Last Entry in the Summer Skirt Sewing Smackdown

After two tries at “free” skirt sewing patterns for the summer skirt sewing smackdown, I decided I’m dome with free patterns for a while. They can be fun, low-stakes projects, and you can get to know some cool indie pattern companies this way, but you also can end up with problems. Sooooo, time to sew up the most well-reviewed skirt in my five-skirt plan: the Gorgeous Gore Skirt from StyleArc.

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StyleArc Gorgeous Gore Skirt

This is not, strictly speaking, a free pattern. It was free to me, since StyleArc often gives away an older pattern when you buy a newer one. This is a very simple pattern – a gore piece you cut six times, and a waistband, which you cut four times. It doesn’t get much easier! And since it’s made of knit fabric, you an whip it up on the serger in a a couple hours or so.

My fabric was this crazy large-format geometric print in a heavier poly knit – not a jersey but not a double-knit or ponte either.

IMG_20190403_174821 (1)I had intended to make a dress with it. I must have been drunk or sleepy when I bought 3.5 yards of the stuff. A dress would be overwhelming to wear in this print, and it also would be kind of hot for a summer look. I figured a skirt was the answer:

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I’m glad I did this! The final result looks great and will coordinate well with other items in my wardrobe.

I ordinarily don’t go for elastic waists because that cinched-in elastic waist look doesn’t flatter me. No worries this time! This pattern has a clever solution to the waistband elastic situation. The casing sits on the waistband facing so it can’t be seen from the outside. To look at it, you’d think an invisible zipper on the side was in play. Nope!

Here’s a close-up of how it looks:

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Basically, you sew the waistbands and waistband facings together at the top and understitch. Then you sew 1/4 inch elastic in the round to your measurements and tuck it up against the understitching in between the waistband and facing. Then sew the casing on the facing only. The elastic is probably unnecessary for me, but I suppose it’s extra insurance.

I hemmed this to finish just above the knee (it’s designed as a below-knee skirt). I used the coverstitch setting on the serger and kind of screwed it up. My serger does not like bulk. I really to need to figure this out. Any flaws probably won’t attract the eye of anyone but me anyway.

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Back view

Because it’s a higher-waist design, the skirt flares out to skim but not settle on my hips, (unlike some skirts that shall remain nameless).

Now that I can declare victory, I am taking a break from skirts!

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts for Sewing Buttons by Machine

While I am working on my simple summer skirt sewing smackdown, I figured I’d work on some new techniques. I mean, a gal’s gotta keep up with her skillz, yes?

The Justine skirt has eleven buttons – nine up the front and one on each pocket. That’s a lotta buttons. I usually sew buttons by hand, but this seemed like a good opportunity to try sewing on the buttons by machine.

Eleven buttons later, here are some tips from me to you:

  1. Don’t use your best needle. You’re going to break a needle, or at least bang it up a bit, unless you are very very careful. Use a needle that has a few miles on it, so you won’t feel so bad if when you break it. Also, have an extra button on hand in case you really mess up:
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Oops – good thing it wasn’t a fresh needle, and good thing I had spare buttons on hand

2. Skip the fancy button-foot. If you have one, by all means use it, but I don’t and I was unwilling to pay $65 for one. Guess what? A piece of clear tape works just as well to hold the button in place.

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Since these were larger buttons, I used a wide-set embroidery foot so I could see both button holes clearly. A regular foot also works fine. Sew through the tape – it doesn’t leave residue on the needle, and it tears easily to remove cleanly when done.

3. Set stitch width and length. My machine has a button-sewing stitch – basically a wide zig-zag stitch with zero length. If your machine doesn’t have such an option, you can try out different zig-zag widths until you find what works. Set the length to zero.

4. Handwheel dress rehearsal. Before sewing on each button, use the handwheel to slowly crank the needle through its paces to be certain the needle lands where you want it. Does this get tiresome, 7 or 8 buttons in? Yes. Is it necessary? See step #1 and its carnage above. (Literally – this was the last button and I was like, “I don’t need to do a test run!”)

5. Knot by hand. My machine-sewn buttons were a bit messy with thread tails on the underside. I realized I needed to clean them up a bit. So I knotted by hand, by pulling the bobbin thread tails until the top thread could be picked through with a pin.

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A bit messy under there, are we?

All told, I don’t think I saved much time sewing the buttons by machine vs. by hand. The buttons are definitely on more securely, however, and at least now I know how to do it, if the mood strikes again.

Summer Skirt Sewing Smackdown Part II

Here’s my next two entry in my Summer Skirt Sewing Smackdown. The Justine skirt, a free pattern from Ready to Sew:

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“Justine” skirt

This is one of those “You Get What You Pay For” deals with free sewing patterns. The instructions are messed up and the sizing is off. I need to take it in at the waist about 3 inches. Yes, it was a majorly rookie mistake not to wrap the damn waistband around my bod to check for the sizing before I sewed it on, so I have no one to blame but myself.

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Back view – not a pretty picture

It looks OK from the front, but in the back, you can really see how the skirt sits low on my waist and the fabric pools at center-back into a pleat. The whole look says “wide load.”

This is supposed to be a high-waisted skirt, with the gathers falling attractively instead of settling and fanning out along the hips. Looking again at the model, you may notice how she has no waist or hips to speak of. I neglected to pay much attention. My mistake!

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Justine skirt pattern photo

(Also, gurl, not for nothing, but what are you doing keeping the selvage on that skirt fabric? Let me know how it wears after you wash the skirt a few times.)

The instructions skirt is nearly a zero-waste design – the panels are big rectangles that gather into a straight-cut waistband, and the patch pockets are straight-cut along three sides.

The directions had one big problem and several small ones. The big problem: the instructions are out of order for gathering the skirt. You cannot gather the skirt until you know how much to gather it!

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Gathering in progress

The waistband pattern piece has no notches. You mark your own according to how long your waistband is. This is no big deal, but the waistband’s written instructions to mark the notches are wrong. You want to start at the ends, marking the seam allowances, then the button plackets, then center back, and then the side seams, which are equidistant between center back and the button plackets. The diagram is right but the written instructions have you “split the rest in four equal parts.”

Once you notch the waistband, you then can line up the skirt pieces to gather them the correct amount. It worked out to almost a 2x gather, in my size.

I wanted to try out techniques in the Threads July 2020 article “Couture Gathering” by Susan Khalje, so I made these changes:
* Made the skirt waist seam allowance 1 inch, not 1 cm.
* Ran three lines of gathering stitches, not 2.
* Ran gathering stitches the entire length of the skirt, not breaking at the side seams (Khalje says it’s easier to get even gathers this way, and having now done it, I agree).

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Gathering audition

I tried out a few lengths for the gathering stitches. A 5-mm regular basting stitch – sample on the right – left gathers that were too loose. The sample on the left is 4 mm – just right for this fabric – a cotton poplin I’ve had in my stash several years. I had bought it to make a shirtdress, without realizing it was only 47 inches wide – not enough for most dress patterns. A skirt was a good second-chance project for it. (BTW the pattern calls for fabric 140 cm wide (55 inches) but at least in my size a narrower fabric worked fine. This also would probably be suitable for quilting cotton.)

Other smaller errors and omissions with this pattern, if you decide to make your own:
* Assembling the .pdf, some pieces lacked the center heart shape for lining up the paper sheets.
* Some pieces lacked grainlines or cutting lines (this may be the fault of the nested .pdf format or just an error – I can’t tell).
* Sew the pockets right sides together not wrong sides together and turn out.

I did two lines of topstitching along the button plackets for extra stability, and I made the pocket buttons functional, not just decorative.

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I am quite proud of my pattern-matching skills anyway. I think this will be a fun skirt – after I get over the unpleasantness of  unpicking the waistband, shortening it, then redoing the gathers and sewing the stupid thing back on. Actually, that sounds like a lot of work. Oy.

Body Doubles

Have you met my friend, Ruby?

Here she is, dressed in a fine me-made outfit:

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Simplicity 8058 Skirt, New Look 6330 top, and Muse “Jenna” Cardigan

She’s a cheap imitation of me, but I don’t mind. (I assume she doesn’t either.)

Recently, though, I have been looking at these “body double” types of dressforms, and I have started to wonder if it’s worth the investment.

While I enjoy using Ruby to hold projects in progress or finished, I don’t really use her to tailor garments to fit me. While I have adjusted her dials to approximate my size at the neck, bust, waist and hips, as well as my height, she’s not really the same. My bust isn’t that high, for one thing, and hasn’t been since I was 25. For another, I am not symmetrical. Nor am I all smooth and fatless.

I wondered if I could adapt Ruby to mimic me a bit more accurately. I started by double-checking that all the dials were the right size. The neck, bust and waist were all fine, but the hips were too small, even on the widest setting. I scrounged through my scraps and found a few long, narrow pieces of leftover jersey that I could wind around Ruby’s hips a few times to approximate my hips. Here’s a side view of Ruby’s spare tire.

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Tummy tire

I also used twill tape to mark the widest point of the back and the bustline, for reference later. Mark these lines with something with enough dimension that you can feel them under a garment, and make sure they run parallel with the floor.

Next it was time to tackle my shoulders. One is quite a bit lower than the other. I can’t lower a shoulder on Ruby, but I can raise a shoulder. I hoped this would have a similar effect. I used two shoulder pads I’d cut out of an old RTW sweater and pinned them in place.

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Uneven shoulder compensation

Finally, I covered the whole thing with an old tank top.

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Ruby is now more my shape. We’ll see if this makes any difference.

 

 

Quilting for the Birds

I used to be a quilter, and I have lots of scraps left around from those days. So when The People’s Sewing Army put out a call to sew for the wildlife rehabilitation program with the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon, I had to sign up.

The wildlife rehabbers needed small quilts for songbird cages and larger quilts for cages of raptors and other large birds. I had fun sewing these up:

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Scrap quilts for the birds

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Scrap quilts – other side

Fabric scraps are such a trip down memory lane for me. There were lots of scraps from a cat-themed quilt I made my mother years ago, and more from a garden-themed quilt I made for a friend. I sewed up some scraps from quilts made for my nieces and nephews (the oldest of whom is now in college) and from a batik dolphin quilt I made as a wedding present for dear friends.

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I also had some library-themed fabric leftover from pillows I made my brother-in-law. And then there were scraps left over from various apparel sewing projects, such as these:

The Audubon Society also asked for cloth napkins for its volunteers, so I raided my stash of linen scraps. Whenever you make pants, you end up with long, skinny scraps left over, so they were perfect for making napkins:

The fabric came from these projects (it cracks me up how inefficient I was with that yellow linen when I made the clamdiggers – live and learn!):

I took apart this muslin I sewed a couple of years ago out of some damaged linen and added that to the project also, saving the buttons to use again:

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Muslin of a skirt I drafted based on the Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

In the end, I made 18 napkins of various sizes. They were simple to construct – I just cut squares and finished the ends with a rolled hem on my serger.

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I used up some thread I didn’t need, too. The bright blue serger thread wasn’t great quality, but it was fine for a rolled-hem project like the napkins. I also used up sewing machine threads on spools and  bobbins of lesser quality in colors that I probably won’t need again.

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And I used up some odds and ends of premade bias bindings, including a few thrift-store finds. And I didn’t sweat these – they’re not perfectly rectangular, and the quilting is a bit wavy in places. I don’t think the birds will mind:

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Altogether, I used up 1 pound, 10 ounces of scrap fabric and quilt batting, oddball threads and leftover bindings – all getting a new and much needed life, instead of going to waste in my stash.

I get a lot of satisfaction about sewing for others from time to time. If you’re interested in helping out in the future, follow the link to The People’s Sewing Army or see my previous blog post.

Sew Edgy Trousers

I am continuing to work on my “Sew Edgy” look for the office. Check out these trousers in black wool stretch twill:

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Not your everyday work trousers

(Sorry about the backdrop – our shittily stained fence is as close to “edgy” as my home looks.)

The trousers are a deep black, so it’s hard to see the detail, but trust me when I tell you the fit is just about PERFECT.

The pattern is Style Arc’s Jasmine trousers. This is my second pair. The first ones were pretty good, but I still needed to work out some fit issues. I also wanted to try different fabric, because the first pair, in a wool gabardine with 3% elastane are a little too stretchy. This time I used a black wool twill that I got at B&J Fabrics in New York. Gorgeous stuff! The fabric has 1% elastane for just a little stretch recovery.

I started again with the size 16 because the fit was perfect at the hips, and I took in the rest of the pants a bit from there:

  • 1 1/4 inches at the waistline
  • 1 1/2 inches at the waistband
  • Tapered the sides in 1/2 inch starting 1″ above the bottom of the pocket bags and ending at the knee. (The first pair tend to fit a bit like jodhpurs on me, given my waist-hip-thigh ratios.)
  • Sewed the entire side seams at 5/8 inch instead of 3/8 inch
  • Scooped out the back crotch 1/2 cm and extended the back crotch the same amount
  • Added 1 cm to the top of the center back of the yoke, tapering to nothing at the side seam, so the pants would not dip down a bit in the back.

I sewed a blind hem, hemming at the length the pattern comes in because I wanted to wear with patent-leather loafers for a menswear look. It’s a fine length for me, at 5’6″. I think they might be a bit long – we’ll see.

Also, this time I stay-stitched the back yoke curves because the last time that bias curve stretched out a bit during construction. And I tacked the pocket bag seam allowances down to the insides of the pockets to keep them in place.

One big fail, however, was the button. The pattern calls for one button in the waistband. Last time, I opted for a hook-and-bar closure instead. This time I wanted to do a button because I had a special one in my stash – a heavy gold button with an enameled black band around the outside. I like metal trims for work clothes as part of my Sew Edgy workplace look.

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I sewed TWO practice buttonholes on mocked-up scraps identical to the pants – same fabric and interfacing. They both came out great. When it came to the actual pants, however, no dice. The buttonhole went in wonky and started sewing in place. I ripped it out but accidentally ripped up the fabric of the pants a bit in the process. So now I had a hole in my fabric and no buttonhole. I adjusted the buttonholer to sew less densely and fast, and tried again. Same problem. I ended up doing two hook and bars on the inside and sewed the button as a faux button to the outside to cover up the little hole (which I darned closed). GRR! Tell me the truth – does the button look stupid?

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These pants are a TNT for me for sure! I am delighted to find a pair that fit and wear well yet have all the details of RTW trousers, such as a real fly and pockets. If you’re shaped like me – a bit of a pear – you may also like the way these work for you.

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Obligatory back view  complete with photobombing dog

I want to try a pair with some denim next to see if I can get a jeans look out of them.

Workin’ on the Railroad

I feel all fancy when I can use an arcane textile term like “railroading” a fabric. What’s railroading? Allow me to demonstrate.

With printed fabrics. the print design typically goes from selvage to selvage. So, typically, you cut your pattern pieces on the straight of grain, meaning the grainline marks on the pattern pieces run parallel with the selvage.

Let’s say you have a one-yard cut of fabric like this 54-inch-wide cotton jacquard from the fashion design house Milly. The selvages are at the top and bottom of the picture:

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Milly cotton jacquard I bought at Banksville Designer Fabrics in Norwalk, CT

That’s a pretty big print motif. It’s hard to work it with a simple skirt pattern, such as this one, the Osaka wrap skirt from Seamwork magazine:

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A straight of grain pattern layout won’t work.

There’s not enough room on the straight of grain to center the pattern motifs and squeeze in all three pieces – a right front, left front and back (upper right) which is cut on the fold.

Does it work better railroaded, where I lay out the pieces on the crossgrain?

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Railroaded fabric with a great pattern layout and room to spare.

Yes! With room to spare! Hooray!

Depending on your fabric, the railroaded cuts might behave just as they would have on the straight of grain, or maybe not. It depends on how drapey the fabric, whether it stretches at all, and how it’s woven. You can play around with the two grainlines to see if it works. For this fabric, it’s fine either way.

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Seamwork “Osaka” wrap skirt laid out flat.

Here’s the skirt all laid out – notice how I was able to match the motifs pretty well by railroading the fabric. The white sections and the coral sections line up, including that band of coral that runs down the middle. Keep in mind, I wasn’t trying to match up the motifs exactly, because that’s not happening without a lot more fabric – wasteful and not necessary, as you will see.

Looks pretty good on, too:

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I arranged the overlapping front pieces so that the motifs would scroll along at the hem and hip. Excuse the photobombing dog!

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Same in the back

This was a quick and easy make – Seamwork said it would take about 3 hours, and that was right, even with the modifications I made.

The original skirt includes a seam halfway down to color block or otherwise change up the design. It’s also reversible, so in theory you can have two different skirts using up to four fabrics. You’re meant to basically make two skirts, sew them together, turn out and topstitch. Here’s the technical drawing:

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Osaka line drawing from Seamwork magazine Issue #4

I just wanted to use the one fabric, and I didn’t want to line it or make it reversible because the fabric was a good weight as-is. I made these changes to the pattern:

  • Eliminated the colorblock seam by butting the top and bottom pieces together at the seamline.
  • Widened the back darts 1/4 inch each.
  • Made a bias facing for the waist that finishes at 1.5 inches wide (the skirt has no waistband).
  • Lengthened it 1.5 inches and did a narrowish hem.
  • Eliminated the snap closure inside because I don’t think I need it.
  • Added 1 inch to both ends of the skirt to allow for hems and as some added insurance against the wrap popping open.

Also, I mitered the hems, ’cause like I said, I am fancy like that.

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Mitered hems, bitches!

I got the button from a bargain bin at Len’s Mill in Ontario, Canada when I was at PatternReview Weekend last summer. To secure it, I made a slim rouleau loop and secured it between the skirt and facing.

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I got a big button and I cannot lie…

I wore this skirt Saturday night to dinner with friends. I was inspired to sew with this as part of The Sewcialists’ mini challenge to sew up something using one of the group’s logo colors. There’s a spinner to help you choose a color, and I got coral. I am glad the challenge gave me the little push I needed to find a solution for this bold, unusual fabric.