Monthly Archives: April 2012

I’m at it again – making my own version of a too-expensive top! This one was kicked into action by the Pattern Review RTW Contest. I love Boden, and I’ve spent plenty of money on their clothes (their print fabrics are just fabulous and so unique), but when I spotted this basic jersey top-with-a-twist, I heard the familiar “I could make that” siren call in my head, so I saved the picture:

When the contest came around, I went hunting for a suitable pattern, and actually found it in my stash! Simplicity 1916 was one of their new spring patterns, and I bought it when it came out just because I liked it and then I promptly forgot about it. It’s basically perfect for this top. So here’s my version:

(Yes, I am trying to duplicate the original photo – hey, it’s a requirement of the contest! Also, I’m not sure why Boden paired a gray top with khakis, but I went with it.)

I really made very few modifications to the pattern. The base, with the pleated crossover top and center gathered lower front, was exactly like the Boden top. I used the pattern piece for the long sleeves and cut them off about 2 inches below the underarm. I was going to draft pieces for the twist overlay, but then I discovered a pattern piece for a midriff overlay on View F that was perfect! I cut two instead of one, stitched them into tubes and gathered the ends a little, then hooked them through each other and basted them onto the sides of the constructed front piece, basically splitting the midriff seam so the twist would cover it up. I probably should have cut the overlay pieces just a little longer than the pattern piece, since with the twist it pulls the back of the top a little tight across my back. The pattern calls for bias facing the neckline, but the Boden top clearly has a self facing that’s not stitched down. I tried to duplicate that by zigzagging clear elastic along the seam allowance and folding it under, but it wouldn’t stay put so I ended up twin-needling over it. The only fit modification I made was to pinch out an inch along the front neckline as an SBA.

I really like this pattern as itself, too, not just as a vehicle for a knock-off, and I’m sure I’ll make one without the twist overlay at some point as well. It went together really fast and easily, which is basically my only criteria for a winning pattern at this point. My pattern review/contest entry is here.

This was the last of the projects I had queued up for April, so believe it or not, I have actually returned to my sad, abandoned Minoru rain jacket and have made progress on it! I know, you’ll believe it when you see it. I’m thinking that by finally finishing it, it will prevent any rain from falling until October, giving me no opportunity to wear it until then. But I’m okay with that. Bring on the summer weather!

I’d like to think I’ve learned a couple things from my most recent project:

  • polyester is evil
  • starting a dress on Thursday night for an event on Saturday is not wise

Now, have I actually learned these things? Will I always in future avoid the temptation of pretty floaty polyester fabrics because I remember how much I cursed this fabric as I was cutting and sewing it? Will I plan ahead better for events I might want to make a dress for and, say, choose the pattern and cut the fabric more than three days in advance of the wear date? No, probably not. But I am naming this project the “Never Again” dress in hopes that that will at least make me think twice before doing either of those things again… or at the very least before I do both of these things on the same project.

Anyway, I did in fact make a dress, and I wore it on Saturday, but I must say it’s got to be the shoddiest sewing I’ve done to date. Floaty polyester does not lend itself to rushing, and rush I certainly did. And although I was hand sewing up the front at work, minutes before putting it on, it was wearable in the end, though it’s not exactly my proudest work:

Ugh, see the extra fabric pooching out under the arms (not taking the time to fit the bodice properly), the wubbly-ness of the front neckline (unstable floaty polyester), the terrible, terrible lazy uneven hem (oh yes, I serged, folded over and stitched without pinning or pressing – hey, I was short on time!)?

On the back my shoddy work is even more evident:

Look, it’s a totally visible invisible zipper and back darts that end in big bubbles… and I don’t even know what’s going on under the arms here.

All that said, I still kind of love the fabric (from my crazy 99 cent store). It’s so pretty, but it frays like mad and couldn’t stay on grain to save its life. It’s a particularly floaty (staticky) sheer polyester chiffonny type thing, and I lined it with a similar, if slightly heavier and a little more stable navy polyester something-or-other. The pattern is Butterick 5181, which I used to make my Old Navy knock-off dress last year. Because I had only made it in a knit, and only the other bodice style, I was way off on the sizing. I cut a straight 12, which was a full two inches too big in the midriff and more than that in the bodice (I clearly should have taken it in even more at the sides), and frankly there’s just too much gathering in the skirt of this pattern (might be because the skirt width is the same for all sizes, so there’s more gathering in a 12 than a 20, say). This bodice version is very, very low cut, which is usually fine on me because I have no cleavage whatsoever, but because of the unstable nature of the fabric the front gaped funny and I had to (hand) sew up the front neckline a couple inches. I am glad I went with this simple a pattern for this fabric, since anything with more than the five pieces this had would have had me screaming (even more) and throwing my scissors at the wall/husband/cat/neighbors. I even converted the front bust darts into gathers (since we can see from the back how well this fabric does darts). The pattern could not be easier – now I’m tempted to try it in a nice, stable cotton. Polyester: Never Again! Until next time, of course…

I have somehow managed to stack up four projects with hard deadlines in these two last weeks of April. The first, a dress for a friend, I finished last week (in time for her birthday, hooray!), and then I turned my attention to a top for Rae‘s Spring Top Sewalong!

Last year sometime, I bought just a yard of Anna Marie Horner Little Folks voile in the Four Square pattern with the idea that it would make a great spring/summer top of some kind (I’m fairly sure my purchase was inspired by a top Rae herself made at some point), but spring and summer passed and no patterns jumped out at me as perfect for the fabric. It fell to the bottom of the Stash Monster’s belly and I forgot about it. Then a few weeks ago when my mom was visiting, we popped into the Anthropologie and saw this tank on the sale rack:

Of course, the first thing through my mind was “$39 on sale?! I could totally make that.” Which is pretty much what I think when I see anything in a store nowadays, but my follow-through is abysmal. But then I suddenly remembered the Spring Top Sewalong, and my long forgotten voile, and off I went to hunt for a pattern. I knew I’d have to draft the back, since it was unlike any blouse pattern I’d ever seen, and I thought I’d probably have to figure out the pintucks in front and the front neckline too, but wouldn’t you know, I lucked out with New Look 6104. Bingo – the front is almost identical! The tucks are a little smaller, and it has bias bound edges, but it was a fantastic jumping off point. So I dug out some tissue paper from my gift-wrapping bin (yeah, I pretty much never trace patterns), drafted some back straps and a front facing, and cut into my precious voile (using literally every bit of it). And much to my surprise and delight, it turned out pretty much just right!

Here’s the front view – basically no pattern modifications. Amazingly, the bust dart actually works for me, and the bust isn’t too large (I made a straight size 10). I actually really like this pattern – it fits me well with no adjustments. I did convert the bias neck/armhole finish to a facing, since that binding wouldn’t really work with back straps (of course, the one time I’d rather have a pattern with facings and I have to make them myself). I basically just traced along the neckline/armholes, and arbitrarily drew a straight line across about an inch below the lowest underarm point to make the facing pattern. I totally failed to take into account how I would finish the top of the button bands, though, and I didn’t make the facing long enough to include the bands… so I ended up sort of binding just the top of the button bands. It’s not ideal, but it’s okay and not too noticeable (or maybe it could be considered a design feature?) I also actually put in functional buttonholes, even though I can absolutely pull the shirt on over my head. Why did I torture myself with making buttonholes when I could have just sewn up the front and attached decorative buttons? No idea. I guess it was just a weird momentary deviation from my usual lazy sewing self. Also, these are my favorite. buttons. ever. I thought I’d be standing at the button wall for hours, debating between a bunch of not-quite-right options, but nope, I walked up and saw them first thing. And good buttons were vital, because I think they make the back:

If I like the front of this top, I love the back. It’s so fun, and it actually wasn’t hard at all to figure out. I took the pattern piece for the back and cut straight across one inch above the top of the side seam – I wanted the top edge across the back to come straight back from the lowest point of the armhole, and the extra inch was my self-facing for the top edge that forms the channel for elastic between the straps. I also laid out the pattern piece about an inch and a half away from the fold to add a total of three inches across the center back to gather. Obviously I omitted the back darts. I sewed a channel across the top just between where I wanted the straps to be (since that’s how the original was done) then cut about a 5 inch piece of 3/4 inch elastic, secured it to one side of the channel, pinned the other side and tried it on for fit before securing the loose side as well. Here’s a closer look at the back, and you can also see the front facing and my jankety button-band-binding:

I did not make real buttonholes on the back straps, because the uninterfaced voile puckered really badly on my test sample. I just sewed the straps on with the buttons. I did belatedly iron on a couple scraps of interfacing to the back facing under where the straps attach just to reinforce the area a bit.

Overall I’m really in love with this top! It took kind of forever, but I also took my time to get it right (after my debacle with the button bands, anyway). I don’t know that I’ll get to wear it for a while, since our springs here tend to be mostly foggy and dismal, but for now I’ll just admire it in my closet and revel in the success of my first Anthropologie knock-off!

I sew a lot of knits. When I started sewing clothes, it didn’t really occur to me that knits were something you even could sew – RTW knit items seemed so professionally finished and out of reach of the home sewist. Ha, how wrong I was! Once I started sewing knits (by the way, I started with drapey cardigans like Simplicity 2603 – no hems or neckbands!) I kind of never looked back. I do still sew wovens, of course, and occasionally it’s so nice to work with something that behaves itself all the time (pressing, what a concept), but I like how forgiving knits are in terms of fit (and also bad cutting – if the edges don’t line up exactly, just stretch it!). But to master knits, and make them look more like RTW knit garments, I had to figure out hemming. Someday, when I have several extra hundred dollars and an actual sewing room rather than just my kitchen table, I may consider getting a coverstitch machine, but since neither of those things seem likely in the near future, for now I have become an pro at the twin needle. I thought I’d share a couple things I’ve discovered about twin needle hemming, since actually there’s not a whole ton of detailed information out there, especially about securing the stitching. I won’t do the basics, since a google search will turn up a bunch of videos and things to get you started (here’s a nice overview), but I’ll just give some random tips and tricks I’ve picked up.

These are the needles I use (I stock up at Jo Ann during the half-off notions sales – one starts today!). For a while I went out of my way to get the stretch twin needles (only available at one local sewing machine store, and expensive), but I’ve actually found the regular ones to work just fine on all but the most slinky stretchy poly jerseys.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about sewing with twin needles, it’s that every sewing machine does it differently. Sure, you have to have two spools (I keep an old bobbin around to wind as my second spool), and thread both threads through the machine to the needle, but my old machine (a cheapo Sears-branded Singer) preferred that both threads go through the machine together, while my new machine (Bernina 1230) is very, very picky about threading. It is vital that I start with the right-hand spool, have the thread coming off the front of the spool, make sure it gets on the right side of the tension disc, and through the little thread catch above the needle, while the left spool must have the thread coming off the back, go on the other side of the tension disc, and not into the thread catch at all (why is that important? no idea, but repeated thread nests tell me it is). Here’s a look at what I mean:

I also always have to lower the tension to get a good stitch. I’ve found, with this machine at least, that the thinner the fabric, the lower the tension. For really thin knits I’ve had it all the way down to .5! Usually around 2 is about right, though. Test swatches are your friend!

At first I tried to secure the start and end of the stitching by backstitching, but several pulled-out hems indicated I needed another method. (Also, the Bernina gets all tangled up if I backtack with a twin needle.) Now I simply tie the thread ends to each other. For a regular hem (one that starts and ends at the same point), I stop sewing as close to my start point as possible (without overlapping), then I tie the two top threads to their counterparts, and on the reverse side, I tie one bobbin thread end to the other. I’ve found this to be much more secure. Here’s a picture showing the top threads tied off (I always start and end at a seam), as well as the reverse side of the stitching (yes, I used white bobbin thread so I wouldn’t have to wind a second bobbin. Let’s pretend I did it for demonstration purposes.):

But what to do about hems on sleeves, for example, that don’t start and end at the same place? Here’s my cunning (I think so, anyway, maybe everyone does this?) method for tying off the thread ends: I thread both of the top threads through a needle, stick the needle in between the two lines of stitching, and pull the threads to the back. Then I tie the bobbin thread to the two top threads.


Easy, clean, and secure! This example is from my Vogue 1250, but I’ve also used it on Vogue 8728, Vogue 1224, and Simplicity 3503 (that’s a lot of dresses with cut-on cap sleeves – do I have a thing?)

Finally, as great as the twin needle is, it’s still not as durable as a professional coverstitch, and I do still get popped hems occasionally when the bobbin thread just breaks somewhere in the middle of the hem. Rather than rip out and re-do the whole hem when that happens, though, I’ve discovered that I can carefully pull a short tail of bobbin thread out on both sides of the break, then pull out the top threads from that section (leaving them long too), and just re-sew the short section of hem. Then I tie off all the new threads to the old ones. Patched!

I really like hemming knits with a twin needle, and I do encourage you to try it if you never have. Don’t get discouraged if your machine seems to hate it – just keep re-threading and trying again until you find the right threading method and tension for your machine. Twin needle hemming has become my preferred knit edge finish method for all patterns, but I’m still amazed that no pattern instructions recommend it or even mention it! It can be tricky, but I think it’s totally worth it. What about you?

I have recently realised that I have been remiss as a sewing blogger… I have not introduced you all to my furry orange assistant! Luckily, the fantastic Cindy of Cation Designs (if you don’t read her blog, you must – she makes amazing whimsical dresses! she draws! she makes me laugh out loud!) has created the Best. Blog Award. Ever. which has reminded me of my responsibility to the sewing world at large. I am the honored recipient of the Sewing With Cats Blog Award!

So without further ado, meet Malcolm, aka The Orange Terror:

Yeah, I know, he doesn’t seem very intimidating, but trust me. He is a stalker of moving objects, a knocker-down of items from tables, a consummate getter-into of bags and boxes. He is afeared of nothing except the terrible Vacuum Monster (he is certainly not afeared of me). I have found that most other cats I’ve met seem to think they’re people, and as such they are entitled to equal rights in the house. Malcolm’s entitlement works differently – I’m pretty sure Malcolm doesn’t think he’s people… he thinks we’re cats. The hierarchy in our household is as follows: my husband is the alpha cat, Malcolm is his second in command, and I am some kind of minion to be ordered around and arbitrarily attacked anytime I turn a corner or enter a room. Weirdly, despite The Terror’s dominion over me, he doesn’t insert himself too much in my sewing. Perhaps he is too lofty to be concerned with the doings of the lowly serf-cat of the house? Whatever reason, I’m glad that he mostly hasn’t ruined any of my projects or fabric (yet!), though he has contributed a generous amount of hair to everything I’ve ever set down anywhere in my house. He does really enjoy sitting on pattern tissue, but I can usually enlist the aid of the alpha cat to yoink him off the table and distract him while I cut. The weirdest sewing item he likes to mess with, oddly, is pins. Though I’ve never seen him do it, I have found pins in rooms far away from the sewing table, and I can only assume he is carrying them there in his mouth. All right, weirdo. It must be a natural outgrowth of his love of twisty-ties and wire and cut-off ends of guitar strings.

Here’s one last “aaawwww” picture for you:

This is from about a week after we adopted him, almost 9 (!) years ago. (It’s black and white because I used to shoot film and develop/print it myself – until the idea of a “rental darkroom” went the way of the dodo – and there was a time when we didn’t have a point-and-shoot type camera, so all our pictures of Tiny Malcolm are scans of black and white prints from my ancient Mamiya-Sekor SLR.) He was so little and floppy and orange and furry and bitey… and not much has changed except he now takes up much more space on the bed. We’re still waiting for him to stop acting like a kitten and for-God’s-sake-stop-waking-us-up-at-daybreak-by-knocking-things-off-the-dresser, but I have a feeling he’ll just always be The Orange Terror no matter how old he is. But he’s our Terror and we love him… as long as he keeps his claws off my fabric.

Thanks Cindy for making me share him, and for a badge that will make me smile every time I see it in my sidebar! As far as passing on the award, I don’t know of any sewists-with-cats that haven’t already been honored, but if you have a Terror of your own you’d like to share, grab the badge and consider yourself awarded!

Well, the unthinkable has happened. I finished a dress in two hours. Total! No, really! I didn’t think it was possible either. I mentioned on Friday that I decided that the best way to kick my butt back into sewing gear would be to tackle a super easy project with a close deadline. And so it was that on Thursday night I took a half hour to cut out Vogue 1250 (all three pieces of it), on Friday morning I sewed for a little over an hour and got it all together, and on Saturday, before leaving for our anniversary trip, I hemmed the bottom and sleeves in another half hour or so. Into my suitcase it went!

We snagged this picture on the patio of the B and B we were staying at (great views!) before heading out to dinner at the most amazing restaurant – if you find yourself in Paso Robles ever, check out Artisan; it’s every bit as good as everyone says… just like this pattern!

I don’t have a lot to add to what others have said about this pattern – I really did make it with no modifications. (My full review is here). I cut a size 10 on top, grading to a 12 starting around the waist so the size transition would be complete before the dart craziness at the hip. Though my cutting was not the most precise ever, so nothing lined up quite perfectly, it still went together easily and fit just right with no adjustments. I used a twin needle to finish the hem and the sleeves, but I still used the binding for the back neck (although rather than fold it I just cut it in half lengthwise and left the inside edge raw). I made the front “facing” a bit deeper by cutting it at the size line for the 14.

The fabric came from my crazy fabric store, and was just about a yard, so I suppose this dress cost me 99 cents (not counting the pattern or the thread, of course… all right, but $6.50 is still pretty good). I like the dress, but more importantly it made me excited to sew more! It was great to be back at the machine after more than three weeks of not touching it.

So what’s next? I picked up a slew of new summer patterns last week at Jo Ann, which made me excited to jump into summer sewing even though we won’t have real summer weather here for months (if at all – our summers here are dismal and foggy). But I think next I really need to FINISH MY MINORU, and also I have a couple RTW knock-off tops I want to make, to enter in various contests in the next few weeks. Thanks, kickstart dress, for inspiring me!