Refashion Runway, Here I Come!

Refashioning or upcycling textiles into new designs has been really fun and satisfying, so I resolved to push myself more in 2020. Here’s a gallery of projects from the past couple of years:

I didn’t have to wait long. I was chosen to compete on “Refashion Runway” – a friendly sewing competition sponsored by Beth Huntington, aka “The Renegade Seamstress.”

Yikes! There are 15 contestants who have put up some fabulous looks using textiles that had a previous life. Here’s a rundown of the competitors with some of their choice refashioned looks. I am so impressed with how these sewers combine textiles and shapes to create something super cool.

While I am no slouch in the sewing department, my refashioned looks have been a bit, shall I say, basic? I have upcycled and refashioned mostly large flat pieces of fabric, such as a sari, a blanket and not one, but two tablecloths. My most ambitious project was creating a nightgown out of an old bathrobe, and while I like how this project turned out, it’s not exactly a garment I wear on the street. In public. Or even in a photo on this blog.

So, I gotta step it up.

The first project, which starts January 18th, is “Statement Sleeves.” We were given the basic challenge parameters in advance, so we could start planning. There are few guidelines for each challenge; we’re meant to interpret it for ourselves. I assume this challenge means we need to create a big, showy sleeve in an refashioned garment. Statement sleeves broke through as a trend a few years ago as a kind of antidote to the sleeveless look of the early 2010s. It’s still going strong, to judge from all the ruffles, puffs, pleats, cutouts and other sleeve designs you see out there.

I really like a dramatic cuff on a sleeve, so that’s my jumping-off point.

RuPaul

In my closet, several misfit discarded garments wait for their chance to shine. That’s your cue, awkward linen dress!

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Awkward linen dress from a friend … can you carry the water?

My friend Emmeline gave me this dress last summer. She wore it once but found it … just … not … her cup o’tea. But the fabric was nice, so she gave it to me with encouragement to refashion it.

The first thing I did was to wash and machine dry it with other laundry three times to soften the linen-cotton blend up and to let any shrinking get nice and shrunken. Trying it on, you no doubt notice a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • I like a high-contrast print, which this for sure provides in navy and white.
  • It’s big and long enough to give me some fabric to work with.
  • There are no darts or zippers and few seams to complicate a refashion project.
  • The hem and sleeve hems are split, offering some design change opportunities.

Cons:

  • I am not crazy about the “junior high school art teacher” swishy brushstroke motif.
  • It has no lining, and the “wrong side” of the fabric looks pretty bad, as the navy bleeds through.
  • The neckline is awkwardly proportioned and has a crummy facing.
  • The fabric remains a bit stiff and ungainly despite three journeys in the washing machine and dryer.

Clearly, this is not going to work as a dress, no matter how it’s refashioned.

My big idea is to turn it into a duster-style jacket. I think I will cut it right up the middle, self-face the raw edges, recut the neckline and add some darts for shaping, front and back. Maybe a contrasting lining? It will need some help as the wrong side will be on display even more as a jacket.

But what about the sleeves? That’s the whole point of the challenge. I am thinking a cuff – in the same contrast as the lining – with some accent hardware or other bling to edge this look up a bit.

I had nothing suitable in my closet of misfit garments, so it was off to Goodwill to see what they had.

Score!

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Goodwill raincoat for $9.89 – 10% off

This red rain jacket has a lot to work with as it’s fully lined. The zipper was broken, which is probably why someone donated it. And it has a cute drawstring in the hood, which can be repurposed easily.

Red is my favorite color! And the contrast with navy and white will look chic (I hope).

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Raincoat – ready for some refashion fun!

I have a good week to play around with my ideas before the contest starts. Wish me luck!

A Suit for Work – Sort Of

I really need a suit for work. So I made one. Sort of. While this is okaaaaaayyyyy… it’s not really a suit and not really suitable for work.

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Kinda sorta suit

I suppose this is a suit in that it’s a two-piece outfit made of the same fabric. The black is a ponte knit and the gray is faux suede. Somehow, although both fabrics have been treated the same way, the jacket fabric looks darker and more luxe than the skirt fabric. Hmm.

The jacket is Lekala 4114, which has a drop-shoulder yoke and bell sleeves.

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Wingspan courtesy of Lekala 4114

The jacket was a pain in the ass to make. In brief:

  • It’s a lined jacket, but there are no lining pattern pieces provided. Draft your own, sucker!
  • The square sleeves and armholes make for an adventure in geometry as you finagle four right angles together. Bulky mess!

There are other goofy things – like the technical drawing doesn’t show the back yoke – but I don’t want to bore you. To sum up: I think I’ve had it with Lekala.

I also made my own trouble with this jacket. I wanted suede cuffs, but I couldn’t work it out. They came out very bulky and crappy looking. So I left half the cuff as a facing just so I wouldn’t feel that it was a total waste.

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My hand stitching sucks though. So I guess it’s for the best that the facings don’t really show. You can get a peek at them here:

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Side view – with suede sleeve facings

The back gives a capelike appearance to the jacket.

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Rear view – yikes!

I didn’t adjust for my uneven shoulder, because I had no idea how to do that with the yoke. Oh well.

The skirt, as I have mentioned before, is the Osaka wrap skirt from Seamwork magazine. In this picture you can really see how the two-tone seam cuts right across the widest part of my legs and butt, making them look wider.

Also, looking at this picture, I notice that I was wearing brown – not black – tights. Sheesh.

Anyway, this is not a great suit, by even the most generous definition. Sew edgy? Meh. It meets some definitions but misses the mark overall. At least I tried. I think the pieces are wearable, but definitely not together. And I think I will add a zipper to the jacket so it sits better.

Best and Worst of 2019

I am happy that I met all my sewing goals for 2019 and ended up with quite a few useful and well-made pieces!

My single biggest achievement (and #1 garment for 2018) was actually a three-fer. I made jeans! And I used the embroidery attachment of my machine for the first time! And I went to a sewing retreat!

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Jeans, bitches!

The jeans are Workroom Social’s Claryville Jeans. I can’t say enough awesome things about this pattern. LOVE. And as the jeans have worn (I have worn them a ton since I made them in September) they have conformed nicely to my bod.

Here’s another look at the embroidery on the back pockets:

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While the sewing retreat part of the jeans-making experience wasn’t for me, I am glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and I have been thinking about how to apply that learning to next year.

Another goal was to make a garment for my mother. I made her a top from Lekala patterns, and she liked it so much, she asked for another one, in fancier fabric that she can wear for Christmas/New Year’s events. I sewed this up for her birthday in December.

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Lekala 4114

She picked out this gold polyester satin. Not the best, but I made it work. It looks better on than in this photo (I promise). I used the fancy buttons I got at LouLou in the Garment District in NYC.

I took the “RTW Fast Pledge” and made a goal to not buy any clothing except for things like socks and tights. I would have made it, too, if not for my vacation in May! It was so cold (unseasonably and unexpectedly) that I bought a few things on an emergency basis. I donated both jackets to a charity that provides coats to the poor, and I have worn the sweater a few times. So…. I am going to call this “a win!”

On the positive side, I truly did “Me Made May” this year – wearing at least one me- made garment daily for the whole month of May. Yay!

Here’s my biggest swing-and-miss from 2019: I didn’t do so well in my resolve to participate in fewer sewalongs and sewing contests. I get swept up in the excitement and camaraderie. I also hope to make new friends this way. It doesn’t seem to work out that way.

On the bright side, I won the January 2019 PatternReview contest with this ski jacket:

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Ski Jacket from Simplicity 8843

I had planned to enter this contest – and this contest only – but then I went on a binge of other sewalongs, contests and such. What happens when I do this? Let’s just call it a mixed bag:

I mean, there are no disasters here, but also not much that plays well with “sew edgy” looks. I did some stuff for charity (napkins and scrap quilts center top) and I passed the first round of the PatternReview Sewing Bee with that blue cardigan before bowing out voluntarily when the second round didn’t inspire me.

The white top was not what I wanted. I entered a contest to make an outfit, so made a nice pair of black wool pants and planned a button-down shirt to go with it out of this pretty white striped shirting I bought. But, I had a problem with my sewing machine’s computer and it was in the shop for a couple of weeks, so I needed instead to do a top that I could construct on the serger or by hand. This top is the result. It looks really awful untucked, better tucked in. I am kicking myself that I used that shirting for something I don’t love.

I joined two Sewcialists sewalongs – one where I drew the color “coral” and other where I drew the word “funky.” I ended up with a wrap skirt (top right) and a top upcycled from a tablecloth (bottom left). Since these sewalongs really run on Instagram, and I am not an Instagram person, I miss out on the whole thing. Likewise for the charity projects for The People’s Sewing Army – if you’re not an Instagrammer, you get left out.

Finally, in my effort to stop making so damn many mistakes, I claim a partial victory. I have made my peace with the fact that I need to just baste a lot more. Basting does things that pinning does not (at least for me). So I resolve to baste even more in 2020!

Sew Edgy Winter Sewing Plan 2019 Edition

Instead of making new fall/winter “sew edgy” sewing plans, I am trying to still deliver on my plan from last year. When I make a plan, I expect I will accomplish about half of it. So, I planned for 10 projects, expecting to make about five. As it turns out, I did six.

Anyway, here’s the fall/winter “Edgy Wardrobe” plan from 2018 and how it shook out – I ended up with six items which can mix and match for outfits:

2018 fall sewing plan update

I ended up finishing heavy on the “cheap and easy” side of the grid and focused on  “needs” over “wants.” The one “want” – that goofy Japanese-style top – was the one fail in the bunch. The rest all have been great additions to my wardrobe.

Anything that didn’t happen probably died on the drawing board for a good reason – maybe I was iffy on the pattern, or I didn’t have the right fabric, or I lacked the time/energy/interest to get the thing done. I was also kind of indecisive about a few projects, but the fullness of time has sharpened my eyes.

Here’s why the plans fizzled out:

  • The navy wool fabric I’d earmarked for either McCall’s 6464 or Deer & Doe’s Arum is too heavy for a fall/winter dress. During the past year I’ve developed much more sensitivity to temperatures with the menopause hot flashes and whatnot. The fabric’s better suited for a jacket or maybe even a light coat. So it will sit in the stash a while longer.
  • I need a simple ponte jacket, but the Oki Style pattern is not going to play well with it. The Lekala one is the way to go.
  • The New Look skirt gave me trouble in muslin form. I found a true wrap skirt pattern that gives the same effect and is much easier to sew, so that’s the new direction (see below for more on that).
  • I still like that Burda dress, but the fabric I had earmarked for it is way too heavy and stretchy. Jersey dresses are not for me. I may have to forget about this one.

So… what does that leave me for this winter? I feel like my needs for work clothes are simple and few.

  1. I need a suit, so I am going to make one – but I am going to take shortcuts. I have some high-quality ponte in stash that will get me the look of a suit for less work and less fabric, and a lot fewer fitting headaches. I may jazz it up with faux leather to work on the “sew edgy” plan some more.
  2. I need a good workaday dress. The RTW ones I’ve worn to work for a few years are pretty worn out. So I am going to make one – but something simple and unlined. Maybe use some faux leather here, too.
  3. I also need a work blouse – something simple, again, but in a print for a bit of color and texture.

I started with the suit skirt – again taking the “cheap and easy” route. This is the Osaka skirt from Seamwork magazine (a Colette publication).

The two-tone look allows for some stash-busting fun. I had about 3/4 yard of stretch faux suede, which I used on the top. The bottom is black ponte. This is a bit bulky, truth be told. I am styling it with my black wool batwing sleeve sweater to even out the proportions.

The pattern calls for a reversible skirt, but I didn’t want any more bulk at this party, so instead I drafted a waist facing out of leftover wool twill from my Style Arc Jasmine pants. I tried a few stash hardware pieces on as a closure for this but nothing really worked well. Then I remembered that I’d picked up this vintage covered button set at my favorite second-hand store:

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Vintage covered button set – oooh

I gave it a whirl with a scrap of the faux suede. It barely worked, but …. success! (The fabric’s a bit bulky. Did I mention that already. Oh yeah, I did.)

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Covered button

It’s a cute look. I plan to do the same with the Lekala 4114 jacket – using scraps of suede for the yoke and cuffs (if I have enough). I also plan to add a zipper for a bit of bling.

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Lekala 4114

Three Goals in One!

I managed a hat trick for my most recently completed sewing project:

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Jeans, bitches!

Yes, I sewed a proper pair of jeans with all the topstitching, fancy seams, fly front and whatnot. This has been a goal of mine for three years. I am delighted not only that I met this goal, but also with how well the jeans came out.

But wait! There’s more:

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Machine embroidery, bitches!

I also busted the embroidery unit out of its box (where it has been gathering dust for 4 years), downloaded a simple design and sewed it on to the pockets. I even did a fancy “mirror image” trick so that these ginkgo leaf motifs are somewhat mirroring the curve of my butt.

But wait! There’s more!

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Camp view, bitches!

I attended a hands-on sewing retreat, Camp Workroom Social in the Catskill Mountains in New York State to make these jeans. It was another goal I had that I can call “done!”  While the event was definitely “not for me” in some ways, the class itself to make these jeans was wonderful. I never would have done it without the help I got at the retreat.

We used a pattern made by Workroom Social, called the Claryville Jeans, after the town where the camp is held. The pattern is drafted for us pear-shaped women who have larger hip-to-waist ratios. It’s a really high-quality pattern with all those great details that make jeans look RTW. And the fit was great. After trying on a muslin in size 12, I made a few 1-centimeter adjustments to give my butt a bit more real estate, such as scooping out and extending the crotch curve and increasing the yoke at center-back. I also needed to take in the waist about 1.5 inches.

The fit is pretty great. These are a bit tight, but they will no doubt stretch out and conform to my bod over time, as jeans tend to do.

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Obligatory butt shot

The jeans have slightly forward seams and a bit of a bump-out at the calf for some nice fitting details. You do mock flat-fell seams at the yoke to reduce bulk. The only thing I haven’t done is to install the rivets at the front pockets. I am going to borrow a rivet-setter from someone to get that done.

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Obligatory inside shot

The topstitching is a chore, as you can imagine. Next time I make these, I will thread one machine for construction and another for topstitching to save my sanity with all the thread switching you have to do otherwise. It’s not perfect in any event – I could not get that second line at the fly to work – but who cares?

I used a kit from the subscription box Needle Sharp to make these. I won the box from a drawing at PatternReview.com (thanks again!) The box was a really nice kit, including  Cone Mills (made in the USA) stretch denim, fabric for the pocket bags, interfacing, regular and topstitching thread, needles, buttons,  a zipper and rivets. I can see this being a great service for sewists who make projects occasionally and can’t or don’t want to maintain a stash. The box also came with the Ginger Jeans pattern, which maybe I will use someday if I get tired of the Claryvilles.

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Needle Sharp jeans kit

For the embroidery, my recent “goofy for ginkgo” moments offered an opportunity to try personalizing the jeans a bit. I was in no rush to try my machine’s embroidery unit, since I don’t really like most embroidery. What can I say? A lot of motifs are corny. But I found this design on Urban Threads,which offers more modern and edgy designs, so I decided to go for it. More on that later.

(I want to say here that I don’t get any kickbacks, promos or other value of any kind from any of the entities I am linking to here. I am just telling you all about the pattern, fabrics, and embroidery that I found and used because I really liked it. I believe in ethically disclosing this stuff.)

A Little Retail Therapy

Shopping for fun is not really my jam. I mean, I don’t get a rush from buying things. But to lift myself out of my sewing funk, a trip to New York’s Garment District always works.

I like to start my trip by rubbing the handwheel on this sculpture for good luck:

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Statue in the Garment District, dedicated to garment workers

This statue, by the sculptor Judith Weller, is modeled after her father. It’s dedicated to garment workers from the city’s heyday – many were poor Jewish immigrants who toiled on piecework for pennies but gradually built themselves prosperous lives in the United States.

There’s a New York Fashion Walk of Fame that celebrates 28 New York designers. I meant to visit Betsey Johnson’s plaque, but I forgot where it was, so here’s another favorite – Diane von Furstenberg.

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Walk of Fame

There’s also a big needle and button sculpture (there’s construction around the site right now – here’s a picture I took a couple of summers ago):

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We’re going to need a lot more thread

People are always moaning that the Garment District “isn’t what it used to be” and I’m sure that’s true. But it’s still a fun, vibrant place. Walk around and you’ll probably see fashion students, designers and models, people pushing racks of clothes down the street, and plenty of shoppers. Many sample shops offer unique experiences. Lots of little shops cater to certain kinds of fabrics or trims, including some that serve ethnic shopping niches. There are also some big stores – Mood is the most famous from its Project Runway sponsorship, but there’s also B&J Fabrics, Elliot Berman, and many more.

I stopped first at my favorite specialty shop, Lou Lou Buttons. It’s a store that just sells buttons, and wow what a selection! Everything is top quality, and you won’t find many bargains, but if you need something special, it’s the place to go.

I am making my mother a blouse for holiday parties out of some gold satin. I wanted something to bling it up a bit. I was delighted to snag these rhinestone-studded beauties:

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Lou Lou has all the button looks

Then I headed to Steinlauf & Stoller to get some interfacing. They have the best quality stuff – I will never use that dreadful Pellon junk again.

I also scored a big roll of patternmaker’s paper. This stuff is transparent enough that you can see through it for tracing off patterns, yet sturdy enough that you can tissue-fit.

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Patternmaker’s paper

I also threw a little love the way of some trimming shops. I can never seem to remember their names, but they seem to be run by families and they have great prices. I stocked up on more pins, elastics, tailor’s chalk and a few others odds and ends.

It was a great way to spend my lunch hour from work. If you’re ever in NYC and want to shop, give me a shout!

Notes on Camp – Distaff Edition (and Apologies to Susan Sontag)

Camp. Hard to define, but like pornography, you know it when you see it.

How you do define “camp?”

A) It’s so bad, it’s good.

B) Failed seriousness.

C) A sincere effort at artistic expression that falls flat on its face.

D) You’re not making fun of it, you’re making fun out of it.

E) All of the above.

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CAMP – BITCHES!

Camp was the theme of the Met Gala this year. Some guests, such as Katy Perry (above) delivered. What makes this campy? Ultimately, it’s not the idea or the execution – it’s the fact that it both the idea and execution almost fell apart on the Red Carpet that gives her outfit the tang of Camp.

Here’s another example – Tiffany Haddish doing pimp drag:

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Again – it’s not the style or the execution. What you can’t see makes this camp – in her clutch she’s carrying a Ziploc bag full of chicken that she said she cooked herself and brought to the Met Gala because “there’s never enough food at these things.”

Which brings me to me. I am attending a sewing retreat at a YMCA camp this fall. We’re having a fashion show, “Camp at Camp, ” in homage to the Met Gala. People are encouraged to bring or make a campy outfit for the party. This idea has mystified some retreat attendees. They don’t get it, or they don’t want to get it (I don’t know which). But I get it. And I get why I get it. That’s because to years ago I sewed an outfit that could slide into camp easily.:

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CAMP … almost

This dress, made from New Look 6498, was a sincere effort at creativity that, for the most part, fails.

It has its sincere moments. I made this out of a sari I bought In Hyderabad, India.

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Washed sari drying in the sun

I saw many beautiful saris, but I chose this one because it’s the kind of sari made for selling to tourists. Few Indian women would wear such a thing, I was told by my Indian colleagues who helped me pick it out. For one thing, adult Indian women don’t go in for depictions of Indian motifs such as peacocks or elephants in such a juvenile cartoony way, I was told. (Of course, tasteful motifs are always in.) Also, the mixed motifs – peacocks, paisleys, the overall color scheme, were all “a bit much.” The sari itself was a bit campy.

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Campy sari?

I was told, as a western woman, if I wanted to cut it up to make something out of it, or to use as home dec or something, have at it. (I am expressing the opinions of some trusted colleagues and friends. I am sorry if you disagree.)

If you want to read about how I adapted this sari to make the dress, see my old blogs: Refashioning a Sari and Sari Refashion Completed!

I wore this dress once – when I was at a fancy dinner on vacation in Costa Rica. People stared at me. I realized that I looked ridiculous. So I never wore it again. It wasn’t campy, exactly, but it wasn’t “right” either.

To slide into camp, I needed two things. One – real peacock feathers, arrived from eBay this week:

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Actual peacock feathers… can you smell the camp yet?

I intend to make these into a headdress. I think I sense some quality time with Pinterest in my future.

Also, I need some campy-ass shoes. I was thinking gold platform heels. I need to find some. I guess a trawl of Zappos couldn’t hurt?