Monday, October 20, 2014

Halloween 2014: Swing Dance Wonder Woman!

When I was a kid, Halloween was a low-hoopla affair all the way around. The culture was less focused on the "holiday", and that was compounded for me by living in a rural area (with no hope of pedestrian trick-or-treaters). I don't remember dressing up or going house-to-house at all past the age of eight. Even when I did go, my costumes were very last-minute productions, involving a drugstore witch hat and rubber bat.

Last year my husband had a brilliant costume idea for our Halloween swing dance, and we ended up winning the costume contest. That positive reinforcement must be the new element that has resulted in my feeling much more enthusiasm for dressing up this year (though I have declared myself ineligible for the contest).

I had planned to wait until after Halloween to blog about my costume-making, but then I thought, "Wait, who cares about Halloween costumes right after Halloween?" So I decided to chat about a few of the elements of my costume, in case they are of any help to folks in the throes of their own costuming efforts.

While I am declaring myself to be a bit of a convert to costume making, I do still retain plenty of skepticism about the time, money and effort it requires. Multiple trips to Joann Fabrics, Hancock Fabrics and the local Foam & Fabrics are not my idea of the most productive way to spend my time, and yet I definitely am guilty of taking such trips over the last week.

A further hangup is that any costume I wear must be reasonably modest and comfortable. No short skirts, bustiers or tragic shoes. With those parameters in mind, my costume theme is "Swing Dance Wonder Woman," an idea I must have originally gotten from this wonderful Lady Skater version by the pattern's designer, Kitchy Coo:

For my version, I combined the Lady Skater with McCall's 6435 knit sweetheart top. At first I used nude fabric for the yoke, to better mimic the strapless bustier from the TV show, but the nude fabric looked unflattering around my face, so I made another bodice with a white yoke.

For the skirt, I originally planned to order printed star fabric (like my inspiration), but then foolishly decided that I wanted my stars to be more like Wonder Woman's: spaced more densely toward the waist and then stopping before the lower edge of the garment.

I toyed with the idea of making the stars vary in size like in this version of Wonder Woman's costume. I cut out a full-size copy of the skirt in freezer paper and used templates of different-sized stars to trace the design. I planned to cut out each star with an Exacto knife, iron the freezer paper onto the fabric and stencil the all-over design in acrylic paint. With the whole skirt pattern spread out in front of me, I realized that so much cutting would put my wrist tendonitis into full-fledged uproar and scrapped that plan.

Instead, I purchased a Fiskars large star punch from Joanns. I don't know whether to praise or heckle the thing: it was invaluable for my purpose, but very temperamental and difficult to use. Halfway through the project it got too dull to punch any more stars, and I had to exchange it for another one. And yes, I did search the web for how to sharpen it and tried those tricks, but to not-good-enough effect. Anyway, I made little star cut-outs, then arranged them somewhat randomly, denser toward the waist and gradually becoming further apart toward the hem, ironed them on and stenciled. It took two coats of paint to get a nice bright white for the stars.

Fiskars XL Star Punch, here making the star for the crown

Right, so all that star nonsense took days of buying punches and doing successive coats and letting them dry...rather ridiculous.

In the meanwhile, I made the accessories. Right away I rejected the idea of copying the eagle over Wonder Woman's boobs, reasoning that, without that element, the dress can be worn on the Fourth of July or another patriotic occasion. Also, for crying out loud--too much work!

For the belt, cuffs and the crown, I found a wonderful gold-coated denim at Hancock's. That fabric was great to work with, since it has some substance to it, sews easily and isn't scratchy like so many metallic fabrics can be. I didn't do much experimenting with pressing this fabric, preferring instead to use understitching and copious amounts of double-stick adhesive tape (more on this in a moment) to hold it in place. It seemed to me that the possibility of discoloring the metal finish was high, even though the denim fabric itself could stand up to pressing.

The belt needed an adjustable closure at the back to accommodate weight fluctuations or different degrees of comfortable-ness. A simple laced back seemed to be the best solution, even though the belt was not very wide at that point. I do think it could be a little shorter, to provide a greater range of sizes, but it's fine. Also, I felt the belt would need at least a little boning in addition to its inner layer of stiff interfacing, to prevent it from folding over at the center front. It would have been just as easy to sew the channels for the boning on the inner side of the belt, and thus to have them invisible from the right side, but I decided a few lines of stitching would be more flattering on my not-tiny waist than a single unbroken expanse of shiny gold.

In general, the process for the gold accessories was to sketch a shape in my notebook, measure the area of the body where the item would sit and then draft a simple pattern.

To sew the belt, a stiff interfacing, cut to the finished size of the belt (i.e., without seam allowances) was first applied to the wrong side of the outer fabric piece. I used a fusible hair canvas, which was really too costly of a material for use in a costume, but it was the only stiff material I had on hand in a sufficiently long cut to make in one piece. After the interfacing was basted into place, I transferred the markings I had added to my paper pattern to the interfacing and sewed channels for the boning. Then I machine-stitched the top edges of the outer and inner fabrics  right sides together, and understitched the seam allowances to the back. At that point I sewed the short back edges together, then trimmed the seams and turned the belt right side out. At this point the boning was inserted into the channels, trimmed to sit inside the seam allowances at the bottom edge. In another fabric, the lower edges might have been topstitched together, but I thought that a more invisible method of joining would look better in this case.

Here was one of the many places I used and was grateful all over again for a notion that isn't widely used in the garment sewing space, Jodees's Sealah Tape. This stuff is an incredibly sticky, release-paper-backed adhesive that can be used in place of glue, hot glue or petroleum-based cements. It is amazing because it is easy to control and it bonds things instantly and permanently, with no drying time required. You do not want to stitch through it, because it will immediately gum up your needle. I like the absence of fumes and, again, the immediacy. Apply, burnish, remove the paper liner, press the surfaces together and move on to the next step.
The cuffs and crown also make use of the Sealah tape. Maybe my photos will be as useful as a lot of chit chat.

The inner layer of the cuffs is a stiff Peltex interfacing, with quilted lines 1/2" apart. Using the Sealah tape, I turned the edges of the fabric to the inside of the cuff, notching the curved edges to allow them to follow the edge smoothly. Then elastic loops were adhered to another layer of Sealah, and then the whole back side of the piece was covered with a piece of suede (recycled from a large thrift store suede jacket) using Sealah tape around the edges and craft glue (like Sobo) in the center. I did press this under a weight for a few hours to make sure all the layers would adhere together.

Eyelets or grommets would have been another solution for lacing the cuffs, but I didn't have enough of the proper size in gold, and I couldn't face another run to the store for yet another notion. I think the elastic loops will work fine and they have enough give to allow me to slip the already-laced up cuff over my arm.

I got a bit carried away with the length of the cuffs. Wonder Woman's are shorter, but I reckon I'll be able to deflect even more bullets and death rays with longer ones.

The base of the crown is a large yogurt container, cut into a crown shape and covered with the gold fabric.

In the photo above, which is a repeat from earlier in the post, you can see the small elastic loops at the back side of the crown. I will use these to mount either a comb on each side or bobby pins. The crown actually stays put pretty well on its own, because it is so very lightweight, which suits my comfort requirement perfectly!

Whew, I think I will have to finish up my description of the costume with a separate post for the boots tomorrow. I am pretty pleased with them, so I have a bit to say about how they are made, but for the moment I'm costumed completely out!

How are your costumes coming along?!!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Butterick 5954: Another Tunic (and New Look 6228 Skirt)

But before the tunic talk, I'm excited to say that my mom is fine! Her biopsy results came back today and there is no cancer. She was fuzzy on the exact name of the diagnosis, but it has something to do with a lymph node forming a hard, fixed cyst in some sort of an autoimmune reaction. Though I felt sure she would be okay in the end, I am so very glad that she does not need to undergo cancer treatment.

Thank you for your good wishes!

And just know that this can happen: you develop a lump in your armpit, go to the doctor, who messes around for six weeks, first telling you that you definitely have a malignant metastasis from some location in your body, refusing to do the test that you are requesting (a biopsy) until several other tests have been done and then find out that your lump is quite benign after all. I am not impressed with the care she received, to put it mildly.

Now, to our regularly scheduled tunic explorations. Here we have Butterick 5954. And I like it much better than the previous tunic I showed you. I had been trying to purchase this pattern for months, but it was always sold out during pattern sales (or it was summer). Finally snagged it though, and I am glad I persevered.

Obviously, the crossover shape is the main attraction. I decided to use this rayon/lycra knit, supposedly originally from J. Crew but bought at FabricMart, because it seemed too thin and limp for a more fitted top or dress. It falls nicely but it shows everything underneath, including the seam of the crossing-under portion of the front of the top. Good thing this top is loose!

No pockets in this one, and I can't see a good way to add them.

I remembered to check some reviews at PatternReview and online and I was glad I did. Many sewers wrote about the very large amount of flare at the bottom of the tunic and how it could give the impression of a "tail" in the back. I cut out the XS, minus at least 10" of circumference at the hem. It's something of a happy accident that the resulting fullness seems just right: not too much and not too little. From the two yards of fabric (minus some prewashing shrinkage), this was as full as I could fit onto my fabric, but I wouldn't want it fuller. I also shortened the front and back pattern pieces 1 1/2" at the printed line on the pattern, and the sleeves the same amount.

The cowl is made up per the pattern and it is a little skimpy, but there wasn't enough fabric for a deeper cowl in any case.

Here is a demonstration of the potential for flipping up, which is not inconsiderable. After taking these photos, I was out in gusty wind and I did feel the need to hold the lapping side down.

The skirt is New Look 6228, which I consider something of a ringer for the Colette Mabel. I wasn't sure whether it would be nice to even point that out, and so I was amused to find some catty sniping over at GOMI on just this topic.

Although I have made this skirt with the three panels as shown on the envelope, I didn't think they would show up in this grid print ponte. So I just used the one-piece back of the skirt for both the front and the back of the skirt. Very easy and quick.

And see, I wore a slimmer lower garment, just for you guys!

Would you like this crossover tunic, or does the potential for flashing your belly put you off it? The non-crossover view looks promising, too.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Artsy Fartsy Tunic, Butterick 5925

Don't let my reasonably pleasant facial expression fool you. I quite hate this garment.

I don't blame Katherine Tilton for the design, or the folks at Butterick for the drafting; I just don't like this tunic on me at all.

I suppose it must be that all the drama and volume happen around the low hip. Big godets, big pockets and twisted trim. The pocket design is actually pretty nifty, as well as pretty easy to sew. But the pockets aren't much good for anything other than a tissue or a hand. I wouldn't carry anything of any weight in this pocket, as the garment is so voluminous that the pockets swing freely when the wearer moves.

I feel more like a bottom-heavy triangle in this tunic than usual. The vital statistics, for your information: size XS, sleeves shortened 1 1/4", burgundy cotton sweater knit from FabricMart Fabrics. I followed the pattern directions quite faithfully, with the exception of the points at the hemline: I mitered those, which I don't think I was instructed to do by the pattern. I left the sleeve edges unhemmed.

The neckline binding is also twisted. It's a cool detail conceptually but, again, not something I like on myself.

The heck of it is that I will probably wear this quite a bit. It's pretty soft and snuggly. But just between us, I'm not a fan of the style or the color on me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

McCall's 6435 Sweetheart Knit Top

I may or may not have been procrastinating yesterday when I decided I "needed" a new top for the regular Tuesday evening dance.

Somehow, using scraps from other projects and a heretofore-unused pattern allowed me to justify the exercise as "frugal" rather than "distracting me from more urgent priorities."

As so often happens, the spur-of-the-moment project turned out surprisingly well (and a lot better than many more laborious recent projects have).
McCall's 6435, which is, you know what I am going to say, out of print

My major innovation (which is only an innovation when compared to the pattern) was to use a nude stretch lining under the front and back lace yoke pieces. I like to do this because I do not own a strapless bra, and don't intend to change that situation, yet I am old enough to dislike visible bra straps. On myself, that is--generally, I've come to terms with seeing all manner of colors and styles of bra straps peeking out from beneath other women's and girl's clothing.

Another benefit of underlining the lace yoke was that it allowed me to turn the serged neck edge to the inside and slip stitch it into place by hand. No binding or topstitching to make a harsh line around the opening.

I really like the way this shirt fits me, but I don't know whether to attribute that to the drafting, my clever choice of sizes or just the stretchiness of the black knit bodice. For what it's worth, I cut size 8 around the neck and shoulders, size 10 in the armscye and sleeves and size 12 through the hip and waist.

The bottom edge got a quick serger rolled hem, and the sleeve edges were trimmed around the lace motifs. All in all, a two-hour or so project, which earned some nice compliments at the dance.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mod Top and Skirt in Cotton Interlock

Finally an opportunity to wear this little set, which has been complete for a few weeks now. Unprecedented: sewing in advance of the upcoming season!

Although I think it feels heavenly to wear, I've tended to avoid cotton interlock for clothing because it has essentially no recovery. Close-fitting garments made of all-cotton knits in general seem to get stretched out in a matter of minutes when they are worn (very high quality cotton knit is a different matter, but it is so difficult to find, especially in grown-up colors).

This length of teal interlock cost $2 at a yard sale, so I figured I had little to lose except my time. To minimize the sagging problem, I looked for looser fitting pieces that could benefit from a fabric with some heft. The initial idea was to make a top. Once the top was all done, quite a bit of fabric remained, so the skirt emerged from the leftovers.

Vogue 8699 is a firm favorite knit tunic of mine. This time I added two hip-level pockets, which worked out well, and I tried to add a sixties-style standup collar (like the collared version of the Tilly Coco top), which didn't.

Coco Top from Tilly and the Buttons

Maybe if I'd actually looked at the picture of the Coco top before cutting and applying the collar, I would have had a clearer notion of how to do it...

Anyway, my collar didn't stand up well, so I turned it to the inside and stitched it down. It looks kind of like a lumpy binding. Oh well. I'm fine with it. Next time I'll be a little more deliberate in my drafting.

The skirt is New Look 6856, an out of print pattern that I've had hanging around for a few years. Of course it's as simple as can be, but I do like the little skirt and I can see this being a useful shape for future makes.

I hardly need to say that this outfit is as comfortable as they come. I'm off to substitute at a neighborhood elementary school, and I am happy to be wearing my new teacher outfit, which I think might get a lot of use this fall as both separates and together.

Have you made garments--successful or unsuccessful--from cotton interlock? How did they wear over time? I would love to know.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

For the Record: Simplicity 2148


I b'lieve this pattern must be out of print now, and I'm not sure it ever took the world by storm, but  I always liked the peplum/pointy front view (now I also like the other view, minus the slouchy pockets; maybe I'll try that one soon). I made a test version and altered the pattern about three years ago and then never got around to a wearable sweater.

So I pulled this back out this year to make up a sweater for my petite mom. She doesn't like things overly long, so my previous alterations of shortening the bodice one inch and the peplum two inches were perfect for her. 

The fabric is a double-sided rayon/polyester ponte knit from FabricMart. Although it is appealingly soft and a nice color, the fabric did suffer in its prewash. It developed some faded lines (more visible on the back of the jacket) and it began to pill slightly. Good thing that this is going to my mom, since she is much easier on her clothes than me! I have a big white dog whose hair gets on everything, meaning I have to wash my clothes more frequently than I otherwise might do.

With the front flipped open, you can see the reverse side of the fabric
The hardest thing about this pattern is finishing the lower edge of the peplum. Different strategies will work better for different knits, but in this case I serged 1/2" strips of a very soft fusible interfacing to the hem, turned it up a generous 1/2", pressed in place and topstitched with a twin needle. This fabric happened to be quite cooperative with pressing and stitching. The pattern doesn't instruct you to miter the front corner, but I think that looks much better so that's what I did.

There are those lines that developed during prewashing

My mom and I both like the neckline and collar of this pattern. It isn't so much fabric that it is constantly flopping around, and the wrong sides are encased by the front band. Even though this style is probably not the most current or fashionable, I like how it hugs the neck and hangs.

The other slightly challenging aspect of the design is the inset corner at the shoulder. But the instructions are good and I didn't have much trouble making a nice sharp corner here.

The coordinating shell is Simplicity 4076.

It would be very simple to round off those dangly points in the front, and that's what I'd like to do in a sweater for myself. I like the pointy bits, but I have to confess that they might look a little dated.

My mom tried on the sweater yesterday and liked it, which was especially good since she seems to have just been diagnosed with cancer. I say "seems" because the communication with her primary care nurse practitioner has left something to be desired in terms of clarity. But we are working through the process and hope to know what she is facing soon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Liesl + Co. Cappuccino Dress Returns to Its Roots

So, I understand that Simplicity 2245, the Lisette Portfolio dress designed by Liesl Gibson, is kind of a thing. After the pattern had been taken out of print, it caught fire on Pinterest and copies grew scarce. I believe they go for big money on eBay.

According to Liesl's blog, despite much customer interest and many requests, Simplicity decided not to reprint 2245. Reading a bit between the lines, I am guessing that copyright concerns prevented Liesl from reissuing the pattern in its original form under her own brand, Liesl + Co.

Original 2245

2245 Line drawing. The pants are cute too!
So Liesl + Co. reworked the design and released it in digital format as the Cappuccino Dress + Tunic.

I like the new design and I think the V neckline would probably suit me better than the original round neck. But when I showed the pattern to my friend Amie as part of our "smock project" to outfit her in comfy funky smocks, she preferred the round neck. I blithely assured her that redrafting the Cappuccino dress to return it to the original Portfolio design would be no problem.

And actually it wasn't a problem, though like all pattern drafting it did require some thinking and much studying of images of the original dress. This is a size 12, shortened 3" at the hem to hit Amie right above the knee for wearing with leggings or slim pants, over a long-sleeved t-shirt.

I'm going to show you a couple of photos of the inside of the dress, in case someone out there would like to try a similar "back to the future" adaptation of the current pattern.

The gray linen smock for Amie is actually the second version I made of the pattern. After downloading, printing (all 45-some pages!), taping together, tracing and altering the pattern, I felt a need to check it before cutting into the final fabric. Using a cotton print bought for little at FabricMart (specifically for making test garments) and a scrap of linen from Amie's Tosca Dress, I mocked up a trial version. Here it is pre-embellishment:

I brought in the side seams underneath the arms and through the bodice to see if I could make this muslin work for me, but it's still really too big for me to wear out of the house. And it is long! Not the hemline--though I shortened that six inches--but the distance to the pockets. I can hardly reach them.

Even though I couldn't see myself getting much use from this garment, I couldn't help but try to dress it up a touch, with an applique made from some very fancy Anna Maria Horner ribbon.

Now I honestly like the tunic, but the colors still look grim on me and the neckline is still too large. So I'm tracing out a smaller size at the chest and shoulders, and shortening it through the torso, and I will see how that goes. I can't imagine this shape being particularly flattering on me, but it could be so comfortable and practical for my everyday activities of writing, housekeeping, cooking and childcare. I think it would be great for winter worn over a warm turtleneck and warm leggings or pants as an upper layer to brighten things up and hold my phone and tissues. And think of the crazy possibilities for combining fabrics and trims...