Sunday, 16 February 2014

Vogue 8379 - Snake print wrap dress for SWAP 2014

I adore wrap dresses. I can´t think of any other piece of clothing that is so easy to slip on in the morning and instantly feel dressed. I have them in a number of varieties, but until now, no animal print, so I thought I´d make one for a shot of 1970s glam. I´m including this dress in my Sewing With a Plan collection (SWAP).

This is one of the least intimidating items in my SWAP. I am using a pattern I have made up five times before and this is one of my favourite dress styles. (See here for a blog post about my other beloved wrap dresses.)

I have had this fabric in my stash for a couple of years now, after buying it on a trip to Rome. The fabric shop (though shop seems somehow inadequate to describe it) is Fratelli Bassetti Tessuti, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, near the Pantheon. It is a sewers dream, and one of my favourite places in the world. 

It is aboslutely massive, and (treasure) cave like, eight big rooms with the most beautiful fabrics from floor to 6 m or so high ceiling. It can be overwhelming, and when I have been there, I have actually gone twice, either in the same day or a couple of days apart: Once to browse and take it all in, then come back later having planned my purchases and projects. There is a virtual army of Italian men working there and they have been extremly helpful every time I´ve been there.

Not being big on animal prints generally, I guess I´ve been a little bit apprehensive about what to do with it. What seemed to make sense in the haze of appropriated Italianess, felt slightly different in the cold Northern winter. But then again - maybe a shot of animal print is just what I need.

I think the pattern is not too crazy, and I could even see it dressed down with a cardigan and opaque tights to work in an everyday setting.

I´m sewing a fairly straight 14 out of the envelope, but dropped the interfaced facings and added my customary 15 cm or so at the hem. This is a one day project, all pattern pieces are prepped and I figured out my own cutting layout a long time ago. The fabric is also really stable and easy to work with, so this was a breeze. The only thing I gave a bit of consideration was the pattern placement across the bodice, as I wanted it to be fairly similar on both sides.

I started with draping the fabric across my dress form to decide what to do with the distinctive lighter stripes going lengthwise. My options were to either have the light stripe follow the neckline, or the darker panel.

I decided that I wanted the darker panel on the neckline - I tend to prefer darker colours near my face. In addition, this way I used less fabric, as I could place the front pieces on either side of a light panel, which is more narrow than the dark panels.

From there on, it was pretty smooth sailing. I cut everything in one layer due to the stripes in the pattern, that demanded some matching. I had just enough to cut out all my pieces. I did my usual modification of the pattern - dropped the neckline facing and added full length sleeves. And here is the result:

There are some places where I wish I could have matched the print better, like between the front bodice and the skirt:

Then again, in other places the pattern matched completely coincidentally - magic! Like here, between bodice and sleeve:


And in the side seam:

In short, I am pretty happy with the way the dress turned out, and I can change the styling so that it works both for day and for evening. So that means, two SWAP items down, seven to go!

Vogue 8379 - five versions of my trusted go-to wrap dress

I am often drawn to the classics and the basics. The thing is that as much as I love sewing, I´m not all that fussed about clothes. Sounds weird even to me. But what I mean is that I don´t like to have to spend a lot of time or energy to get dressed.

I usually only wear a minimal amount of accessories - mostly two inherited rings that mean a lot to me. I have a few scarves that I may sling on from time to time. My make-up has been the same for many years. As much as I admire women who can put together outfits and be on trend, it was never for me.

But I do like to feel well-dressed, and I do want my clothes to fit me.

And I love, love, love wrap dresses. They´re instant dressiness and yet, feel like a robe. They give you a flattering neckline, cinch in your waist and flow forgivingly over the tummy area. What more could a girl possibly ask for? 

For a long time I considered splurging on a Diane von Furstenberg original, as an investment. I even came as far as trying some on. And then... they didn´t really fit. It´s not that it was horrible, but it wasn´t perfect either. And if I´m going to spend that kind of money, I really want it to be perfect.

I am tall (5´10") with a high waist, and the hem just didn´t hit me in the right spot. (I see no need to share my knees with the public, thank you very much.) The skirt part was just a little too narrow to be forgiving. And as I looked at the originals, beautiful though the dresses were, I thought that they weren´t really that advanced either.

So when I started sewing again, a wrap dress was high on my list.

I bought a pattern, and haven´t looked back since. The pattern was Vogue 8379, and since I bought it, I have made five different dresses, and modified the pattern a little bit along the way, though no big changes have been necessary.

I also have two other wrap dress patterns in my stash that I have yet to sew, Vogue 8784 and Vogue 8827. The former is particularly interesting, I think, as it´s made to work with wovens (I see view B coming up). I also really like the waterfall neckline in 8827; especially in view A. 

Vogue 8784 (left) and Vogue 8827 (right)

But back to the pattern I have worked with; 8379:

The only thing I have really changed about this pattern in my later renditions is the interfaced neckline facing. I obidiently followed the instructions for the first ones, and it has  an interfaced facing, about 5 cm wide, around the neck and front opening. 

I don´t like that facing for two reasons - it's a bit stiff in contrast to the general flowiness of the dress, and also, it doesn´t keep in place and flips to the outside. I have seen on PatternReview that others have the same issue. So in my later versions, I have simply folded the front edge under and stitched it in place - haven´t had any problems.

The only thing is that this change messes up the fastening of the belt, which originally goes between the front pieces and the facings, but I have just stitched the belt to the front and not cared too much that it doesn´t look great on the inside.

The first version I did, was a straight up version A, in a thin light brown/beige cotton jersey. I was pretty pleased with the dress, but unfortunately the facbric turned out to be a poor choice. After washing the dress it became really flimsy and stretched badly while drying, in addition to some unseamly pilling. It simply had to go...

#2 is a dress I absolutely love and adore, but it was a bleeping nightmare to sew.

This fabric is a Pierre Cardin viscose jersey that I bought in Rome, at my personal heaven, Fratelli Bassetti TessutiThis fabric is incredibly slinky. It was all over the place both cutting and sewing, and in the end I just soldiered through. The seams are embarrasingly wonky, but I don´t care. This is my go to dress for summer parties.

The fabric for dress #3 also comes from Rome/Fratelli Bassetti. 

This is a dress I wear for work quite often, and I really like how the print lends itself to the soft shape of the dress. This is basically view A, but without the collar and with full length sleeves (I modified the pattern). And I think I prefer the sleeves like this; without the cuffs.

Dress #4 is sligthly crazy, and not one to wear for those days you just want to blend in with the walls:

But when you don´t want to blend in, this is ideal. I usually wear this with my denim jacket and a can do attitude.

Dress #5 is probably the one I wear the most:

Classic, black, soft, perfect. This is a simple black cotton based knit, fairly stable, incredibly comfortable. I wear this all the time. For work, for parties, for jsut hanging around at home. I can put it on in the morning, slap some mascara on, and feel at least half way decent immediately. That, for me, is wardrobe magic.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Vogue 8829 - plaid shirt dress for SWAP 2014

As I said in my post about my Sewing With a Plan collection, I never really considered plaids for myself - I thought they looked great on others, but did not really know how to incorporate them into my style. Then I saw this D&G dress and was instantly converted. I did not want to copy this dress, or this style even, but I was inspired for a dress I can use for work and for hanging out at the weekend. My starting point is an out of print Vogue pattern; 8829, that I have made before with the full skirt option.

This is my first time patching plaids. Was I intimidated? Strangely, no, not very. Befuddled? Slightly. However, I  chose an easy plaid: Non-directional (meaning that the pattern does not have a direction and pieces can be cut "upside down" if need be) and simple (no multiple layers of squares and lines) with only an 8 cm or so repetition.

I´ve also had a look at a couple of Craftsy classes that talk about plaid matching as part of the projects they are teaching; the couture dress (as always) and the little French jacket class. I invested in a box of Clover Fork Pins - these are just brilliant! They are so steady and so easy to use, that even I as a matching novice managed to do a decent job.

I cut everything in one layer. I took the notches on the bodice front as a starting point, also bearing in mind that the button band would be where the pieces actually needed to match. As luck would have it, the width of the button band almost exactly covered one lengthwise row of squares in my fabric.

I then realised that I had to start choosing where to match and where to not match, as not all seams would add up, for instance because of the bust darts, that throw off the "rythm" in the side seams. I also considered where I wanted the cross-wise stripes to hit the bodice. I found myself actually enjoying the process of paying that much attention to detail!

Then I went on to the sleeves. Here I also realised that I could not match the sleeves to the bodice at each point, so I went for the point that I thought would be the most conspicuous, in the high bust.

I decided to sew the bodice before I proceeded to cut and match the skirt parts - I had not completely decided what I would do with the skirt. I think there may be a misprint in this pattern, though I can´t be 100% certain. I cut it out a long time ago, and now I could not find the skirt pieces for view D. I did, however, find doubles for the full skirt in views A, B and C, which leads me to think that something went awry somewhere.

I had a look at the line drawings and decided that it did not look too complicated - three almost rectangular squares (one back and two front pieces) with two box pleats on each side (four pleats in total).

Based on this, I drew a pattern for the skirt, taking as a starting point how much hip ease I wanted, and muslined it. Not a good look for me. I think for slimmer figures and perhaps a drapier fabric, this could look great. On me - the pleats fanned out and created a weird balloony effect.

I redrew the pattern, adding four darts in the back, and three simple pleats on each front piece. Much better. I got a more fitted look in the back, and the necessary room to fit across my tummy in the front, without much extra volume. And lo and behold, when I transferred this to the actual fabric, it turned out  that the front pleats were the exact width of the vertical stripes in the pattern! Things like that make me disproportionately happy.

And here is the final result - I am immodestly pleased!

Due to the nature of the fabric, I have lined the skirt part. I did a test run with wooly tights, and the skirt stuck quite badly. I used a thin china silk I had in my stash, and hand felled the lining to the skirt:


I put tiny running stitches along the side seams (catching the seam allowance only). The lining is very flimsy and I want it to stay put. At the same time, I don't want a thicker lining, to keep a little lightness in the dress. I also used the silk for the inside of the back yoke  - the instructions say to use self-fabric, but with my cotton it would be way to bulky.

I am very happy with this dress - it has already been on several outings, and I know I will get a lot of wear out of it.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

SWAP 2014 - a coordinated collection at last?

I finally decided to take the plunge and throw myself into to the Sewing With a Plan (SWAP) 2014 competition at Stitcher´s Guild. I lurked the previous SWAP and was in awe of all the beautiful creations the participants came up with. I was also intrigued by the idea of actually planning my sewing; something I have never been very good at. My sewing has always been impulsive and rather random, as has my fabic shopping.

In the SWAP, the participants put together a collection according to a set of rules, creating three sets of three garments (or 3-packs) plus two "wildcards" that can be whatever they like. You can also include one previously sewn item, as well as a purchased one, within the total of 11 garments. The competition closes on the 30th of April. Being really late to the party, I don´t know if I´ll be able to finish everything by then, but the SWAP helps me be a bit more systematic in my thinking/sewing. And having a deadline always helps!

This is the plan I came up with:

My three 3-packs are casual plaids, dressy prints and the last one, consisting of only black basics. My wildcards are my little French jacket (previously sewn and blogged about here) and a purchased black camisole that I have yet to find.

Before coming up with this I had a long hard look at my stash and my patterns, my closet and my dressing habits. Boring though it may be, I mostly revert to black basics and classics when dressing, but some central items are missing from my closet (Hello, black bootcut trousers that are long enough and fit through the hips and waist, where are you?). Either because I never found the perfect RTW version, or because I did find it, and then wore it to pieces. For my SWAP I want to fill in some of these gaps.

However, I also want to add some prints to break up the sea of darkness, and I want clothes both for work and for dressing up a little bit more. I will also challenge myself a little to try things I haven´t before (though I may live to regret it as the deadline approaches. In the words of Bridget Jones; "should be very easy.")

Pack #1 - laid back plaids. Challenge - matching plaids, making trousers.

My plan for this 3-pack is to have some everyday clothes, appropriate both for work and for hanging out at the weekend. I never really considered plaids before - I mean, I see them everywhere on young women who rock the loose plaid shirt, singlet, skinny jeans and Converses, but have enough insight to know that this is not for me. Then I saw a picture of the formidable Christina Hendricks/Mad Men´s Joan in this gorgeous D&G dress.

I never occurred to me that plaids could be this sharp and feminine and glamourous.  Now, I don´t have the ambition (or the wherewithals) to become a plaid bombshell like Christina, but it got me thinking about how I could incorporate this trend at least a little bit. Also, in the name of challenging myself, I have never matched plaids before.

Hence the first item, the shirt dress. I have the Vogue 8829 (OOP) in my stash and a fairly subdued plaid in a lovely thick and soft cotton.

To continue with the theme, I want to sew a plaid shirt, and I have yet to purchase both pattern and fabric, and I had a look at one of Vogue patterns classic shirt models, Vogue 2634. It may be a bit too simple though; it doesn't even have cuffs, and a plaid shirt should probably have a yoke.

Finally in this pack, I want to have a go at something that really intimidates me - trousers... As mentioned above, I miss a pair of really well fitting black bootcut trousers. And if they were difficult to find before in RTW, now it´s close to impossible. I realise that the current paradigm is skinny trousers, but I feel so incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious in them. I have this theory that bootcuts balance out my hips, thighs and bum, but realise that style-wise, this apparently puts me firmly in the 1990s. So be it - I need my bootcuts! I have the fabric and pattern for these; Vogue 1366 and a cotton with a tiny bit of stretch.

Pack #2 -  dressy prints. Challenge: sewing silk chiffon, finding the courage to cut into a very expensive wool crepe.

For my second 3-pack I wanted to go a bit more dressy, but still make items that could be dressed down. Being realistic, I don´t really dress up that often. Between work and family committments and natural couch potato tendencies, going out is the one thing that sadly suffers. 

Item number one is a dress. I expect this to be fairly smooth sailing, as I´m using one of my TNT patterns, the Vogue 8379 wrap dress. I have made it five times before and love it. I could live in wrap dresses forever, they are so versatile and comfortable. I also have the fabric in my stash; a snake print jersey.

Item number two is a different story, and where the main challenge for this 3-pack comes in - a silk chiffon blouse/shirt. I found the fabric a while ago, but haven´t really been able to decide what to do with it - but I just had to have it. I think I found a pattern for it, in Vogue 1387  I think this blouse could also work in a more informal setting, e.g. with jeans, or with trousers and a jacket for work presentations.

The final item in my dressy pack is a wool crepe pencil skirt. This is also a fabric that I have had in my stash for a long time - in fact, I picked it up at the same time as I bought the Linton wool for my little French jacket, at Misan Textiles in London. It is soooo beautiful, though this is almost impossible to convey with a photo: fantastic quality, a soft lustre and amazing hand - and it had a price tag to match. I don´t normally buy fabrics this expensive, and while I love them, there is always the risk that they just stay, silk paper wrapped, in my stash forever. Not any more - the wool crepe is coming out to play! I have a few patterns for pencil skirts and will do some extensive muslining to make sure I get the right fit. I also plan to underline this with silk organza, and will have to look for a lining - I´m thinking slik crepe de chine.

Pack #3 - Black basics. Challenge: my old nemesis, trouser fitting.

This is where I revert fully to old form, sewing basic black items that I wear all the time and function as a backdrop should I manage to be more adventurous with print or colour. I am aware that each of the two other 3-packs also have black basics in them, so this is where I fill out some more of the gaps.

Item number one is my outerwear for this collection - a linen coat. I have 3 metres or so of a beautiful black Armani linen. I had planned to use it for a skirt, and picked out the pattern, but luckily I tried it in another (cheaper) fabric before I cut into my linen. It was hi-de-ous. It did not fit my shape *at all*, and looked as if I wore a poncho around my hips. Big disappointment, but happily, not with the linen. So - I want to use this linen for a light coat. I saw this coat in Burda  (11/2013 #102) that I keep coming back to. The only thing is that it is cut on the bias and eats up more fabric than I have in my stash (I think). I will play around with it and see if I can squeeze the front and back panels in on the bias (because I see the point about the drape/softness), but I am a little sceptical about cutting the sleeves on the bias as well - I have a feeling they would become to floppy/stretchy/strange. We´ll see - this one is a little bit up in the air

The second item is a boat neck long sleeve top. I like boatnecks a lot - I have fairly narrow, sloping shoulders and think this neckline balances me. For this I will use a  self drafted TNTpattern and good quality black jersey.

And finally - I have added another pair of trousers. Now, this one is really hanging. I would really like a pair of cropped trousers, but I think trouser fitting is sooo difficult. And I already have a pair in my SWAP.  So this is crazy. But IF I decide to push ahead, I'm thinking Clovers from Collette patterns. There are so many beautiful versions out there, in all shapes and sizes, so this looks like a quality pattern.

So - no use in hanging around - to the sewing machine (and beyond)!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Vogue 7975 - my lovely little French jacket

At one point I became a little (a lot) obsessed with owning a little French jacket. In an ideal world this jacket would be Chanel, in the real world - not very likely. But in my dreams it remained - black wool, slim, elegant. And it would go with everything, solving all my wardrobe woes - in short, my own personal Holy Grail. Realism told me, however, to just let it go.

Then I came upon the sewing internet phenomenon of making your own. A whole new world opened up for me - I could actually make my own couture clothing? Tell me more, I thought. Very, very interesting.

I searched blog upon blog upon blog for the experience experience of others, and decided that while it was a lot of work, it was probably within what I could manage, and it would also push me to challenge myself. I contemplated which pattern to choose. It seemed to be a tie between Vogue 7975 and Vogue 8804, the latter by sewing guru Claire Schaeffer.  Both are clean line shoulder princess seam jackets, but the 8804 has a three piece vented sleeve and of course Claire Schaeffer's couture instructions, including handsewn and bound buttonholes and detailed instructions for quilting the lining to the garment fabric.


In the end, I decided that 8804 was a little bit out of my league for now, and judging from the pattern envelope and internet pictures of the two jackets, I felt that 7975 was perhaps a bit more casual and less "suity". I had also read about Susan Khalje's little French jacket class and that she recommended 7975, so who was I to argue? (I have 8804 in my pattern stash, though, and some plans with a pretty fabulous blue Dior wool I happen to have in my posession.)

My little French jacket was a deliciously time consuming project. I say deliciously, because so often I am impatient, rushing through a project, being so focused on getting my dress/shirt/skirt ready that I forget to savour the process. This was something else. If I were to make an estimate, I´d say more than 150 hours.  In this I include the muslin process and the actual sewing of the final jacket. I do not, however, include the research and the two previous versions I made of this jacket before I got started on the real thing.

I like Vogue 7975, but I definitely feel that it needs modifications - I my case, pretty serious modifications. I sewedmy first version straight out of the envelope, size 14, in a fairly thick wool. It was shapeless and frumpy and didn't have much going for it. It was in fact so sad that I have no pictures of it, and since this was before I started blogging I didn't even take any pictures to document the sadness. And now it has passed to that great wardrobe in the sky.

So after getting my wits about me, I started on the first muslin. I learned a lot about muslins from Susan Khalje's Couture dress class on Craftsy. Another great resource was the thread on Chanel jackets (most people here used 8804) on Artisan´s Square. I was a little bit star struck when I saw that Claire Schaeffer herself pitched in with advice, and of course, the amazing Ann Rowley. Ann also made a Flickr set documenting the process step by step, which gave me the final confidence to 

I started by measuring the flat pattern and taking my own measurements. Based on this, I started with a size 12 in the shoulders/high bust, 14 bust, 12 waist and 14 hips. I also raised the armhole around 1 cm and took in the sleeve correspondingly. I decided to cut the undersleeve on the bias to have movement while being able to fit the sleeve really close.

I made the muslin and it became very clear that I needed a full bust adjustment (FBA). I split the princess seam open across the bust and spread it until I got I nice fit. I added the inch or so that I needed to the side front piece. I also took the side front piece in a bit in the high bust, as I wanted a close fit. This is what I ended up with:

Sorry about the poor pic quality, this was before I got a proper camera, and also sorry about the headlessness. By this point I was pretty pleased with the fit, but still apprehensive about cutting into my expensive wool. I had decided to go all out and buy a Linton wool, that I picked up in Misan Textiles in Berwick Street on a visit to London. It was (gulp...) 49 pounds per metre. For the lining I found a fairly heavy black silk crepe de chine in Oslo, which frankly was almost the same price as the Linton. In short, making a mistake was not an option. After much consternation I decided to do one more trial run, with a wearable muslin in cheaper, man made fabrics. Here is the result:

Wearable muslin, Vogue 7975

I thread traced all the pieces, then quilted the lining to the garment fabric before assembling, and then hand felled the lining along the seams. Here you can also see the bias cut undersleeve, which has been a complete revelation to me. I love a narrow sleeve, but would prefer to keep my circulation, and this really does the trick.

here you can see some of the quilting. The poly lining really did not want to press well:

At this point I felt ready to take on the real thing, and I am glad I got a practice run with my wearable muslin. I felt a lot more confident and even as if I knew what I was doing. And during one long Easter, I finalised what is now one of my best loved pieces in my wardrobe. Ta dah!

I struggled for a while to find a trim that I liked, until I found this thin strand of very textured, blossomy trim, that worked well with my textured wool.

At some point I calculated that I did around 12 metres of hand sewing for this jacket. Here are some shots of the quilting and hand felled seams in the inside. (I haven´t installed a chain along the hem yet, but am contemplating buying one from Susan Khalje´s online shop)

Summing up, this jacket for me is about confidence: I feel confident (and comfortable!) when I wear it, and having made in in the first place did wonders for my sewing confidence. It taught me that if I just take it one step at the time, I can learn almost anything. 

So - to anyone contemplating a little French jacket for the first time, I say, go for it! It is so worth it in every way!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Dear Internet, thank you for teaching me how to sew!

Or really, dear all you fantastic sewing bloggers out there - you have been and are such a big part in how I think about sewing, about clothes, and not least, how I now spend most of my free time. So I figured it was time to get over my sad technophobia and start my own blog, both to be a part of the fabulous international sewing community and maybe in some small way be able to give something back for all I've learned. I thought I'd use this - my first ever post on my first ever blog! - to tell you a bit about myself:

I live in Oslo, Norway, with my lovely husband and equally lovely teen son.  I have a job where I read, write and think a lot, and while I love that, I often feel the urge just to make something, that is something, and not just floats around out there. Enter sewing.

I have always been fond of making things, but through the years I've mostly knitted.
 This, for instance, is the first ever item I knitted - a rather fetching  scarf for my mother. We are talking late 1970s here, people, but I think my seven-year-old self deserves some props for the fashion forward pink and blue nod to the 80s.

I have sewn on and off for many years, but given my historical ratio of successful projects to sad potato sacks, I have often become disouraged. In the past I also found it difficult to become better - I don't really know anyone else who sews and had few places to turn to teach me.
 This changed about two years ago, when I started to think about sewing again. I became aware of the amazing  Internet resources dedicated to sewing. Never having been a big reader of blogs, I now found this fantastic army of people out there, with amazing skills, so willing to share genereously of their knowledge.

I wouldn't even know where to begin to list all the blogs that I scoured, but I will mention the amazing resource I found in the Artisan's Square forum at Stitcher's Guild. My sewing took a huge leap forward when I bought Claire Schaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques, as it did when I started taking Craftsy sewing classes, especially Susan Khalje's couture dress class. I can't praise it enough.

 Looking at what I've sewn, there is clear dominance of dresses. I tend to look for patterns that I really like and then sew them several times, often tweaking them as I go.  I have an ambition to review my tried and tested patterns on in time, so I'll try to blog them here as well.
Anyways, I look forward to recording my past, current and future sewing projects and being part of the great community of fellow sewing enthusiasts!