 
I think I'm going to enjoy this thing but it whet my appetite to sew more swimwear and different styles and methods of construction.


August 6, 2017

The retro wrap Dress

Ok, it took me a long time to finally take pictures of the things I have sewn over the past weeks. For some reason, I didn't feel like posing for a couple of weeks. At last, I bit the bullet. Yesterday, I did my hair, even applied make-up and made good use of E's presence and willingness to take pictures. So, now I have four more things to show you (each in its own post). At least, I think it was four... No, five.

I'm going in chronological order. So, first up is this wrap dress:

It is made from a nice but not-so-stretchy dark blue cotton jersey. The fabric has been in my stash for quite a while and I used to have very ambitious plans for it. Violent-like draping. Something along that line.
In the end, I didn't try that. It would be a lot of work for a not very practical garment and I might even find out that the fabric was actually a bit to bulky for gathered bits (as jersey so often is).
Instead, the fairly large amount of fabric (close to 4 meters, I think) would be perfect for another idea I had in mind of a while. This dress. 

By the way, I know my decision to take pictures on our tiny balcony has resulted in some lighting issues. There is backlight in all images which doesn't show the details very well. That is why I am including these. They are from the end of the shoot when E was goofing around and making me laugh but they show a bit more detail on the dress:

The design of this dress is based on a top I made years ago:

The original blog post is here. I made it using this tutorial from Studio Faro (another Pattern Puzzle), which was in turn based on a vintage pattern illustration.
Even back then, in 2014, I realized how easy it would be to turn the top into a dress by adding a circle skirt to it. However, I thought the blouse-y body wouldn't look very goor with a full skirt. 

After that, I didn't think about it for years. Until some point in May when I put on the top again. This time, I started pulling at it to try and find a way to take it in a bit. This top is made from a rather unusual pattern shape so adjusting the size is not straightforward. But I found an easy way to do it.

This is the pattern as draft it according to the instructions on the well-suited blog (I believe it's supposed to be a size 38, which is a bit too big for me). My top was made exactly like this, just with a fairly short and narrow strap because I didn't have a lot of fabric. When constructed, the top has a center back seam at the bottom half of your back and one long horizontal seam which runs over the bottom ends of your shoulder blades and along the sleeves (unlike for most pattern puzzles, the construction of this top is also shown in the Studio Faro post). It is that last seam which holds the key to adjusting the fit! 

I ended up cutting the pattern like you can see here, along the solid red lines. I tried it out by pinning my existing top and ended up taking almost 10 cm  from both the top and bottom piece, tapering to nothing in sleeve seams. This results in a more fitted bodice and less draping at the neckline (without losing all of it). In my opinion, much more flattering.
Of course, the fit of a this thing would always depend on your shape and size, so if you are interested in making something like this, I would heartily recommend making the top first and going from there. I believe there is also a post about drafting it in a bigger size somewhere on the same blog, but I'm not sure (that might also be for the other retro wrap top).

Anyway, for this version I made a waistband which is 8 cm wide and was made from separate pieces for the in- and outside. This was needed so it would have seams at the top and bottom to encase both bodice and skirt. I also cut its length in two pieces to allow for a hole at the side to pull one of the ties through. And I made the ties in different lengths so the right place to tie the dress would be at the end of the front overlap, not at the back. 
The skirt is simply a full circle, cut without seams (the fabric was wide enough to make that possible). Because this is a true wrap dress, part of the fullness of the skirt goes into creating a safe amount of overlap.

It's a bit too warm to wear this dress now, but I am pretty happy with it and I'm sure I will wear it a lot. I'm not sure it still looks very 1950's. The top does, but something about the lines of the skirt in this flow-y fabric makes me think of the 1970's. Not that I care. It suits me, that's much more important.    

July 26, 2017

A little trick...

... with a facing and an invisible zipper. 
I am finally making a dress from a lovely African wax print that I couldn't resist buying earlier this year. When I was about to attach the facing, I realized this would be a great time to show you a little trick I had to find out for myself.
It's about how to get a neat point where the top of the zipper and the neckline meet.

It is possible that this technique is explained in lots of books on sewing technique. Books which I never bothered to read in their entirety. If you did, and all this is old hat to you, please ignore the rest of this post. 
I found out about this when I was still doing wedding dress alterations. At the first store where I worked, a lot of the dresses came with invisible zippers which sometimes broke (standard strapless wedding dresses usually contain too many layers of fabric and are pulled on too tight to make invisible zippers a good idea)  and then had to be replaced.
Whenever I took out one of those broken zippers, I noticed how neat and tidy those top points were. And so square! For all my careful zipper insertion, those points always came out a bit rounded because so much material was meeting there. 
Gradually, I came to understand that the secret was all about planning ahead and making the right folds and the right stitches at the right time. 

This is how it is done (works for facings and linings):

Press back the center back seam allowances before you even start pinning the facing to the neckline. On the outside, you already attached the zipper so that pressed line is already there. Press a little more back on the facing (assuming both pattern pieces were the same width). Pin the neckline an stitch, STOPPING at the pressed line on the facing.

Press the neckline seam allowances. Clip them where necessary and press them first open and then to the wrong side of the garment. 
At the edge of the zipper, on both outside and facing, fold the neckline seam allowance down first and then fold the center back seam allowance over it. 

This gives you edges without bits of seam allowance poking out along the center back. At this point, you could hand-stitch the facing to the zipper tape. I've done that for years. But you can do it by machine without messing up that nice corner.

Flip the whole thing inside out again and pin the pressed line on the facing to the zipper tape (make sure that fold arrangement at the top stays as it is).

At the other side, on the wrong side of the outside fabric, this should give you a little fold of excess fabric. That is what you want, it is the fabric which will cover the zipper teeth on the outside of the garment. Stitch where you pinned, stopping at the neckline stitching. It doesn't really matter whether or not you sew down the neckline seam allowance on the facing but leave the outside neckline seam allowance.

Turn right side out again. You make have to pull and push a bit to get all the layers back where they belong but when you have done that, this is the result!
I'm really glad I learned this trick and I hope it will be useful to some of you as well. 

July 23, 2017

Well suited

A few weeks ago, with the last classes taught and just some meetings left to wrap up the school year, I was looking for another sewing project. And still, I felt a bit tired and didn't quite feel up to doing everything myself (something which I usually enjoy...).

After my little adventure with the Thai fisherman pants it was time for something more girly. A dress. So, I had a look at all the pretty dresses from Studio Faro's pattern puzzles (I still miss the weekly Pattern Puzzle, even though the timing was a bit unpractical for me. It was like a regular meeting for pattern making geeks!) and quickly decided to go for one in jersey.
That still left a couple of options but I decided to go with this one:

It is from 2014 and can, for that reason, only be found on the old blog. But fortunately, it's still there!  
For those of you who are not familiar with Studio Faro: it is (as far as I can tell from the blog posts and site info) a one-woman company in Australia specializing in both pattern making for fashion companies and pattern making lessons for fashion students and enthusiastic amateurs. For years, she also ran the "Pattern Puzzle" on the Studio Faro Facebook page. This meant that she would post a picture of random pattern pieces and readers would guess what it was. I found that quite addictive, and I know I'm not the only one...

And if that wasn't enough, in the week following the Pattern Puzzle, there would be a blog post showing the design and describing how to create the pattern from your own slopers. There is just one catch: these tend to be designs, ideas, experiments, not tried-and-tested projects. So there is no guarantee each one will work out well. 
If, like me, you are used to drafting your own patterns, that will be familiar territory though.

Anyway, I went to work on the Jersey Ruche Dress. An interesting design idea in which you slash and spread the front and back pieces of the fitted dress block for jersey fabrics in such a way that you can line them up to form one big pattern piece. There will just be a line of gathering where a side seam would have been (the smooth side has the one remaining side seam). And there is a set-in sleeve at the side with the shoulder gathers and a kind of raglan sleeve at the other side.
This time, I didn't try to be clever and drafted the pattern according to the instructions. I just had to fudge a bit with the main piece because my jersey block probably has a bigger waist-to-hip ratio that usual. And I planned for short sleeves instead of long ones.

Choosing a fabric wasn't that easy. I wanted to use something from my stash (should always be possible, it is huge). The pattern pieces were less big than I had feared (some of these pattern puzzles and really terrible when it comes to fabric economy, again because they are just design ideas) but not every fabric would work for a design like this. It would have to have the right hand, be soft and drape well. That means cotton was out. Cotton jerseys are lovely but they tend to have a bit of 'body', a stiffness which would not work here. And the fabric had to be light and thin enough for all those gathers. Some viscose/rayon jerseys, although they drape wonderfully, can be really heavy and get bulky when gathered. Stretch and recovery were less important in this case (although don't want to use one of those knits which only every keep on growing, ever again)
But I had something in my stash which was certainly thin enough, but maybe a bit too thin. A sort of marled grey/green jersey. A mystery blend containing (probably among other things) viscose and a tiny bit of wool.   

This fabric works really well with those gathers but it is a bit transparant. I picked those pictures in which it doesn't really show. It did in some of those I didn't choose. So, I guess this will be an indoor dress (I often like to slip on a comfortable dress when I come home from work, so having one which is only suitable for that purpose is fine with me). I thought about making a full lining but that felt like more trouble than this dress was worth. 
I did make a sort of all-in-one facing which holds the neckline and armscyes together. I decided on that after I had sewn the outside pieces. The neckline moved around in a way I didn't like: the gathers at front and back crept up and there was also kind of issue with the raglan sleeve (I forgot what that was). I made the facing for those pieces without the gathers and stabilized it with some very light-weight knit interfacing. Sewing that in helped. 

I still wonder if it would have been better to cut the neckline a little lower, or to put in denser gathering. I don't know.
Oh, and I used the rolled hem setting on my serger to hem the dress. That is often the easiest options on very flared-out hemlines, especially in thin fabrics. I had to be careful with the tension: It still had to be stretchy but I didn't want one of those "lettuce edge" hems (which are just serged rolled hems on very stretched-out edges). The result is OK but it looks like the edge of stitching is pulling a little bit if the light falls on it in a certain way. 

All in all, it's not one of my best dresses but certainly not one of the worst either. And it was fun to make, the right kind of project for the time in which I made it.