Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Wedding Coat for Diana

I can hardly believe it, but my little girl will be married in five months. Where did the years go?
I've always loved sewing for her. Early on, though, I got her way too used to wearing clothes that fit well and were made of better materials. I think it really started in 2002 when I made her a wool skirt with a silk lining for an outing to New York.

She wore that skirt a lot while it still fit!
Well, now she is getting married (cue "Sunrise, Sunset"). She already has her dress; she purchased it at a thrift sale for $60. I'm not upset that I won't be making it for her; she and I agreed that we would most likely butt heads during the process if I were to make the dress.
But I won't be left out in the cold... Well, no, actually I will be. See, the wedding is on Valentine's Day, and it's an outdoor wedding. Bob and I were married that way as well! But here's the kicker: the ceremony starts at 7 in the morning. Yes, my little girl wants a Sunrise wedding. In February. In Maryland.
So I offered to make her a wedding coat. We did a little surfing and found the perfect example of what she wants.

We took a whirlwind one-day shopping trip to New York on Labor Day, only to discover that most of the "Big Name" stores were closed. Darn it!! But there were quite a few of the smaller stores open, and we managed to snag a gorgeous cashmere/angora wool at a store I know only as "Kabbalah Man" as my dear friend Sarah calls it. Now all I need to find is an old fur coat I can repurpose for the trim. The lining will be printed at Spoonflower, as Diana wants a very specific pattern and we haven't been able to find it.
The first step is to make a muslin to nail the overall design and fit. I will then make a short coat as a wearable muslin to confirm the fit and style. I hope to have the final coat done by the end of the year so I'm not in panic mode. Oh, and I will also need to make a dress and maybe a coat for myself.
Stay tuned... This should be an interesting adventure!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Smithson 2016: A Change of Direction

So about my gown ideas... Yeah, they got tossed out the window.
I really wasn't feeling any love for any of the ideas I had for this year's gown. So rather than force it, I decided to approach the problem from a different direction: fabric first. This meant a road trip with my daughter (and personal style guru) to A Fabric Place outside of Baltimore.
We spent an hour going through the various fabrics there, looking for inspiration. And we found it in a coral-inspired allover embroidered fabric.
I ended up buying just two yards of it because it was pretty expensive. Then we needed to figure out what to do with it. After much cogitation, we came up with the idea to have a bodice overlaid with the coral, and a solid skirt to pick up the orange-red of the embroidery.
The first idea was to have the coral go over an ocean blue, like in the first picture, but that really was a bit too cartoonish for my taste. We settled on an ivory, which looked very nice but wasn't perfect; it really was a compromise.
Then I had a meeting of my PatternMaster users group, and called on them to help brainstorm. As we were draping fabrics, I had an idea: I grabbed a piece of copper-colored charmeuse that I had received as a gift in a Reddit exchange. It was perfect!

To the Sewing Room!

I finally had time this weekend to hunker down and start sewing. I took inspiration for the skirt from all the wonderful comments on the swirly blue dress. This is the same pattern, but the godets are only quarter circles instead of half. This wasn't by choice; I went to two stores trying to find enough of the orange-red charmeuse to make six full godets but fell short. Ah well, so the skirt is only 1.5 circles instead of three!
So here's the first try-on. It's not pressed at all, nor hemmed, and the facings need to be tacked down, but I was too impatient to see how it looked.
Front view:

The top is a simple shoulder princess draft, with set in sleeves and a faced neckline. I'm not sure about the neckline; it looks so plain! Have to think whether I want to gussy it up at all. Oh, and there's no closure! It slips on over my head (but j-u-s-t barely)!
And really, it didn't dawn on me until I saw the pictures that I've got a real Halle Berry look going on... I didn't think the copper fabric was going to look so much like a skin tone!

Back view:

The facing really needs to be tacked down all around.

And it's so twirly!

So I still need to do the finishing touches (and decide what to do about the neckline, and jewelry, and hair), plus make the matching vest and tie for Bob. But heck; I've got another five days. Piece of cake!
It really does go to show that an evening gown can just be a regular dress pattern done up in fancy fabric.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Smithson 2016: Let's (Steam)Punk It Up!

Hooray! It's Smithson Gown time again!
I didn't make a new gown last year (I wore the Constellation Gown again), but it's time to pull out the stops again. My big inspiration is that the event will be held at the long-shuttered Arts and Industries Building! In keeping with the late-19th century building, I've decided to go with a Steampunk-inspired dress!
The event is on April 2, so I have a leisurely three weeks to get it all pulled together.

Suggestions I Got

Several people in my PMB group suggested I use my 2011 outfit as a jumping-off point:
Smithson 2011 Gown
 This was a three-piece outfit, with a lined jacket over a sleeveless shell and long skirt. This was one of my favorite ensembles, so I went back into my files and printed out a new pattern for the jacket to make a muslin.

A good start

Not bad for a first muslin!
Jacket Muslin Front View
The front view. I'm wearing this over a shirt, and I have not trimmed the half-inch hem allowance from the bottom edge or the sleeves.

Jacket Muslin Back View
Back view. I didn't press it prior to pictures, so there are some creases from the folds in the fabric. And the sleeve vents aren't pressed either.

Jacket Muslin Side View
Side view. I'm thinking the back edge needs to come down a little bit. I also really like the collar.

What Now?

A few readers suggested I use the same swirly pattern as for the summer dress I just posted to make the gown to go under this jacket. But will that be too much? I will have to try the jacket on with the summer dress to check whether it's a good combination. And I'm still up in the air as to whether to make it a top and skirt, or make it as a dress.
Later on today, I'm going to go fabric shopping with my daughter, who has a terrific eye for color. Then I will play with sketching styles and doing color combos and see what I come up with.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A New Dress, and I'm Still Here

My gosh, I hadn't realized how much I had been neglecting my blog. There were messages waiting in moderation for MONTHS and I did not know. I will do my best to answer them now but many are probably no longer relevant. Still, I apologize for my silence.
I had a pretty long dry spell with regards to sewing since last summer. We put our house on the market, which necessitated reducing the amount of stuff in my sewing room to make the room look larger. So my lovely work table had to go. Fortunately, it has found a new home with a sewing friend, who has promised to love it as I did, and create many beautiful things with it.
The sewing drought lasted until well into January, when I went to the Virginia ASG sewing retreat in Winchester, VA. Last year at the retreat I got pretty sick and didn't really accomplish much. This year, fortunately, was much different. I had three solid days of productive sewing, and created three new garments (plus one wadder).

The Dress
I've been wanting a nice dress to wear in the warmer months; one with a fitted bodice and wide skirt. But I didn't want a lot of bulk at the waist. Even a traditional flared gored skirt can have big folds of fabric at the hip, which really isn't my best look.
One day I was wandering through a store (I think it was Altar'd State) and saw a skirt with a very interesting godet. Rather than having the peak of the godet coming to a point, it was a soft, rounded top! In looking at the construction, I realized that the godet itself was merely a half-circle of fabric sewed into a shaped opening in the body of the skirt.
With that in mind, I fired up my trusty copy of PatternMaster Boutique and started drafting my own version. And here's what I came up with for the skirt.
The skirt is cut from two identical pieces for the front and back; the seams are at the sides. The rest of the pattern is a midriff-waisted bodice with shoulder princess seams.
I made the dress up out of a piece of rayon that was in my stash; it was a good thing it was a large piece because this dress eats up fabric!! All told, I used about eight yards. Each of the six gores takes almost a full yard!
So here's the dress!
Just standing there, it's not immediately obvious how wide the skirt is. So here's another view.
I'm holding up two of the sides, and there's still lots of fabric left. With the six half-circle godets, the hemline sweep of the dress is three full circles! So needless to say, it is a very twirly skirt!

It's hard to get a good picture of the sweep, even from above!
The dress is incredibly comfortable; there's no closure, and the neck and armholes have a one-piece facing. I'm already planning on making a few more of these, and will be bringing them on our trip to Holland next month.

More to Come
I will do posts about the other two garments I made in the next few days, and I pinky-swear that I won't do another vanishing act. See you soon!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Make any dress fit perfectly in just ten minutes!

A few years ago I made a gown for the annual Smithson Gala. It’s been hanging in my closet since then, and my lovely daughter Diana wondered if she could possibly try it on to see if it fit.


Of course, it was too large, but certainly alterable. And in less than ten minutes, it went from loose and drab to fitted and fabulous!


(She insisted on adding the apple, for a little drama!)

And no matter how little sewing ability you have, you too can make ANY garment fit perfectly, in under ten minutes. I’m going to share my secret weapon with you.






(scroll down…)





(a little bit more…)

Yep, the humble binder clip. And it’s the reason why I don’t trust most photos for judging fit, especially if it’s in catalogs or store websites.

That dress went from blah to wow, just by clipping it in a few strategic spots. I’m going to show you the side the camera DIDN’T see.

To make the front look good, the back was clipped:

And to make the back look good, the front was clipped:

And yes, the clips were moved around so I could take the pictures of the two sides.

Of course, if she actually wanted to wear the dress anywhere but in front of a camera, it would take a lot longer to actually sew the alterations.

The moral of the story is that you simply cannot judge the fit of a garment by pictures alone, unless you were there when the pictures were taken. So many times people buy clothes online or from catalogs, and discover they don’t fit the way they did in the pictures, and end up blaming themselves for either “ordering the wrong size” or “I just have a problem body.” Neither is true. It is the fault of the clothing marketer, who has a vested interest in making the clothes look as perfect as possible -- never mind if they actually DID fit the way they do.

Think I'm kidding? Here's a behind-the-scenes look from a photo shoot with Antonio Banderas (from the Poorly Dressed section of

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Mom, can you copy this dress?" --The umpteenth edition

I love sewing clothes for my daughter. She has an eye for color and a thirst for style, and has a keen eye about what looks good on her. What she doesn't have is the discretionary income to indulge all her sartorial desires. That's where I come in.
She will often send me pictures of clothes she finds online and asks if I can copy them. And, most often, they're not hard to copy. She is fond of simple lines, so it's pretty easy to look at the pictures and figure out what the crucial details are. Of course, she likes to inject her own style onto them, and asks for necklines to be changed, or hemlines altered, or things like that. And I can usually accommodate her alterations.
So, a few weeks ago she sent me this picture of a Ralph Lauren knit dress.
Okay, nothing too difficult here. Looks like a t-shirt lengthened into a sheath. But what about that inset?
I started with a plain sheath in PatternMaster Knits, set to floor length. Then I brought it into Pattern Editor and drew the curved lines for the insert. After some cogitating, I realized that the insert was simply a half-circle, with the diameter sewn into the insert seamline. Once I measured the seam line for the insert (38"), I had the information I needed to draft the insert. It ended up being a half-circle, 76" wide, with a 38" radius.
The problem was, my fabric was only 60" wide. No problem; I just cut the inserts on the crossgrain.
Oops. Big problem. The fabric only had stretch on the crossgrain. So my inserts sagged terribly and just didn't hang right. Here's the first dress with the cross-grain insert.
This is prior to any finishing work, so the neck, cuffs and hem are raw. There was a lot of excess fabric in the inset; part of that is likely because, since the inset seam was curved, it was actually longer than the measurement from the top of the insert to the hem. But it was so saggy! It just didn't look right. That's when we figured out that the insets being on the crossgrain was causing the problem.

 Luckily, I had another piece of knit fabric in my stash, so I made a second dress, but this time I did the inserts as quarter-circles, with the vertical seam on the straight of grain, so it would hang better.

Here's the second dress, with my daughter standing on my work table (so glad I built it like a tank!) so I could trim it without crawling around on the floor. The inset was still too long, but it hung so much better.

Trim, trim, trim. I cut it so that it was evenly 3" from the floor. Diana didn't want to risk tripping over the hem, so she asked for it to be shorter than the sample picture she sent.

The neckline, cuffs and hem were all finished by folding over 1/2" and coverstitching.

She was very happy with the second dress. But, she asked, is it possible to salvage the first one? So I removed the serged seam (God, how I hate doing that...), then cut the inserts in half and sewed them back together so the vertical seam was now on the straight of grain, and re-inserted them. The skirt was trimmed and hemmed the same as the last one, only for this one I scooped the back neck a bit more since she often likes that.

So here we have the two finished dresses. They look very similar in the pictures, but the first dress is really more of a teal color and the second is more of a true blue.

First dress:

The two half-circle inserts mean it is a very full skirt!

(And yes, the seams are a little puckered. This fabric was NOT fun to work with.)

Low scoop in back.

Here's the second dress:

Holding out one of the inserts so you can see just how big it is:

The neckline on this one is a little higher in back.

It does have a nice twirl to it, too!

I'm now busy with a pair of work pants for me, which is quite necessary as my last RTW pair bit the dust. I'm just glad my sewing room has air conditioning!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Costumes for Legally Blonde: The Musical

I've been pretty busy with costume work again, this time for our local high school performance of "Legally Blonde: The Musical." Because I apparently live under a rock, I was not familiar with the story at all. Why on earth would a movie about a ditzy lawyer need a bandleader outfit and a Playboy bunny suit? And why did they also need a cheerleader's outfit copied in shades of gray and white? And what's with needing a breakaway dress?

YouTube to the rescue! There was an upload of an MTV broadcast of the Broadway show, so I finally understood the context of the outfits. So I got to work.

I knew the most challenging piece was going to be the bunny suit. Ever try and find a pattern for a Playboy Bunny suit? I tried, I really did. The best I found was this Instructable, which at least got me started. I used PatternMaster to get the basic top fitted, but even they didn't offer a tightly-fitted princess seam bodysuit. I ended up doing a bit of a Frankenpattern routine, using a princess-seamed strapless top and adding the front and back by hand, drafting the leg curves and crotch pieces. I knew what her crotch measurement was, so I used that as a basic guide to get the length right. In looking at pictures of the traditional Playboy Bunnies, I saw that the peak of the leg curve was in the front of the leg, rather than over the hip, so I had to figure out where that fell as well.

The first muslin wasn't too bad; I pinned out the extras and sliced where it was too tight, then did a second muslin in the final fabric, which looked worse.

I was despairing of ever getting it right, but fortunately the third time was the charm. We used a scrap piece of rabbit fur for the tail, and I also made cuffs, a collar, and bunny ears (thanks to that Instructable!).

On to the Bandleader outfit!

The prime concern about this one is that it was a double quick-change. The actress had very little time to get into it, and to get out of it. So I decided to make the top and the jacket into one piece, zipped up the front. The slinky gold shorts were worn under the previous costume, so that wasn't too much of an issue. In the end, it came together pretty quickly.

The costume director also wanted me to decorate the hat they had for her, with the proviso that I not damage it, which meant not gluing or sewing anything directly to the hat. The hat was a very deep blue, so it had to be completely covered. My solution was to make sort of a "slipcover" for the hat, and gluing decorations to that. The tassel and button are actually part of the original hat; I just cut a slit into my cover and pulled them out. The front ornament is also part of the original hat.

Now, about that cheerleader...

The director handed me this cheerleader dress and said she needed a copy in shades of white and gray for the same actress.

 I traced the dress rather than try to create a pattern, and got a pretty decent fit the first time. The contrast stripes were simply topstitched onto the bodice; I knew the costume would only be on stage for a few minutes, so I applied my "30 foot rule" and didn't bother with edge finishes. It was knit fabric, after all, so it wouldn't fray. I didn't even hem the skirt.

Breaking Away

In one of the earliest scenes of the show, the main character walks onstage in a flimsy white dress and moans that it just screams "bride".

She is then surrounded by a circle of her friends and two seconds later emerges from the scrum in a vivid pink number!

How did she do the change so fast?

Snap tape to the rescue! I just opened up the entire back seam and sewed in about three feet of snap tape. It's pretty much undetectable, even from just a few feet away, and once the actress is within the circle of girls, the one in back simply yanks the entire back seam open and pulls the dress off in one smooth motion, revealing the pink dress underneath. It's a great stage moment!

Closing night is Saturday the 21st, and I'm looking forward to being in the audience. I always have fun making costumes for this group, even though my kids have long since graduated from the school. I'm also happy that my daughter has become adept at hand sewing and on-the-spot alterations backstage; for this show she is serving as the main character's dresser backstage. I'm so proud of her!

Note: All production photos taken by Eric Lader.