Monday, February 23, 2015

Testing... Testing...

This is my "it should be on
auto focus mode" face to the
hubs behind the camera.
When I saw the call for pattern testers on Straight Stitch Designs blog, I took one look at the shirt she was modeling and thought, "oh, how cute a woven shirt with a knit accent band." I was so wrong. Imagine my surprise when I opened the pattern and it was for a knit shirt with a woven accent band! Considering my knit sewing skills consisted of 2 maxi skirts, done a good year apart, I had a moment (okay, a good half hour) of panic. I very nearly sent Kimberly a lovely, thanks but no thanks note. I am so glad I didn't!

First, I made a commitment when I signed up to test and backing out just wasn't an option for me. Second, for a person who has made a whopping 2 skirts out of knits, I have, frankly, an obscene amount of knit yardage in my stash. And third, I decided that I would focus on expanding and refining my sewing skills this year and that included getting over my fears of knits. All of this culminated in my perfect sewing storm. Fortunately, only a collar was sacrificing to the raging waters of knitware.

The pattern is called Bellevue and is definitely a good knit top for a beginner as well as advanced sewist. Once I started putting the top together, most of my knit sewing anxiety faded away. I was thrilled at how easy the pattern went together. Kimberly's instructions were well thought out and easy to follow. Her diagrams are straightforward as well. As at knit novice, I had no problems stitching up and attaching the raglan sleeves. I eschewed pins, as I was tackling my top with the serger and pins are so easy to get lost when you're serging along. Hitting a pin on your sewing machine is bad enough, on a serger...OUCH! Instead, I reached for my trust, bold red wonder clips. I love these little babies! There is no missing that baby when you come up to the knife.

Fabric selection was remarkably easy. As I mentioned, obscene amount of knits, which might have caused some stumbling, but I've had this lovely piece of embroidered white knit in my stash forever. I didn't buy this fabric, it was given to me. Honestly, I can't remember when, but I would vaguely put it around 20 years ago, by possibly a grandmother out of their stash. Yeah, that old. I would say that it is easily the oldest piece of fabric remaining in my stash. Without this top, it probably would have lingered on until it crumbled into dust. It isn't that I haven't pulled this fabric out and tried to convince myself to use it before, I have! There was a scant 1 3/8 yards, however, which meant that nothing I tried previously would work. I was thrilled to discover that not only would the knit portions of this blouse fit on the slim yardage, but I had enough to eek out 3/4 length sleeves.

Rotary cutter is your friend with knits!  Just line up the ruler
along the straight edges and go to town.  The curves take
more work, but the results are worth it.

The original pattern suggestions, which have been greatly expanded by the testers, called for chiffon as the accent. I invested in a yard and then proceeded to do unspeakable things to the poor airy bits of fabric fluff.  Let's just say that I have some more work to do on refining my chiffon cutting/sewing skills before I go tackling that amethyst chiffon skirt I dream of adding to my wardrobe, okay? Rummaging through my stash, I unearthed a remnant of blue linen. Not as drapey as the chiffon, but the knit was a bit heavier than t-shirt, so I figured the pairing would work. It certainly cut straighter, and hemmed up in nothing.


The sleeves hemmed up beautifully using EZ Steam II. I have read about this stuff in passing on other blogs where people have used it to tack up knitwear seams and then finish everything off with a double needle. At a recent run through JoAnn's, I saw a box and picked it up. The way Thing 1 loves her knit maxi skirt, I figured another was in my near future. I had no idea I would be using it sooner on something for me! I honestly don't think I would have tackled the double needle hem on the sleeve cuffs without it. So super easy to use!

My only hitch in putting this top together came with the neckband. I'd never done one, but that hadn't stopped me so far. I pinned and stretched and sewed on my regular machine...and it went all sorts of wonky. I stopped about four inches in and reread the directions, then pushed forward against my better judgement. I should have stopped and asked for help. By the time I did, I had one neckband that needed to be unpicked. White knit. White thread. All stitched together using a stretch stitch. Let's just say there was swearing. Lots and lots of swearing. In the end, the neckband didn't survive. Thankfully, I had just enough of my precious knit left to cut one more neckband. The second one, after a pep talk from the very helpful Kimberly, went in perfectly.

Neckband 2, after a good peptalk and a nice cup of tea.
The pattern gives two options for the neckband, one with the band showing and one with it tucked away. I tried on the top and with the able assistance of my wonder clips, tried out both options. I decided, the visible neckband was more to my taste. After that, it was all down to the double needle. I stitched in the neckband and then did a line along the accent piece.

Neckband showing

Neckband as a facing
So, what do I love? The overall style is good and Kimberly got the fit down really well. I sewed up the pattern in a straight 16. Next time, I will go with a 14 at the bust and grade out to the 16 at the hips as I like my tops more fitted.

What didn't I love? Having worn the top an entire day, I can safely say that the things I don't love are minimal. 90% of my unhappiness with the top is pure fabric. As lovely as the embroidered knit is to look at, it itches. I'm hoping a couple more runs through the wash will take care of that problem. The other is in the sleeves. I need to go back and narrow the cuff area. It bags out on me and catches in my coat. Kimberly fixed this after the fact so it shouldn't be an issue with the pattern now.

Will I make it again? Absolutely. I have the last revision of the pattern assembled and cut, the fabric is washed and waiting. The pattern has an option for a straight raglan t-shirt, no accents and I can use a nice staple shirt, so I'm going to tackle that next. In pink. Because you can't have too many pink raglan t-shirts in your closet.

Kimberly is running the Bellevue pattern on sale until Friday for 20% off.  So go grab one quick!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Plethora of Pink Pleated Plaid

Let's hear it for alliteration! This was a kill two birds make for me.  First, I cleared out a couple of yards of pretty pink plaid from my stash and secondly, I conquered the dreaded UFO.  Go me!  This fabric, which I suspect is all poly, wanted to ravel like mad, but was really good to sew with.  I bought the fabric *mumble* 10-ish *mumble* years ago when a local children's clothing factory was going out of business.  It was always destined to be the perfect pink plaid skirt. It took me a while to get there, but I can honestly say I'm thrilled with the results.

When it came to laying out the pleats on this pattern, I have to offer up thanks to my amazing Home Ec teacher for teaching me how to properly mark something like this plaid.  Basic markings just weren't going to show up and making sure I had each line matching meant the very best marking I could do at the pattern layout level was the good old tailor tack.  

Tailor tacks are dirt easy, people.  If you can thread a needle, odds are in your favor that you can make a tailor tack.  Tasia of Sewaholic covers the marking in her wonderful reference Sewtionary, on page 214.  If you don't have this book, it is SO worth the investment! Until you can get your own copy, here is my quick and dirty version.

Tailor Tacks are just a couple of quick, very loose stitches
at the marking point.  

Close up of the stitching.  No knots, just stitch very loosely
a couple of times through the pattern paper.

This is what they look like on the reverse side.  Make sure to
use a brightly contrasting thread!

Remove the pattern by gently tugging the stitching through
the paper.  You may want to make a hole in the paper first
if you're using a PDF pattern.  Gently pull the fabric layers

And the nerve wracking part, clip the threads.

You're done!  Each fabric layer keeps part of the stitching.  The
bright yellow stood out on the pink and black plaid making the
pleats easy to tackle.
Everything marked and then the markings clipped.  I used a ruler to run a chalk pencil between the two markings, then pinned like a mad woman to make sure each of those horizontal lines matched up.  I'm pretty dang pleased with the results.  Honestly, I spent more time matching and pinning plaids than I did sewing the skirt.  
Ruler and chalk pencil.  It is all about playing connect the dots
or in this case, the tailor tacks!
My only snag in getting this skirt from dust collecting fabric to fabulous wearable pleats was the waist facing. Somewhere between pinning and sewing the pleats, the skirt came out a full inch and a half wider than the facing, and that isn't counting the seam allowances!!! I didn't have any spare fabric to cut a new waistband, so I did what any sensible sewist would do.  I logged onto Vogue Fabrics and ordered some 1 1/2" wide petersham ribbon in black.  Mood also carries this, but Vogue Fabrics won out in the shipping. I bought enough to do two skirts, plus a couple of swatches of some wood that caught my eye.  I'm still eyeing you, Teal Herringbone Wool Suiting!

Don't judge my white serger thread.  That beast is a nightmare
to thread!

The petersham wanted to drape all over the place while I was
pinning it out to the waist.  

I moved the guide on my edge stitching foot all the way over
and it was just the right spot to make a very neat, straight
understitching line.  

Another shot of the edge stitching foot.  The white plastic
part is the guide that normally hangs out much further to
the right.

Check out how tight that line is to the edge!

Edge stitched and ready to press into place.

I could have gone the same route as my last skirt and used the twill tape, but frankly, I just wasn't happy with the stiffness.  I am so glad I waited for the petersham!  The width was perfect and the soft, flowing texture really suited the fabric much better than the twill.  I used a narrow hem and then understitched the peterhsam before tacking it in place. The hem on the skirt, which I neglected to photograph, is also hand stitched, as is my preference for most of my projects.  
Pleats all pressed in place after the waistband and hem were finished.
I love this skirt!  It is super comfortable.  These shots aren't perfect, it was bloody dang cold outside and the camera battery was dead, so you have indoor phone shots as a result.

Check out that matching plaid actions!  Time consuming, sure, but oh so worth it!  Next up is nightshirts for Thing 1 and Thing 2 and then I'm tackling View D on this pattern in a nice heavy denim.

As a side note, these days it seems that the title Home Ec has gone by the way side. Around here, they now call it a very bizarre "Family and Consumer Sciences".  Um...what?  Did you take Home Ec, or a similarly styled class in school?  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Keep it on the straight and narrow

Or not.  I can honestly say there isn't a straight line on this skirt and I like it!  The pattern is from the BurdaStyle website.  This was one of my first runs on a PDF pattern and I was pleasantly surprised at how it well it went together.  Adding seam allowances (I went with 5/8" because I knew I would be finishing the edges of the seam allowances) was pretty easy.  Assembling the pattern, while time consuming, wasn't difficult. Of course, a good paper cutter and some glue made all the different.  Thank you scrapbook supplies.  They are good for more than gathering dust these days!
A nice hot cup of Whittard Spiced Imperial Tea makes
 sure the pattern doesn't go wandering off while I'm putting it together.
Looking at the long paper pieces, I was sure this skirt was going to hang far too long on me.  At 5' 4", I frequently chop two to four inches off of middy skirts so that they'll actually hang mid-calf instead of at my ankles.  I figured this skirt would be another one of those, and I even went so far as to measure/mark out a 4" cut off on the pattern pieces.  Rather than take the drastic step of cutting the pattern and then the fabric, I figured this was a good place to stop, back up and make a muslin.  What is the point in having muslin if I don't actually use it, right?

Check out that sock action!
I'm glad I did it!  This pattern is the perfect length as is.  Any shorter in the front and I'd be worried about flashing the world. I also found the fit was perfect, although I did manage to sew it together inside out.  I marked each piece for right and wrong side, but only got the back right and second guessed myself.

As part of my Christmas present from the hubs, I got to order an obscene amount of fabric.  Because I am trying to limit the amount of fabric I stash these days, I went through each fabric choice and decided what I would make out of it before I added it to the cart.  I picked a wool/rayon blend in a novelty weave black/white fabric to make up as this skirt. I am in love with this fabric!  It's this interesting weave that came to life with slubs and lines when I washed it.  The label said dry clean, but fabric that can't get tossed into the washer on gentle just doesn't survive in my house.  Let me pause here to say I have a really great Samsung washer with no center post, so gentle is actually a decent very gentle agitation in Woolite.  I washed the fabric by itself and any concerns it wasn't at least partly wool were gone when the fabric smelled of wet hair when I shifted it to the dryer.  I dried the fabric on low.  It lost the polished feel in the wash and gained some slubs.  Next up was an introduction to my iron.  Set on Wool, with a can of starch at my elbow, the fabric regained it's polished feel.  The fabric is soft, with a fantastic drape, and is just perfect for this skirt.

I laid out the fabric in my living room floor and placed the pieces.  This pattern is one heck of a fabric waster!  There was tons of fabric around the pieces widthwise, but only about 12 inches were spare at the end.  With some careful placement, I should be able to get a second skirt, cut on the cross grain, out of this fabric.  I've got a pattern in mind for it, but that's another post.  The only cutting change I made was to cut the back on the fold, eliminating the center back seam.  I cut the muslin this way and was really happy with the results.  Even my able assistant approves.  She brings the cute factor to my sewing, don't you think?

The weave of the fabric meant my traditional marking methods for the darts wasn't going to work. I got out some bright yellow thread and thread traced the dart markings.  If you haven't done thread tracing, it is super easy.  Simple do a long basting stitch through the pattern and material, then gently pull the pattern away from the fabric.  If you're working with a traditional tissue pattern and not a paper printed PDF, trace the pattern areas you'll be marking off onto a piece of paper or tissue paper, then do your thread tracing through that.  You can also use tear away stabilizer.

Actual assembly of this skirt was a breeze.  I finished off the side seams with hem tape, serged the botton edge and did a narrow hem.  The pattern calls for no hem, but I prefer a finished edge.  The hem is then hand stitched all the way around.  The only thing that gave me pause was the petersham ribbon waistband facing.  I didn't have any petersham and no place locally carried it.  After much searching, I gave up and used some 1" wide twill tape from JoAnn's.  Next time I'm ordering up some petersham.  The tape worked, but it doesn't lie quite as neatly as I would have liked.
I adore Clover Wonderclips! They keep me from bleeding all
over my hems because I've stabbed myself with a pin while I stitched.

Nice and tidy little corner, all stitched down.

Hem tape, twill binding, skirt clips.  Voila.

I only sewed this clip on three times because I couldn't manage to get
the darned things on the right side of the fabric to fasten the skirt. 

Button.  Just for show.  Pretty!

I forgot to mention I stitched stay-tape into the waist band.
Despite all my best efforts, I did not learn from the muslin and this skirt is sewn together backwards, so I have an inverted wrap.  I love the way the skirt looks and hangs, so it is a minor annoyance that is not going to keep me from wearing the heck out of it.

Finished shots!
I know it looks like it wrapped the
right way, but that's because I'm shooting
 into a mirror.

A gust of wind caught the skirt
just as I hit the shutter.  Woohoo!

This is what Winter looks like
in Oklahoma.  Except with wind.
Lots and lots of wind.

Would I make this again?  Yes, totally.  The skirt went together quite quickly.  I spent more time on finishes than on actual assembly.  There is a bloody mile of hand sewing if you do the hem and waistband by hand.

Changes to the pattern? I cut the back  piece on the fold and hemmed everything.  I also opted for skirt hooks instead of buttons/button holes for fasteners.  The front button is for show only.