Monthly Archives: June 2014

I realized recently that I don’t sew for the actual weather where I live. This could be because I’m simply in denial (“hey, I live in Southern California, summer should be hot!”) or I’ve fallen into the Seasonless Region Trap (“well, it’s technically summer on the calendar, even if it’s 60 degrees and not sunny”), but I am sewing for seasons we just don’t have here. I have in my closet a number of long sleeve dresses and tops, and a number of sleeveless dresses and tops, but I have relatively few dresses and tops with, for instance, some shoulder coverage – i.e., that are actually functional in the weather we have here most of the time. While all you other North Americans are having summer right now, we on the coast have Gloom. It’s not cold, but it’s not hot. The sun isn’t out when I get up, but is hidden above a thick layer of… something or other that is not rain clouds, not regular clouds, not fog, but is a depressing shade of gray that makes me sad, until it finally breaks anywhere between 11am and 5pm. In other words, not sundress weather. We get that in October. Or January. Coastal climates are weird.

So this year I’m trying to be more realistic. Luckily, I discovered the magic that is the Kirsten Kimono Tee. Not sleeveless, but not sleeved either. Warmer than a tank but still with a casual summery vibe. Let the hacking continue!

kirsten dress

This dress is based off a dress I spotted at Boden, of course. I’m realizing that waistbands are my friends in the figure flattery department, so I’m gravitating more toward waistbanded styles rather than the bags-tied-with-sashes or gathered-skirts-joined-directly-to-bodices that I’ve favored in the past. I knew this would be an easy hack. Waistband just a rectangle (in this case, about 3 inches tall). Skirt again borrowed from New Look 6122. But then I had to figure out how to make a gathered bodice…

I started with the Kirsten tee pattern, shortened to waist length (by the simple expedient of trying one of my existing tees on and measuring from the center neckline to my waist). Then I stared at it for a while. I wasn’t quite sure how to actually add gathers along the front waistline. In the end, I did what amounted to a Full Bust Adjustment. I never thought I’d say that on this blog! I knew what to do because I generally have to do the opposite. I slashed and spread, trying to concentrate my spreading at the bottom of the bodice rather than at the bust. Here is a terrible iPhone picture of what I did. I evened out the bottom hem by sort of splitting the difference.

kirsten gathered bodice

And, well, it basically worked… in the sense that if I had a full bust, there would be room for it now. If I stand up straight it looks okay, but if I slouch there’s a pretty big fabric puddle above the waistband. Any ideas out there about how to add gathers to the bottom of a bodice without making room for two or three additional busts? I’m fairly sure it’s not possible, since that is the point of gathers, but perhaps some of you are magical.

I didn’t adjust the back at all, and I still had to gather it a little to fit it to the waistband.

kirsten dress back

But all in all, I still like it. Kind of a lot. It’s basically just what I wanted. A casual but not too casual summery-feeling dress that isn’t so skimpy that I need a cardigan on a Gloomy morning.

The fabric is from Girl Charlee (ordered using my 9oz-or-more/designer-overstock rule). It’s a more vibrant turquoise and gray check than is evident in these pictures, taken as they were indoors on a typical Gloom-struck morning. I bought it because the bold graphic appealed to me, though I didn’t quite know what to make with it. I pulled it out when I thought of making this dress hack, and I think the simplicity of the dress helps tame the bold fabric. I will say that this is the second GC printed fabric I’ve bought that the color rubs off on everything. My hands were green by the time I finished this dress, and my white bike seat was smeared green when I arrived at work the first day I wore it. It doesn’t bleed, exactly, just rubs off like the dye on new denim. It doesn’t affect the look of the fabric, and in my experience stops after a few washes. The fabric is nicely stretchy and was super easy to work with (other than the green hands), and there’s a ton of it left in stock (and on sale!)

kirsten dress 2

So as we near the end of June, my eternal hope that the Gloom will lift springs, and my mind is drifting from practical weather-appropriate garments to shorts and tanks again. I managed to make one other shoulder-covered dress, but I’m afraid my resolve is crumbling and real sundresses are calling me… So I’m sure this odd little dress will get a lot of wear. Because I’ve lived here long enough to know that Gloom lasts until September, no matter how many sundresses I make.

I’m a garment spotter. The first thing I notice when I see a stranger is what they’re wearing, and if I like what they’re wearing I spend the time they’re in my sight trying to figure out how to make it. I do this everywhere. In restaurants, in line at the grocery store (lots of time to stare there), just walking down the street. It’s a great game. What patterns do I own/know of that I could frankenpattern into that garment?

This particular dress was inspired by one I spotted on a girl walking on the path near the beach as I rode my bike in the opposite direction, so I only glimpsed it for a second. But I immediately knew how I would make it. And further, unlike most of the things I play this game with, I really, really wanted to make it.

And when I realized I could attend the LA Sewist Meetup, I had an occasion to make it for. As a bicycle commuter working in a profession that largely involves moving large awkward pieces of furniture all over a stage all day, maxi dresses are not really an option for work wear. But what better than a halter maxi dress to wear to a luncheon with a gaggle of sure-to-be-well-dressed ladies in warm and sunny early summer Los Angeles?

Vogue 8380 maxi

I am kind of in love with the gathered-sack halter dress style. (Why doesn’t this neckline style have its own name? It’s not a true halter, really, but I guess that’s what you call it. Gillian was recently musing the same thing.) Vogue 8380 was the very first dress pattern I ever made, and last year I hacked it to copy a dress I spotted on a TV show. This hack is based on that hack. I used the front bodice piece from that hack (which is extended from the original pattern to go to the true waist rather than the empire waist), and I extended the original back pattern piece in the same way. The neckband I cut from the neck tie pattern, but only made it 25ish inches long because I didn’t want a tie. The waistband is again just rectangles 3 inches high and waist-sized. The skirt I bogarted from New Look 6122 (which I bought because it has several bodice variations I like, none of which I have tried yet) with the skirt cut down at the top to the waistline from the empire line. (Could I have drafted a maxi skirt with center gathers? Almost certainly. Did I feel the need to when somebody had already done the work for me? Nope.)

I just stuck it all together and hoped it would work out. Luckily gathers are your friend when frankenpatterning, so I just gathered the bodice and skirt to fit the waistband.

Because maxi dresses are generally pretty heavy, I used clear elastic when hemming the armholes (zigzag to wrong side, fold along edge of elastic, twin needle over, same as my usual crossover neckline technique) as well as inside the neckband (sewn into the seam) to provide as much support as possible to those little shoulders holding up all that dress.

Vogue 8380 maxi back

Let me talk about this fabric for a second. I. love. this. fabric. This was a Girl Charlee success story. I’ve gotten burned ordering from there in the past by thinner-than-I-thought knits, purchased before I understood what weight of fabric I really wanted. My tip: unless you want a sheer or burnout look fabric, don’t get anything that says it’s less than 10 oz weight. Especially if you want to use it for a skirt/dress. Also, buy everything they have labeled as “designer overstock score” or anything like that, it’s always fabulous. This fabric is a bamboo jersey with lycra that was described as a 10 oz “famous designer score”, and it is amazing. It’s so soft, and springy, and a pretty color, and striped, and just generally awesome. Also, it’s wide enough to make a halter maxi with just two yards. I bought this green one and a gray one too, and I liked it so much when it came that I went right back online and ordered it in two more colors. Yep. Go get some now before it’s gone! (Obviously I’m just telling you about it now after I got all I wanted.)

And after a long spring of buying fabric online without being able to touch it first, I was really excited to go gorge on fabric I could wrap myself in. Because the meetup was only scheduled to shop at The Fabric Store (with Mood still inexplicably closed due to earthquake damage), I made arrangements to hit the downtown fashion district the day before. Nhi, Sandra, Julianne and I made a huge dent in the Michael Levine Loft striped jersey supply, I can tell you that. We also hit the FIDM store and a few of the strange these-zippers-have-been-here-for-decades type shops typical of the fashion district. And let me tell you, the only thing that makes digging through giant piles of fabric of dubious origin more awesome is doing it with other sewists!

LA Sewists!

And hooo boy, other sewists there were aplenty at the meetup on Saturday! It was so cool to discover how many of us there are in Southern California (for a while I was pretty sure there were more sewing bloggers in New Zealand than in California… I still think it’s pretty close.) We occupied a very long table plus some at the cafe, and then we swarmed The Fabric Store, where their huge table in the front of the store was barely long enough for the piles of patterns and fabric people brought to swap. All the fabric I brought found new homes (I’ll be excited to see if any of it pops up as a garment anywhere!) and I picked up a couple patterns and one nice piece of oatmeal slub jersey. Then in the giveaway I won my choice of any Deer and Doe pattern! I chose the Centaurée, which I’ve been eyeing since it was released. It’s winging its way to me from France as I type, and I’m going to see if I can make it up in a knit, obviously. Thank you so much to Erin, JillLaurie and Kathy for all your work organizing this meetup! And thank you to all the generous pattern designers who donated patterns to the (extensive) giveaway! I can’t wait to get my Centaurée (and put my college French to the test with the French version of the instructions…) I had a great time at The Fabric Store meeting folks and talking fabric. It’s a beautiful store, and actually a great place to hang out and chat – here’s Nhi and Juliane hanging at one of the tables. It’s like an awesome fabric bar – they just need some fancy cocktails…

at the fabric bar

I only bought two pieces myself, surprisingly restrained (and I’m pretty sure they happened to be the two least expensive fabrics in the store, my bill was only $16!). So, what did my whole trip net me?

LA haul June 14

Across the bottom are my two Fabric Store purchases – a stretch denim and a mushroom colored viscose jersey. Above that on the right are the two pieces from FIDM – a gray stripe jersey and a lovely drapey pink jersey that feels like upscale yoga top fabric (the Pneuma Tank is calling its name…) On top is my swap snag, the oatmeal jersey. And all the rest is my haul from the Loft – so many stripes! My favorites are the neon pink and gray stripe doubleknit, several awesome variegated stripe jerseys, and on the top left, a weird quilted-y fabric of mysterious origin, which reminded me of Tasia’s recent quilted skirt. I also scored an assortment of fold-over elastic in various colors and prints and a long purple zipper for the project I spent hours coverstitching at Nhi’s.

Yes, the amazing Nhi was kind enough to let me stay overnight (as she is located closer to LA than me), and doubly kind to let me occupy her coverstitch machine for most of the night. I hemmed the maxi dress to start, then coverstitched the heck out of a knit hoodie/jacket I’m making (more on that soon). And, obviously, I want a coverstitch machine now.

I got to enjoy Nhi’s awesome sewing room in her new house, and of course I also had to use her backyard vineyard (seriously – the previous owners were so obsessed with wine that they planted a vineyard) for a dress photo op.

vineyard maxi op

Hmmm, are these grapes ready yet?


Inexplicably I kept posing like I was smelling the grapes, but that makes very little sense, of course. I am the. worst. at photo posing. Sandra, on the other hand, is a natural with bizarre props (never mind that the wheelbarrow is almost entirely obscuring the object of the shoot, the fabulous red jeans):

wheelbarrows are fun

I had an amazing time all in all last weekend – it was so fantastic to hang out with awesome people I can talk to about not only sewing, but also life, and work, and food, and pets, and anything and everything. I’m so grateful that this weird little hobby of mine and the weird giant internet has connected me with great friends I would never have encountered otherwise. Let’s do it again soon!

Sometimes, most times, the things I make have been rolling around in my head for months, even years, just waiting their turn patiently to go from idea to garment. But sometimes, out of nowhere, a garment latches on to me suddenly and won’t let go until I make it happen already. That was the case with this blazer.

indie outfit

When I saw the announcement of Sewing Indie Month, I knew I wanted to participate, and I perused all the participating designers’ patterns, but nothing immediately called out to me until I was cruising (as though I needed any new fabric), and a striped doubleknit practically jumped out of the screen and shouted “I’m a Victoria Blazer!” And that was that. I ordered the fabric (and a plain black ponte for the collar and cuffs), popped on over to the By Hand London site to buy the pattern, and… it was out of stock. But boy, that blazer had sunk its teeth in me and was not letting go. That ponte was going to be a Victoria, dammit! So I stalked the BHL site for a week or so, becoming more desperate each day, and I was about to put a plea out for someone to loan me their pattern when: poof, back in stock. I ordered it immediately and hoped the transatlantic shipping wouldn’t take too long…

While I was waiting I put together an outfit to go with the blazer, figuring it would be fun to enter the Indie Love Affair category. Surfing through all the indie pattern sites, I was reminded that I’d wanted to make Dixie DIY’s Movies in the Park Shorts since they came out, but back then I was afraid to make anything with a crotch. But not anymore! I knew I had a cool graphic black and white print in the stash that could work with the striped ponte. Then I had to find a nice colorful top to complete the look – enter the Kirsten Kimono Tee, colorblocked of course, because I can’t leave well enough alone. I’d finished the shorts by the time the Victoria pattern landed in my mailbox, and then I put together the top and the blazer in about a week. Outfit complete with time to spare! Deadlines are my best motivators.

indie outfit side


I’ll start with the blazer. I knew I would have to make some changes to the way it was put together because I was using a knit. Initially I thought I would line it with a knit lining, but the one I ordered was both too thin and not quite the color I was imagining. So I hit on the idea (thanks to Dixie, actually) of sewing down the lapel/collar seam allowances with bias tape in a bright color. I knew no amount of pressing would tame those seam allowances. Luckily on the cropped version of the blazer the lapels go to the hem, so they would hide the line of stitching holding the bias tape in place.

victoria blazer insides

After some not insignificant amount of consideration, I decided to unfold the bias tape and sew it to the seam allowances along its first fold, raw edges matched. Then I folded the bias tape around the seam allowances and stitched the whole shebang to the shell of the blazer.

victoria bias tape finish

It’s not perfect, but I like the little pop of color on the inside. All the rest of my seams I left unfinished, just trimmed and pressed open. I could have serged them, but somehow I liked the look of pressed open better – like a hong kong finish without all that pesky finishing. I also created a hem facing, because I wanted a deep hem – if I was going to topstitch the hem I wanted to make a statement with it – and I thought a facing I could understitch would make a neater hemline than a turned-under hem. The hem facing is just a strip of fabric as long as the hem and about 2 inches tall. I stitched the rest of my bias tape to the top of the hem facing; as a knit it doesn’t need a finish but I liked the extra line of color. I think the weight of the hem facing helps with the drape of the back too.

victoria blazer back

I narrowed the bottom of my lapels using the quirky peach’s tutorial – I like the more traditional blazery look of the narrowed lapels. I understitched the new seam that created to try to keep the sharp edge of the lapels. The collar is just folded as per instructions, but this ponte pressed fairly well and the collar behaves. However, as expected, in the knit these lapels have a mind of their own. I tacked down the corners closest to the center front (basically making little bar tacks the width of the bias tape on the inside) on the top and bottom of each lapel, but the middle of one lapel still wants to flop open. Ah well, let’s just say it contributes to the casual vibe of the blazer.

victoria blazer

This pattern comes together really fast and easily (with the possible exception of my bias tape interior finish). I do think it works in a doubleknit, even if it’s a bit floppy. It’s probably the comfiest blazer ever. I made a straight size US8/UK12 based on my bust measurement and the knowledge that it’s got a lot of swinginess to it. At first I wasn’t totally sold on the voluminous back, but that’s the style, and the knit drapes fairly well so it’s not too tenty. It’s actually a really cool pattern, and while it’s not obviously my kind of thing, I’m glad my subconscious or whatever made me make it because I like it. I might even make another one, in a woven with a proper lining and lapels that stay put on their own.

Moving on to the shorts: I’d purchased this strange waffly woven fabric right when I started sewing, with the intention of making a pencil skirt (remember, early fear of crotches). I never got around to the skirt, though, which I’m starting to learn is my subconscious’ way of telling me a fabric is actually going to be more perfectly suited to a different pattern or type of garment in the future. As soon as I thought of making the MitP shorts, I thought of this fabric. And oh, I went back and forth for a while about using a crazy bright color bias tape to finish the edges, but in the end the fear of only being able to wear the shorts with one color of top made me opt for safe black trim, with white buttons.

movies in the park shorts

The pattern is pretty fab. No fly means they go together in a snap (with the exception of having to sew on 12 buttons…), and the fitting can be fine tuned at the end when you overlap and sew the sides. This is my first non-Thurlow pant-type item, though, and I was worried they wouldn’t fit over my… generous backside. After comparing the pattern pieces to the Thurlow shorts, this was confirmed. The front looked okay, but the back center seemed way too low. So I made what is basically a big butt adjustment (BBA?) following this diagram from the Colette site. I slashed and spread the back piece as follows (I later filled in the holes with more paper, but I took the picture first to better show how I spread):

shorts BBA

I cut a size large, except I cut the medium back crotch curve, as I have to scoop that curve out even in the Thurlow pattern. I probably could have made a medium all over, and there would have been less side overlap, but I was playing it safe (and I like my shorts on the roomy side). I feel like the back fit is really good – hooray for the BBA! The front crotch is not as perfect, but I’m not sure what I should do about it. Perhaps I need a deeper front curve as well.

movies in the park shorts back

The bias tape finish went on surprisingly easily. Before I bound the edges but after I made the pockets and attached the waistband, I fused a strip of interfacing to the back along the buttonhole lines to reinforce them. I made the buttonholes vertical as called for in the pattern, except for the waistband buttons which I made horizontal for durability and ease of use.

shorts buttonholes

I can get the shorts on and off with just the waistband unbuttoned, actually, but I made the top two buttons on each side functional just in case. I left the bottom four buttonholes on each side closed, then stitched the front and back together with a straight machine stitch through the center of each unopened buttonhole before sewing the buttons on top. I felt like this was safer than having the shorts held on my body simply by my poorly-hand-sewn buttons…

Completing the outfit is another Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono tee. I had this teal fabric in stash, left over from this dress, but I didn’t quite have enough for a whole shirt – colorblocking to the rescue! The gray is a mystery remnant given me by Ms.McCall last summer (most of which I used to make a top for my mom for Christmas). I color blocked both the front and back pieces this time, again folding the pattern at the first paper seam to create the two pieces. I made the neckband in the teal because that fabric is so much stretchier than the gray, and also because if I have the opportunity to make a contrast anything, I will take it.


I’m pretty happy with how this outfit turned out. And as much as I like the pieces together, the best thing is that they are all pieces that I can, and will, wear with other things. Plus it was really fun to comb through a ton of indie pattern catalogs and see what all is out there. And I can tell you, it’s all of it more fun and interesting than anything the Big 5 pattern companies are coming out with lately. So even though the “official” Sewing Indie Month is over, I can say that I plan to keep sewing indie all summer – my desktop is currently littered with pdf patterns I’ve downloaded in the last month from all kinds of independent designers, not just the ones participating in this particular contest. Although I despise printing and assembling pdf patterns, there’s just too many good ones out there to justify avoiding it any longer. So thank you to all you designers out there, for taking the time to share your innovative ideas with us! If you’re interested in checking out more indie patterns, there’s a huge list of companies here and another here. Be prepared for a time-suck of massive proportions when you dive into these lists. But you’re sure to find something unexpected that will latch on to you and demand to be made!