Confession time: I hate making muslins. I hate the time they take, even though I kind of half-ass the sewing. I hate the materials they use up, even if I use old bedsheets, odd-colored thread and repurposed zippers. I hate that they’re just an approximation of a real finished garment, but never exactly the same.
Yet sometimes they are necessary. I made this checklist for when to make a muslin, and when I can do without.
Your mileage may vary. These are issues that are important to me, maybe not so much to you. If you have any ideas for changing or expanding this checklist, I’d love to hear from you – drop me a line in the comments box.
I knew going in that this was iffy, but in the spirit of my “Sew Edgy” wardrobe plan, I wanted to take risks. It was a low-level risk, to be sure. I got this cotton burnout knit fabric on clearance this summer for $1.99 a yard. And this pattern is very simple, with only a front, back and cuff, so it was not an investment in time or energy. Here’s what the pattern pieces from “The Great British Sewing Bee From Stitch to Style” look like:
The issue for me had less to do with the style than with what I can only call lazy drafting. The top is not, in the end, a quality garment without some modifications I am not willing to make.
The pattern maker made three decisions that seem lazy to me, from least offensive to most offensive:
The cowl is too shallow. It constantly wants to flip out and escape, and who can blame it? You can remedy this by redrafting the cowl to make it deeper. If you don’t want to do that, you might get away with sewing a small weight, such as a metal button, onto the apex of the cowl to encourage gravity’s assistance.
The cuffs are designed in such a way that you need to hem them. If you are going to have a knit cuff, don’t you want one that’s finished and polished? A simple tube-style design doesn’t need hemming. You’d need to redraft this, of course, and I can’t be bothered.
The back neckline is just a turn-and-topstitch job. This is always going to look amateurish and won’t sit flat. A simple neckband, like you’d have on any knit top, would work much better. You’d have to draft this, of course, and again, I can’t be bothered.
To be fair to the style, I have seen a few chic versions out there. I think it favors an inverted triangle or rectangle body type, not a pear such as myself.
The fit is hard to figure out – there’s a ton of ease at the bust and waist because of the dolman/batwing sleeve shape, to encourage the drape, then it’s close-fitting at the hip, and the hem is asymmetrical.
The book provides only finished garment measurements. I chose my size based on the hip measurement, assuming I’d want a bit of negative ease there. I cut a size 14, because the finished hip for size 14 is 40-3/8 inches, and I have 42-inch hips. Maybe it’s too big? Maybe my fabric doesn’t drape as well as it could? Who knows!
If you have this book and still intend to try this top, I noted two errors in the instructions:
For step #1 the text and the pictures do not match. The text is correct, the pictures are wrong.
For step #5, the WIDE end of the cuffs need to be pinned to the sleeves, not the narrow end. DUH.
Finally, beware that this top is a tracing-paper and fabric hog. Because the front and back are each one giant piece, you will need to piece together your tracing paper, and this uses 1.5 yards of 60-inch wide knit fabric.
On the positive side, the pieces are so big that this top will be easy to recut into another top. I am thinking another Style Arc Creative Cate, or a MariaDenmark Kirsten Kimono Tee.
My mom’s look involves a lot of black and white clothes, with little pops of color in her accessories – glasses, nail polish, shoes or jewelry. So when I decided to make a handbag for her, I knew I’d make it out of black and white fabric, with a pop of brightly colored piping – just for fun.
The pattern is the Swoon Ethel tote, which is free from Swoon Patterns. I really like this pattern! Especially for a freebie, it’s a good quality design, a pleasing shape and size, and it goes together quickly (once you get through all the tedious cutting and fusing of the interfacing anyway).
This is my second try at this pattern. I made one out of leftover denim and cotton for myself earlier this year, and because I had resolved to exclusively use stash materials, I interfaced the bag with leftover cordura nylon instead of the fusible foam interfacing the pattern suggests. This time, I sprang for the foam interfacing. I was a little leery of working with this stuff, but it turned out to be very easy to use. The pattern calls for Pellon Flex-Foam FF78F1, but I couldn’t find it, so I used Pellon Flex-Foam FF79F2, the double-sided fusible foam interfacing.
You’re meant to sandwich this stuff between two layers of fabric and fuse both sides separately. I just fused one side (the black and white bag fabric) and it worked out fine. I sandwiched the fusible interfacing between the bag fabric and a dry silk organza press cloth, and used a damp silk organza press cloth to fuse the bag fabric. The steam penetrated through to the other side a bit, but the dry press cloth peeled off easily.
To sew with this, I basted everything with my zipper foot for agility and then sewed the 1/2 inch seam allowances. It compresses pretty well under the presser foot.
Then I used an edgestitch foot (Bernina #10C), which has a metal guide down the center. This helped prepare the needle for the bulk and prevented any skipping around or distortion.I used a size 14 jeans needle. And I trimmed down the seam allowances.
Because I am pretty sure my mom would want a closure on the bag, I installed a two-piece magnetic snap. This was so easy! I coated the prongs of the snaps with tailor’s chalk to mark the place, made little slits in the fabric, then pushed the prongs through and bent them back. I cushioned the snaps with a scrap of leftover foam interfacing and gently pounded them with a rubber mallet to ensure they were secure.
These magnetic snaps are so easy and useful that I could see using them on many things in the future.
As I did with my first version, I used a self-drafted facing because I didn’t want any lining peeking out. I wish I had made the facing wider – it’s a bit skimpy but wide enough for the magnetic snaps.
Other little details:
* I added some hot pink piping (leftover from a PJs project) to jazz it up a bit.
* To keep keys from falling to the bottom, I added a swivel snap hook, looped through a slim strap and sewn into the body of the bag.
* I did a double row of topstitching around the bag opening because I wasn’t happy with the way the lining was sitting in the bag with just the usual edgestitch along the opening.
For fabric this time I used some cotton duck outdoor upholstery fabric. It’s been treated to resist water and stains, so I think it will clean up all right if it gets wet or dirty. Because my mom is a cat lover, I could not resist the lining fabric – design “Whiskers and Tails” #16340 by Neiko Ng for Robert Kaufman. Both bought at Joann.
I have gotten a lot of wear out of my edgy wardrobe so far. I am still sporting the Assistant Manager of the DMV look to work a couple a days a week, but I have gotten more comfortable at wearing my edgy looks.
Now that I have a good pair of work pants, the Style Arc Jasmines, I want to edgy them up. The pair I made is good, but they’re pretty basic. To review:
Style Arc Jasmine fronts
Style Arc Jasmine with the cool pocket and bonus back yoke
The pair I made have a little bubble at the front zipper, which tells me that the front crotch curve is a bit too high. They’re also a skosh tight in the front crotch. I will deepen the crotch curve in the next pair.
As you can see from the line drawing, the pants have two interesting seam details. The angled front pockets, akin to jeans pockets, work very well if you have heavy thighs. And the back yoke works very well if you have a bit butt and hip to small waist ratio, as I do, since it’s easier to adapt that yoke than to adapt the whole back of the pants. The version I made dips down a bit at center-back, easily remedied in the next pair with a bit of a wider angle for the top of the yoke.
Now that the fit issues are out of the way, how do I jazz these up?
First, I’d like to replicate the built-in belting of these RTW Karen Millen trousers:
Not a belt as much as a sash? Whatever it’s called, I like it. I don’t like wearing belts because they tend to ride up (see big hip-to-waist comment above) and they never seem to match what I’m wearing. To put it another way, I don’t like wearing belts, so I don’t have a lot of belts, and then when I need a belt, I don’t have one I like… vicious cycle.
This Karen Millen detail is just a tube of fabric that emerges from the waistband and connects with two D rings about 3/4 of the way between the center front and the right side seam. The D rings are looped through a short tube of fabric that tucks into a waistband seam that lines up with the pockets. The other side of the pants has the same waistband seam, but there are no D rings.
The look is a bit edgy because of the metal and the asymmetry, but totally office-appropriate. This should be pretty easy to do (famous last words). The Jasmine pants have a much smaller waistband, so I will need to think this through.
I also want to play with zippers at the hems. I splurged at Botani in New York’s Garment District for two fancy zippers with black tape, shiny silver teeth and decorative pulls:
Unfortunately, I screwed up and bought 8-inch zippers when I meant to get 6-inch zippers. I could shorten them, but that’s a hassle with metal teeth. Also, because these are fancy zippers instead of the basic cheap ones, they are a bit heavy. I worry that the weight will drag the sideline of the pants down unless I use some sturdy fabric. I’ll have to think on this.
I was thinking also of some piped welt pockets in the back. We’ll see.
The pattern calls for woven stretch fabrics such as stretch Bengaline. This is hard to find fabric, but I figured anything with some texture would do. The original pants are in a heathered gray stretch gabardine. At B&J Fabrics in New York, I scored some black stretch wool pique that would be suitable for the next pair. A think a stretch twill would work well, also.
Let me start off by saying that sewing toys and little fiddly things is not my jam. I have little patience, for one thing, and I find that no matter how I try, something store-bought is going to look 100 times better than what I can make.
That said, when I heard about The People’s Sewing Army on Instagram, I signed up. It’s a group that aims to use scraps of fabric and other stashed items to sew for good causes. The December challenge was to sew items for homeless children in Oregon. I happened to have some suitable scrap fabric, leftover polyfill and one stuffed animal pattern in my possession, so I signed up.
I feel that these stuffed animals are sad to look at. I am reminded, however, that my most-loved toys as a child were things my great-aunt and grandmother made for me – a little lumpy and bumpy, asymmetrical and awkward, but loved literally to pieces. I hope that’s the case for these.
Three little dachshunds
All in a row
The pattern came from an issue of Simply Sewing magazine. It’s supposed to be a dachshund. I think it looks more like a mouse or a rabbit or a mammal from some fever dream in 1975. Anyway, I did the best I could, using leftover chambray from these pants, cotton shirting from this shirt, and gingham from a bathrobe I made back in the 90s. The polyfill is leftover from Halloween costumes I made for my niece and nephew when they were little (they’re teenagers now). And the buttons ribbons and trims have all been hanging around for years.
I made these in one day, then switched gears to something for older kids. They often get left out of charity drives because it’s easier and more fun to buy or make for little ones. I had some Harry Potter-themed flannel left over from a PJ project many years ago, so I had the idea to make them into little tags the older kids could put on a bag or jacket.
Template for shield-shaped tag
Final tags – one for each Hogwarts house
The fabric had these Houses of Hogwarts shields on them, so I made one for each house. I cut out each shield piece with a 1 cm seam allowance, then cut a frame out of other bits of the fabric. To the frame pieces I sewed some clear hard yet flexible plastic that I salvaged from a box of Christmas ribbons and bows. I made paper tags that the kids can remove to write whatever they want, and finished them off with ribbon ties.
That’s all I had time to do, so I boxed the lot up for shipping to Oregon. Of course, the damn post office was closed by the time I got there yesterday. I’ll try again this week.
Looking at other people’s contributions on Instagram, I felt pretty lousy. I mean, many sewists are more talented than I am at this type of thing. Still, I tried. I feel good about trying. This is not exactly what I had in mind when I was seeking sewing projects outside my comfort zone, but I learned something anyway. And I hope someone will love or at least use these things.
AT LAST a pair of me-made pants that fit really well! Here they are, the Style Arc “Jasmine” trousers:
Style Arc Jasmine fronts
Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.
To understand why this is such a big deal, remember my three-muslin doomed effort earlier this year?
Pants of Doom…
Doomed from every angle!
Doom! Doom! Doom!
I decided that instead of trying to adapt any pants pattern to my body – with its heavy forward thighs, wide hips, ample butt and small waist – instead I would seek out a pattern that is as close as possible to some decent RTW pants I own already. I have this pair of Calvin Klein stretch gabardine pants that fit pretty well. They work for me because of the angled front pocket, fly front, darts in back but not in front, curved waistband, and tapered legs. A long search uncovered the Style Arc Jasmine pants, with the same pocket, fly and dart sitch:
Style Arc Jasmine with the cool pocket and bonus back yoke
Pocket on old Calvin Klein pants
The pattern calls for stretch gabardine or other bottomweight woven fabrics. As a bonus, the Jasmine trousers have a yoke in the back, kinda like jeans. This seemed to offer good fit options for my rear and waist. I had some really nice wool gabardine in stash. Let’s roll!
I have not used Style Arc much because they can be hard to get in the US, the patterns are only one size, they use a 1 cm seam allowance (I prefer 1.5 cm, especially for pants) and their directions are … shall I say … “minimal” and “open to interpretation” (or, to be blunt about it, “crappy”). I also think Style Arc has less ease than Big 4 patterns – the two Style Arc blouses I’ve made were a little too close-fitting. So I ordered the Jasmine pants a size larger than I thought I would need.
The first fit was encouraging. They were too big on the sides but pretty good along the crotch curve and butt. So far, so good. I widened the back darts 1/4 inch, took in the waist 1 inch on each side, tapering to 1/2 inch from the belly to low hip, then graded out again to 1 inch from just above the knee to the hem. Viola!
These pants are not perfect. But they fit better than most RTW pants I can find, and I am very hopeful for future pairs. For the next iteration, I will deepen the front crotch curve a tiny bit and pinch out a tiny bit of fabric at the hip crease in the front to remove that little bit of whiskering.
In the back, I will pinch out that bit of extra fabric under my rear, and I will grade the top of the yoke up 1 inch so to remove that little dip down at center-back.
I really want to try these also in denim, a full size smaller since I can wear jeans tighter. I may be getting ahead of myself, but I hope that I have found a true TNT pattern for dressy AND casual pants.
By the way, I am wearing the blouse from La Mia Boutique that I made earlier in the year. I keep hoping I will love it, but nope. Note the awful distortion of the back stripes because of my scoliosis and shoulder issues. (A topic for another blog someday.)
I hit up the Garment District in New York last week for some hardware and trims for my “edgy” wardrobe plan. Here’s my haul from Pacific Trimming:
I splurged for a lightweight silver-tooth RiRi zipper with a very flexible, serpentine quality for my Muse Patterns Jenna cardigan. I had it cut to size at Pacific too, since I don’t know how to shorten a separating zipper. It was $8 altogether, but worth it, I think, since I really needed something flashy yet light to make the cardi edgy. It looks good pinned in place anyway:
I also got zippers for my cranberry knit dress and for the wide-leg pants I plan to make.
The three bags at lower right in the picture contain two types of faux leather trim and some 3 1/2-inch wide black petersham ribbon, to try making a skirt waistband facing from. Never tried this before, but I am interested to see how it goes.
I bought these two buckles to try adding some detail to the front of Simplicity 8058, a Cynthia Rowley skirt. The original skirt’s center-front detail is awkward to wear, since it tends to get warped out of shape when you sit, and those giant fabric-covered buttons are a bit twee so me. So I intend to trim it even with the rest of the waistband and then use a belt and buckle detail to add some interest, like so:
We’ll see how that goes. I think I could have bought a larger buckle, but I was worried that it would weigh too much and would pull at the front of the skirt – a concern especially because it’s a knit.
I also bought a dozen of these square-in-a-round buttons, on spec. I plan to use them in a button-up blouse which will include a button-down collar to bring a bit of metal and menswear detail in the party.
If I had to describe my personal style, I’d say I’m classic with an edge. That is, I go for traditional styles done in slightly non-traditional ways that interrupt our expectations and make us think. Here’s a RTW example of a dress I wear to work:
I bought this shirt dress because, while it’s a traditional shirt dress in some respects (and therefore suits my shape well and is OK for work) it has an edgy side too because of that corset-like panel, fastened with hooks and eyes at the waist, and (to a lesser extent) the bold blue color and the high-low hem. Without the corset panel, it’s like every shirt dress you ever saw.
Some hallmarks in edgy style I look for or add are:
Metal hardware and details – Exposed zippers, unusual fasteners, metal buttons and just overall more metal give garments a hard edge for soft bodies and curvy shapes.
Leather and other animal inspirations – While leather, real or faux, can be a cliche, it’s undeniable that a T-shirt trimmed in leather or suede is edgier than one without. Same goes for feathers, reptile skins and bones – it’s all about blurring the lines between human and animal, modern and ancient.
Asymmetry – High-low hems, off-center cuts, draping and origami-like pleats and folds push your perception of a garment a bit sideways, because we’re so used to seeing symmetrical clothing on symmetrical bodies.
Exaggeration – Oversize cuts, ballooning sleeves, hard shoulders and super-skinny pants all sharpen a look by obscuring the expected human form.
Bold colors – Black and gray, to be sure, but also blood red, acid green, flame orange, hot pink, eggplant purple and electric blue shake up the senses, especially when color-blocked or in bold prints.
Surprise – Maybe the back is different from the front, or seams are unfinished, or a detail reveals something unexpected, like a shirt in a masculine cut and fabric is finished with a girly collar.
Here are three recent of edgy me-made makes to show what I mean:
Oki Style “Joker” shirt front
… and back
The Oki Style “Joker” shirt has asymmetry and off-kilter drapes and pleats. I accentuated the design with color blocking. Without those features, this is just a button-up raglan sleeve dress shirt.
This is a tunic top from the Japanese sewing book “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”:
If you look carefully, you will see that this is a snakeskin print done in purple, hot pink, black and gray. I further edged it up with the black lace sleeve detail and the metal-capped black bow.
Finally, a moto jacket from Simplicity 8174 is obviously edgy. But this one has some surprises:
Lined with silk charmeuse
It’s made of red ultrasuede with the expected metal zippers and epaulets, and an asymmetric front. But inside, the lining is a Japanese-inspired floral silk charmeuse. Surprise!
For me, “edgy” is not really body-con or revealing. If anything, “edgy” looks drift into “cheap” when they’re showing a lot of skin. It’s much edgier to me to play with the traditional concepts of how clothing is shaped, fit, styled and embellished.
Do you wear edgy looks? Any other factors you look for?
The sewing pattern site Lekala sounds too good to be true – choose from hundreds of patterns, input your specific measurements and body adjustments, and get a custom-made .pdf pattern for less than $4 in a few minutes.
I’m hardly one to throw a wrench into the gears of technological progress, so after a few sewists I respect were pleased with their experiences, I figured I’d try it out. I ordered “Jacket with Decorative Front #4653” – it’s a knock-off of an Armani jacket from a few seasons ago.:
Original Armani jacket
Line drawing of Lekala 4653
Lekala uses software to adjust a standard-block pattern to your measurements. Besides the usual bust, waist and hip, you also can enter measurements for:
Full hip (hip plus tummy protrudance)
Also, you can ask the software to program in several common adjustments:
Bust points (width, height and distance between each bust point)
Waist height (or, torso length, depending on how you look at it)
Arm length and upper arm width
Head and neck length
I programmed in narrow shoulders, long neck, wide back and long torso. I debated also using a low bust point, since I sometimes need to do this for Big 4 patterns, but I decided against it. Since the jacket has L-shaped darts in the front for shaping (not a princess seam) I figured I could manipulate that dart if necessary.
I had some qualms about these adjustments. Part of me wanted to get the standard block with just the usual bust, waist and hip measurements, so I could know how that block fits. Another part of me wanted to put Lekala through its paces. I decided to go for it.
You can preview the pattern instructions before you buy. I love this option! The directions are sparse and there are no diagrams, but they made sense, and at least I know what I am in for.
The pattern cost $2.99, and I added 50 cents to include seam allowances. (Yes, I will gladly pay 50 cents to avoid spending hours adding 1-cm seam allowances to everything!) I might not want this option for a pattern where I’d sew flat-fell or French seams, or if I was sweating the fit, but for this jacket that seemed like a great option.
About 10 minutes after I placed my order, the .pdf file arrived in my email. Oh no! The seam allowances were not included! I could have sworn I checked that box, but maybe I didn’t. Anyway, I emailed Lekala to ask if they could fix it, and the next morning they did, for no extra charge (although I was warned this was a one-time free fix and I should be extra sure to check the box next time). I thought this was phenomenal customer service.
The file made efficient use of the paper and it was a joy to tape together and cut, since there was only one size on the .pdf. It took me about 15 minutes to assemble and everything lined up nicely.
The .pdf had a couple of omissions, though. The front facing piece was not labeled and the three decorative swishy pieces on the bottom were marked in such tiny lettering I could not read them. I was able to suss out which piece was which based on the cutting layout.
I am disappointed that there are no special lining pieces. I will need to redraft the back and front jacket pieces, minus the facings, for a lining. Also, I will want a center-back pleat in the lining. I am not thrilled about this, but considering this cost $2.99, I am getting what I paid for. I mean, if I spent $18 for a Sewaholic or Vogue pattern, I’d be really miffed, but for so little, I am prepared to make do.
My plan, anyway, is to cut and sew the lining out of Bemberg rayon first as a muslin test-run for the jacket. This saves me the trouble and expense of a real muslin, which will go to waste, and if the lining needs adjustments, hey, it’s the lining so no one will see it. Maybe I am lazy, but that’s how I roll.
Assuming the muslin works and the jacket is a “go,” I am using this fabric. It’s an off-cut of gorgeous Armani wool suiting I bought from Mood fabrics in March. Mood was having a sale on odds and ends and the second the sale items posted, I was lucky enough to grab it. The lot is about 3 yards in all, but in two pieces, 2.75 yards and 1.3 yards. The whole thing cost only $37.50!
For the curvy hem pieces, I am planning to use some contrasting pique rayon suiting in black that I bought at B&J Fabrics in New York this summer. I am tempted to use silk dupioni, but I am worried that it will rumple whenI sit. I’ll see how it goes. I will give structure to the whole front with really nice interfacing I got at Steinlauf & Stoller, again in the Garment District.
If I have enough fabric left over, I plan to make a matching skirt out of Burda 6895, which I adapted to make a pencil skirt last year.
Burda 6895 pencil skirt
The skirt has princess seams, so I could do a two-tone look with the rest of the Armani suiting and the pique. Or, if there’s not enough of the Armani, I could do the whole thing in the pique. We’ll see.
Of course, if I am going to make a suit, I might as well make the blouse too…
To continue my Summer Suck-a-Thon, I finally finished sewing McCall’s 7350. The dress doesn’t totally suck, but it’s a disappointment.
I was attracted to this dress because it reminded me of an Ann Taylor dress I had years ago. The cap kimono sleeve, V-neck, midriff band and full skirt ticks my boxes.
But damn this dress is BULKY. You can’t tell from the pictures, but it’s a faux wrap with a giant back piece that’s cut on the fold and gathered to probably half its size. The midriff detail is double-layered. And the wrap-around bodice also adds bulk to the party in front. AND there is supposed to be elastic in there too! That’s a lot of fabric to tote around – 2.5 yards of 60-inch wide stretch cotton jersey with a “dry” matte finish.
A close-up of center-front reveals some wonkiness where all the layers came together, like a bunch of grumpy people stranded at a bus station. I later unpicked this and sewed it into submission by hand.
Here’s a back view with all the gathering on display. It’s almost like a bustle back there! It’s a fabric hog because of the amount of gathering. You may need to make a center-back seam if if you don’t have 60″ wide fabric. Or, you could just make the back piece smaller to eliminate the bulky gathers. I won’t tell. Honest.
I sewed the bodice back in June. I was disappointed with it, so I tinkered and set it aside, then tinkered some more. Finally I decided to just get it over with. The dress is passable, but not destined to be a favorite.
Here’s all the changes I made to the pattern:
I cut a size smaller in the bodice than the measurements indicated because several reviewers noted that the bodice had way too much ease. They were right. Even a sizer smaller, the bodice was big. I tapered the side bodice seams 1 cm each side, tapering to nothing at the armscye to eliminate some of the ease.
Several reviewers also noted that the armscye was rather low, so I raised it an inch. I’m happy with how this came out.
I hemmed the sleeves 1 cm shorter than called for because as-is, they stuck out a bit like feeble wings.
I lengthened the bodice an inch – a standard McCall’s adjustment for me. However, because the dress is so bulky and heavy, the fabric drags down a bit. The original bodice length probably would have been fine.
I took in the midriff 1 cm each side so it would fit more snugly and eliminated elastic that was supposed to be in there. Seemed unnecessary, and I could not handle any more things happening at that midriff area.
I added 3 inches to the hem, so that the skirt would fall just below the knee. As-is, I think the pattern would be a bit shorter than the pictures indicate.
I am going to wear this to work this week and see how I like it. Maybe it will be a good “laundry day” garment?