Tips for Buying Fabric Online (Or: Things I Learned the Hard Way)

If you don’t live anywhere near a “garment district” or even just a decent fabric store, you have probably at one point or another ordered fabric online. I love shopping online! Seriously–what’s better than arriving home only to find a package of potential amazingness waiting on your front porch?

However, convenience comes at a price. And I’m not just talking about shipping costs. When you buy fabric in person, you get the opportunity not only to feel its weight and drape but also to watch your fabric cutter with the eyes of a hawk while he/she cuts your precious fabric. These are not things you can do when you order online. Yes, there are swatches (usually), but that takes an extra dose of patience as you have to go through the ordering and shipping process twice (horrors!).

So, inspired by events from my own life, here are three very important tests your fabric must pass before it can graduate from the shipping parcel to the washing machine.

1. Check your fabric for snags, holes, or any other cosmetic issues. This is the one that we probably already do. Though, there has been a time or two that I’ve had my fabric laid out and ready to cut and I’ve discovered a hole that I needed to work around.

2. Lay your fabric out to check the grain. Crazy, off-grain cutting has happened to me twice. In both cases, I didn’t discover the problem within the (in this case, two week) return window. I generally have my fabric on the shelf for months before I use it (I’m a planner, not a hoarder!), so waiting until I’m ready to cut a fabric is not a good time to discover grain problems.

3. Measure the length of your fabric to be sure you received what you ordered. This is a very recent issue, occurred just last Friday actually. I was laying out some cotton/lycra knit (so pretty!) to see if I had enough to modify the Lady Skater in a certain way, and then discovered that of the 2 yards I ordered, I received 1 yard and 24″. Again, I ordered the fabric two months ago and have already washed it once. (And if the fabric actually shrank 12″, then we have bigger problems!)

Apparently, I am a very trusting person by nature, so I have always just assumed that companies are sending me what I pay for cut in a way that I can actually use ALL of what I pay for. But, this is not always the case.

Believe me, I am in no way hating on online fabric stores. We love our fabric suppliers, don’t we? Those of us who live in places that are not L.A. or New York or Chicago depend on them; we hope they stay in business forever! Plus, I’ve cut fabric. I know it’s tricky.

All I’m saying is that we the customers need to do our part to keep the fabric sellers accountable, for remaining accountable is how they will stay in business.

And that, my friends, is that.

So. . . am I the only person with blind trust issues??

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Seven Stash Essentials

On an earlier post where I got all ranty about stashes, I received some remarkably wise and insightful comments from a couple of readers who really got me thinking differently about the purpose of a stash.

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Well, of course! It makes sense to stockpile fabric and notions that you need over and over. I have no idea why that never occurred to me until it was gently pointed out, but I’m here to tell you, I am so on board with this idea. So, let’s talk about the top Seven Stash Essentials that I plan to collect this year (and by that, I mean between now and next summer. Isn’t it weird how I’ve suddenly switched to the “school year” mentality?).

(Note: I’m excluding thread because I feel that having things like white or navy thread–depending on what you sew the most–is a given. And needles. Any sewist worth her salt has at least a small collection of the needles she uses the most.)

1. Lightweight fusible cotton interfacing

I use this stuff for almost every single woven fabric project. I get tired of running to the store again and again searching for it. As soon as it is feasible for me, I’m buying this stuff in bulk. If you have a favorite cotton interfacing that comes in widths of 45″ or more, do let me know! The stuff at Jo-Ann’s is okay, but so narrow!

2. Fusible tricot interfacing

I love using this stuff for any kind of stretch fabric that needs a little more structure. I used it on my stretch denim Simplicity 2451, and it behaved perfectly. I also have a lot of ideas for knits that need interfacing, and I want to have it on hand when I start experimenting.

3. Muslin

Come fall, I will be in great need of muslin. I’m planning on perfecting at least one dress from my Magnificent 11, and I’m dedicating September entirely to pants. Since I got rid of all the fabric in my stash that I didn’t want, I find myself needing actual muslin to help with my fitting endeavors.

4. White cotton/lycra knit

Here’s the thing: I love white. It’s clean and versatile and universal and lovely. It also stains like the Dickens. I go through white tees and camis like you wouldn’t believe! Therefore, I want to buy a whole bolt of this stuff to have on hand for immediate replacements. What am I going to do with my army of retired white tops? I’m going to dye them and depending on how the dye bath works out, I’ll rotate them back into the wardrobe, wear them to bed, or turn them into underwear (or, as I’ve decided to call them from here on out, “lady pants.”)

5. Clear 1/4″ elastic

This is my knit seam stabilizer of choice. I also use it instead of regular elastic for waist seams. It works beautifully! I always hated clear elastic because I was using the terrible Dritz brand you find in chain fabric stores. Awful stuff! I eventually took a chance on a random internet shop and bought 50 yards of the loveliest, softest clear elastic for something like $12 (which included shipping!). I can tell you that after lots of wearing and washing and pressing, this elastic has not worn out on any of the knits I’ve applied it to.

6. Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite, 1/2″

I cannot hem knits without it. I can’t. I refuse. Sadly, however, Steam-a-Seam is temporarily out of production while they sort through some manufacturing issues. (The fact that I took the time to look up this information tells you a lot about my obsession.) Company reps assure us that the product will be back and better than ever very soon. They better be right because not only do I use SaS for knits, I also use it for zippers, patch pockets, and anything else that I don’t want to pin. Get on it, Warm Company!

7. White lining (rayon bemberg and cotton voile or batiste)

Okay–I’m totally cheating on this one by putting two different fabrics in one category. I typically line any cold weather clothes with rayon bemberg and warm weather clothes with cotton (if I line those at all). I’m thinking that if I have white, I can always dye the lining to match. Though, I kind of like the idea of all my clothes being lined in white. I might also consider stocking up on black or navy rayon bemberg for winter.

What do you think? Do you stock up on essentials? What would be in your top seven list (or even better, a Top Ten list!)?

A Tiny Tip for Successful Sewing

Note: I actually wrote this post ages ago when it was still cold in the South. That explains any odd references to tights–which no self-respecting southern gal would be wearing in May!

How do you decide what to sew?

I know a lot of sewists out there like to sew whatever they feel. And I know there are many who have been caught up in this wave of wardrobe sewing. Those of you who are attempting to sew according to a plan, do you ever find it difficult to plan wisely?

I still struggle sometimes trying to determine the difference between a garment I know I’m going to wear and a garment that I ought to want to wear because it’s something that everyone else is wearing. I was thinking about this the other day. How can I make consistently great wardrobe-sewing choices?

And then I realized–the best time to decide what I need to sew is when I’m getting dressed in the morning and I don’t know what to wear. I’m more likely to be inspired by what everyone else is wearing when I’m sitting down with pen and paper and a hundred blogs to read. I’m inspired by what I actually want to wear when I really want to wear something that doesn’t exist in my closet.

Hmmm. . . time to spruce things up in there. Winter things need to be put away. Hangers need to be sorted. And, yes, that IS a small bear sitting atop a container of catnip. Is this not something everyone keeps in her closet?

Hmmm. . . time to spruce things up in there. Winter things need to be put away. Hangers need to be sorted. And, yes, that IS a small bear sitting atop a container of catnip. Is this not something everyone keeps in her closet?

I imagine it’s something like the difference between basic training and the battlefield (super dramatic metaphor, yes, but just go with it). Spending hours falling into the deep, dark abyss of Pinterest or trolling countless sewing/fashion blogs is like your basic training. You learn what’s out there. You get an idea of what you can make. You discover what you like to look at. But, when it comes time to actually put on some clothes and rush out the door–that’s the battlefield. That’s when things get real. That’s when things don’t always go according to plan. Sure, maybe I pinned and made a yellow pencil skirt that I thought I absolutely couldn’t live without, but if I never want to actually put it on in the morning, what’s the point?

Sometimes, I’m standing, staring into my open closet trying to figure out what clothes best reflect the girl I am that day. It’s too cold for my Moss; I just wore my Lady Skater yesterday; and all my Archers need to be washed (true story). First of all, that tells me that the Lady Skaters and the Archers are really excellent wardrobe choices. Also, I need tights to wear with my Moss (get some gray tights, Jen! Honestly. . . ). When this happens, I always have a thought along the lines of, “If I just had a ________ then I could wear ________” or “I’d really like to wear _______ but I haven’t made one yet.”

These are the makes that need to happen. These are the garments that if I made them, I would actually wear them. How do I know that I’m not a vintage-lovin’ gal? I have never, not once when I’m getting ready thought, “I’d really like to wear a 60s style wiggle dress today.” How do I know that I love a knit skater dress? Because I wear mine every chance I get! Because there are some days when I think, “I really want to wear my navy Lady Skater, but people will think I’m weird if I wear it three days in a row.”

Here’s the catch: thoughts occurred and thoughts remembered are two different things. Thinking, “I need more knit dresses,” at 6:30 in the morning may not mean that I remember that I need those knit dresses a month later when it’s time to make another plan. (Oh, who am I kidding?? My love of knit dresses is well-documented. But you get my point!)

The solution? So simple, I probably don’t even need to mention it.

But, I totally will.

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Post-it Notes! All I do is take a moment to ask myself, “If I could wear anything today, what would it be?” When the answer comes to me, I either find its equivalent in my closet, or I jot the idea on a note and stick it to the inside of my closet door. When planning time comes round again, all I have to do is match my wardrobe wish list with existing patterns. To help me in my wardrobing endeavors, I’ve been curating a Pinterest board of potential patterns. Like virtual sticky notes!

Thanks to a simple office supply, some day I will stand in front of my open closet doors and rather than feeling like my closet is full of nothing, I’ll be greeted with more options than I can choose between.

Idealistic? Unrealistic? Maybe. But I believe!

Do you have any great tips for sewing what you’ll love to wear?

On Stashes and Snowstorms

Hello, newbie sewists. I have something to say to you.

I also have unrelated snow pictures (because I’m southern and this is a big deal!).

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With nearly two whole years of sewing under my belt, I’m here to share something that I wish someone had explained to me when I first started sewing.

As you browse and follow the myriad of sewing blogs out there, you will hear one word pop up again and again. It’s going to seem like a magical word, a word that will solve all your problems. But, I’m here to tell you, it’s not. You don’t need it. Resist the urge to force yourself acquire it.

What’s the word?

Stash

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I started following sewing blogs long before I actually started sewing. It seemed to me that these ladies were constantly exulting that they whipped up a pretty little dress using nothing but odds and ends from their stash. “I only spent $3.00!” they would proclaim. When I finally acquired my sewing machine, I felt like a chump actually paying money for fabric.

And it wasn’t just fabric–it was trims and buttons and zippers and elastic and any other notion you could dream of–these women had everything tucked away in their overflowing sewing rooms! Every time I purchased a zipper, I felt a tiny piece of my frugal soul die.

I needed a stash. I needed a stash bad. I needed to hoard patterns and fabric and notions so that I could be like those ladies with their magical stashes full of unrealized potential just waiting for the perfect opportunity to emerge. So, that’s what I started to do. Cheap floral fabric for sale at Fabric.com? Yes. I bought that. Ten Simplicity patterns for $10? Yes–ten please. And I’ll be back tomorrow for more. Will I ever wear these? Doesn’t matter! Patterns, patterns, patterns! I even bought a random assortment of bias tape and seam binding (which I had no clue how to use) and such from an Etsy dealer who was quite happy to be rid of it. I became obsessed with finding thrift stores nearby that sold “vintage” patterns for super cheap. Only once did I ever stumble across actual patterns from the 60s and 70s.

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And slowly, I began to accumulate yards and yards of bold, colorful fabric, hoards of “Big 4” patterns, and more seam binding than I knew what to do with. And slowly, the clutter started to weigh me down. I felt obligated to use up what I had already purchased, and it was mostly bad. I created floral dress after floral dress that I didn’t want to wear.

Something had to give.

When I started this wardrobe-sewing business, I began to realize that I had too much. I had too many things that I didn’t really want. Things that would never make outfits that I wanted to wear. I had long ago purchased cheap fabrics that looked cheap, trims that I would never use, and patterns that absolutely didn’t fit my style.

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First, I made a resolution: no more stocking up. No more hoarding. Fabric and patterns and notions would be bought intentionally, as needed. Also, I would use only those things I actually liked. Other fabrics would be given away.

Next, it was time to clean out the patterns. Since I’ve decided to focus more on simple patterns I can modify myself, I didn’t need the enormous pattern stash. And there were so many that I would never, ever wear. So, I purged. I purged with a ferocity that cannot be expressed with mortal tongue. And even after that, I purged again. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I got rid of about 75-80% of my pattern stash. About half of that went to my sister and the other half to Goodwill. Don’t worry–there wasn’t anything good left, or I would have totally offered it to my lovely readers 🙂

I also sorted through my fabric and made a nice little pile to donate. The rest I organized into three groups: knits and knit scraps for some future projects I’m planning, wovens, and woven scraps for bags/purses/crafting in general.

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Here’s the lesson I want to share: you don’t need a stash.

Having a stash is not a bad thing, but trying to force yourself to accumulate a stash is a bad thing. Don’t be lured in by cheap sale fabric. You will save more money in the long run if you buy only what you know you can use. Is it a terrible thing to buy a special cut of fabric without an immediate plan? Or a pattern for an evening dress that you may never get to wear? No, of course not! But, I really encourage you not to make it a habit to collect and collect and collect without concrete plans to use everything up. I’ve been there. It’s not a happy place.

Balance is the thing.

So, where you do stand on stashes? Is it good to have things “just in case”? Or better to buy as needed?

More Rules = More Fun!

I’ve been burned by sewing plans in the past. And I can tell you three reasons why:

  1. Bad Choices.  Creating sewing plans based on the patterns and fabric that you’ve already bought sounds good, but when you buy fabric and patterns willy-nilly, you may not be purchasing quality items that you’ll actually want to use. I used to have a tendency to make things that I think I ought to want to wear rather than things I know I’ll love. And that’s what got me into the “I have nothing to wear” mess that I was in.
  2. Ambitious Plans. When you plan out thirty different makes that you’d like to accomplish in three weeks, you may find yourself becoming a bit overwhelmed. Especially if you decide not to sew anything that’s not on the plan until you’ve accomplished all your goals.
  3. Crazy Life. Guys, it happens. Life gets in the way of all the things you want to do. There’s no getting around it. You just have to be flexible.

So, in order to make plans that are actually useful, that I will actually stick to, I had to rethink my planning process. I’ve already written about the steps in depth in all my Sewing a Wardrobe series (I’m so sorry–I feel like I link to this ALL THE TIME. It comes up a lot when that’s all I talk about, I guess. . . ) but in short, I had to figure out what things I actually like to wear, plan to make things that fall in line with my style that work with other items in my closet, and keep it simple (for Pete’s sake).

My first round of wardrobe sewing, though I was able to make it through the whole list, may have been a bit too ambitious. It took me a little longer than I’d like. But, the good news is that a lot of it gets worn pretty regularly. So, I know that I’m learning to make wise choices when deciding what to sew.

For subsequent plans, I intend to keep things even more simple and balanced. My thinking is that I should plan for about two months at a time. I am a very moody person. Sometimes I’m all about dresses, and at other times I just want separates. Not planning for longer than two months ensures that I can more easily cater to my changing whims–and, for that matter, changing weather.

If I figure about a week per project, that equals eight simple projects per plan. So, if I decide on something more ambitious that will require muslins and extra-finicky fitting (like a jacket or a first attempt at pants), I figure out how many weeks it should take. A jacket would take maybe three or four slots while a t-shirt would only take one. See my logic? This is all just estimation, but it really does help me stay sane. And choosing makes that I’m really excited to wear helps me stay focused.

However, sometimes it’s hard to decide, even when working with a plan, what I should be working on next. Or, maybe I get tired of a particular project, and I really just want something fresh to work on for a while. I know lots of people have multiple UFO’s lurking around their sewing rooms. Others will only work on one project at a time. Me? I like to have options. Sometimes I’m in the mood to sew, but I am not in the mood to cut anything out (I’m never in the mood to cut. I always have to force myself). Or, perhaps, I’d like to sew a little something brainless, but on my current project, I’m getting ready to attach a collar or sew on patch pockets that need to be flawless. It helps to have another type of project ready to go where I can just go to town on some side seams or pleats.

So, I had to come up with a system that would allow me to stay focused on my plan, be able to have multiple projects in the works at once, and also provide me somewhere to keep track of everything.

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My system is nothing new. I simply bought some file boxes from an office supply store. Inside each box there is room for the pattern, fabric, notions and anything else I need for each project. I’ve had them for months, but it wasn’t until recently that I really found the best way to use them.

These are the Rules of the Boxes:

  1. I may only work on a project that I pull from one of the boxes. (There are five. There used to be six, but a cat threw up on one. I don’t use that one anymore. For obvious reasons.)
  2. Two or more projects based on the same pattern may be stored in the same box. For instance, I put all of my Archer fabrics and supplies together in one box. For my sanity. This way, I could cut them all out at the same time (which I mostly sort of did) but not spend my whole life sewing Archers.
  3. Before a project has been started, I can switch it out for a different one. Once the fabric has been cut, there’s no turning back until the project is completed. For instance, I had a Simplicity 2451 in a box, but since I hadn’t started it yet, I switched it with a McCall’s 6706 because the M was from a phase one plan while the S was from phase 2. However, I have a little purple knit nightgown in a box that has been in there for ages because it’s already been cut, but it needs significant work to be completed (because the pattern designers had a series of idiotic moments when designing it. But, we’ll get to that someday. . . ).
  4. The one exception to the rule: If I can start and finish a project in one day, I can throw it in whenever I please. Just this afternoon, I whipped up a knit top that didn’t come from a box.
  5. Chill out. It’s just sewing. I can follow or break any rules I please.

I really like this system. It works for me better than sewing one thing at a time (which is too constricting) and far better than having bits and pieces of different projects floating around. It allows me to work on multiple makes but keeps me from the chaos of too many UFOs. And it helps me stay motivated.

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This also really helps with my goal to sew 20 minutes a day. What I typically do is place pattern and fabric and any notions I already have for a particular project in a box once it’s emptied. I set aside a weekend afternoon (or now that I’m working a rather sporadic schedule substitute teaching, I can do it any day I’m at home) to cut out several patterns at once. Then, the pattern pieces get stored back in their boxes until I’m ready to work on them. I also use Post-It notes to keep track of box contents and any notes about what I may need to purchase. See? Simple. Organized. Efficient.

I feel the need to pause here and make it clear that this is a system that works for me. And that I make all these crazy rules for myself because I enjoy following (and breaking, of course!) my own rules. Weird, right? I read this post from Couture Academic about making sewing more enjoyable. I absolutely agree with her suggestions #2-5, and I agree with the spirit of #1–you should sew whatever you want. But the idea of sewing something impractical stresses me out, seriously! I think this goes to show that we all have our own version of “fun,” and when you find what makes you happy, go with it! For me, happy is sewing things that I really want to wear every day. But please don’t assume that I think everyone needs to do the same. You want to sew an enormous ante-bellum ball gown that you may never get to wear in public? By all means, do it–I shall live vicariously through you as you sew 🙂

(If you’ve been at all interested in my Sewing a Wardrobe stuff, you need to go read up on Kat’s Wardrobe Basics. I especially loved how she did her planning with Polyvore–so cool!

So, friends, how do you like to organize your sewing? Are you a conscientious planner? Or more of the sew-on-a-whim type?

The Skirt That Wouldn’t

I would like to thank McCall’s 6706 for teaching me a very valuable life lesson. I suppose I could also thank my color-blocked skirt, as well, since it really got me noticing the problem.

What was the problem? Skirt gathers. And now pleats.

If you read about my color-blocked skirt, you know that I originally gathered the skirt and was horrified when I tried it on. So, I pleated it instead and was fairly satisfied. However, that skirt is really hard for me to wear. I have to wear it with fitted, tucked-in shirts. It’s the only way. Guess how many of those I have. Not many.

So, when I decided to make a navy skirt to wear with tucked-in blouses, I figured pleats would be a safe alternative to gathers. I’d already chosen McCall’s 6706 and a lovely stretch cotton sateen, so I felt confident.

I shouldn’t have.

I’m so sorry that I didn’t pause long enough to take pictures after I finished the first incarnation of this skirt. I tried it on just before hemming and it was so voluminous right at my waist (which, you know, is very short) I felt ridiculous in it. My first thought was, “I’ll just shorten it!” So, I cut off two inches and hemmed it. It was now a few inches above my knee and still sooooo full, of course.

I was very frustrated. I knew I would never wear this skirt. So, I hung it in my closet and went to bed to mull over my options. While in bed, I got a brilliant-beyond-brilliant idea: I would make a Moss. If I had enough fabric, I could do the version fitted at the waist and it would be adorable!

Long process of trying to fit many pattern pieces on small squares of fabric later, I gave up on that idea. It just wouldn’t work. I mean–I even considered giving up the pockets. The pockets, people! It was madness.

So, it was back to the drawing board/ thinking bed. And I got it–an A-line skirt! I had already drafted one successful version; perhaps I could draft another. I couldn’t use my original because it was drafted to fit just under my waist and I needed this skirt to fit at my waist.

It was very easy to draft. I had to do a lot of adjusting to get the pattern piece to fit on the skirt while mentally cursing myself for cutting off those two inches (if I hadn’t, the pattern I drafted would have fit perfectly. I was so mad).

To make the waist fit, I added a couple of tiny pleats in the front and back. The pleats in the front were fine. In the back they were hideous, so I changed them to darts, which were also hideous. So, I ended up removing the excess from the back at the side seams.

I used bias tape to finish the waist. It also stabilizes the waist which is very necessary with this stretch sateen. I used hem tape in order to preserve as much length as possible. Did I mention that I want to wear this skirt to work?

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When I finished, I noticed a couple of things that were disturbing. One, the skirt, in spite of removing and removing excess, was too big around my waist. I don’t understand how I can start with my actual waist measurement, and end up with something so huge. Granted, I did add an inch for ease–perhaps I shouldn’t have since the sateen had a decent amount of stretch. It’s not that the skirt is falling off or anything, but it has a tendency to twist around–especially if I’m wearing tights, which is the only decent way to wear this super short skirt.

Front

Two, the hem causes the skirt to flare ridiculously. It’s extremely annoying. I thought the hem tape I was using was rayon (since the seam binding that came from an identical package was rayon), but it turned out to be polyester. Stiff, terrible polyester. I don’t know if the flare is due entirely to the polyester or if the thickness of the fabric is also to blame. I feel that if I had done a rolled hem, I would have had the same result. Thoughts on this?

Back

I think we’re going to have to call this one a muslin. So, what did we learn? 1. Use a fabric without stretch. 2. It needs a little more length. 3. I think a lighter weight fabric, such as a chambray, would be better. 4. If I’m going to wear the skirt with tights, I definitely want to line it.

Side

Okay, maybe the flare isn’t due entirely to the hem tape. . .

I wonder if I should have added a small waistband.

I have considered taking the whole thing apart and making a much less flared A-line, but I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it fitted at my waist. I think that I have the wrong fabric for the job.

Front 2

In spite of all this disappointment, here’s the happy revelation: A-line skirts, guys! They work with my short waist sooooooo much better than pleated or gathered skirts! Perhaps this is something that everyone already knows. I did not know. But seriously–from now on, my skirts shall have no gathers. Pleats. . . eh, I’m still a bit on the fence. I think they can still work in the right situation. A cotton sateen skirt, clearly, is not.

So, I still need a skirt to wear with tucked-in blouses. 1. I’m going to make a Moss fitted at my waist with some gray stretch twill (if I can find exactly what I want) and 2. I’ll try again with the flared A-line with some non-stretch indigo chambray. I may add a waist band this time. And I will be certain not to cut that one too short.

I am loathe to call this project a “fail” because I learned such positive and concrete lessons from it. So, I want to know: what was your most serendipitous sewing fail?

Seven Things

1. Thank you to everyone who offered a fabric opinion last week! I am muchly grateful for your insights and snail-love 🙂 I have already chosen and received my fabric. Since I feel that my life needs a little more flair, I’ll keep my choice secret until the “grand reveal” that I really hope will happen on time (March is just zipping on by and I’m like “whoa there!”).

2. Thank you to MacStabby (best name ever!) of Crafternoon Nap who nominated me for some lovely blog awards (seriously, y’all–wouldn’t it be fun to have our own blogging Oscars? Like a for real we all get gussied up and get together for an evening of awesome??? It would also, of course, be extraordinarily silly. But, seriously–someone get on that. . . ) which was super sweet of her.

Generally, blog awards come with conditions: namely, you have to answer questions and nominate other people. This time, I’ll selectively answer questions, but thinking of other people to nominate requires more brain than I have to give right now. Someday, I’m going to pass on all these awards. Maybe I’ll even make up a new one. Ooooh. I like that idea.

But for now, questions.

1. What is a favorite book or series that you can read over and over?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, The Chronicles of Narnia, absolutely anything by Sharon Creech (who commented on my old blog once and absolutely made my year) or Neal Shusterman, I really love Ally Carter if I want to give my brain a rest but I also want to get all excited. James Thurber or P. G. Wodehouse if I want some classy hilarity. If you want, you can read about my top ten favorite books here (I miss writing that blog sometimes, but no time to read these days).

9.  What is your favorite James Bond movie, and why? Who is your favorite Bond? (If you say Timothy Dalton, you’re dead to me.)

Daniel Craig. No question. And, yes, I have seen the other Bond movies, so, no, I’m not like a fourteen year old girl who doesn’t realize there were Bonds before him. Also, I really liked Quantum of Solace because. . . I really don’t know why. I was just way into it.

11. Do you think you currently have the skills needed to survive the zombie apocalypse?

Well, the only thing I really have going for me is that I’m a trained actor (as in, I have a couple of degrees that involved acting classes) and I can also do stage makeup–so if we assume that zombies only attack humans that act or look like humans, I may be able to fool them with all my theater skills. Otherwise, I’m probably a goner.

And those are all the questions I’m going to do. Like I said, someday I’ll nominate other people. I promise!

3. In unrelated sewing news, I found a pattern for my Sewing for Victory dress! It’s not exact, but I actually like some parts of it better than the inspiration dress. I may keep the pattern a secret. Then again, I may need help with the collar. So. . . stay tuned.

4. My S2444 muslin continues to pester me. The bodice seems to fit really well, but the sleeves refuse to cooperate! They’re tight across the bicep (or rather, just above the bicep. Is that the shoulder?) but there’s too much ease in the front for reasons that I do not understand. But, thanks to help from Maddie, I have made some major progress with my sloper! I’m about to make my second muslin. After that, I may jump into drafting sleeves. We shall see. Actually, I’m going to give both undertakings a rest while I sew like a storm trooper for my friend’s wedding.

5. What the crap, Google Reader?!? Grrr. . .

I have been oh-so-slowly transferring all my subscriptions over to Bloglovin. I’m just sad about Google Reader’s demise because it was soooo easy to subscribe thanks to the button I was able to add to my toolbar. Is there a toolbar button for Bloglovin?

Update: Bloglovin has a quickie import option–hurray! I do wish I had seen that earlier. But, if you need to switch readers, Bloglovin will make it easy for you! Just a quick PSA 🙂

6. VERONICA MARS MOVIE!!! I’M GETTING A T-SHIRT!!!! I’M GOING TO TURN IT INTO A CAMI!!!

7. Last Friday, my Quilting Friend and I went to the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo here in the Atlanta area. I decided that while I was there I should take a class. And since I had been struggling with the sleeves on my S2444 bodice, I decided to take a Fitting Shoulders class. The lady wrote down the room number on my ticket. I went to the room. Asked, “Is this room whatever?” at the door. The lady said, “yes.” I sat down inside with about thirty-five older women who seemed to all know each other. The most fantastically intimidating lady (it was Cynthia Guffy) walked in, asked what class we were expecting, everyone (except me) said “blouse-making techniques” and while I was still trying to figure out where I went wrong, she launched into the most fascinating tirade about that bump you get at the top of your front band on your button-up blouse. And then I learned lots of awesome things–things which I will be able to use very soon!! So, it was a pretty fortunate mistake, after all.

Okay, y’all. I plan to accomplish All the Things tomorrow, so that means I need to go ahead and shut it down.

Happy Sewing, Friendlies.

I Have Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole–Turns Out, It’s Just a GIANT SLEEVE.

Oh, my friends, my friends. . .

I have been to some dark corners of the internets in search of sleeve-shaping wisdom.

Places where terms like “Pythagorean Theorum” are tossed about.

Places where I saw this formula given to calculate the perfect sleeve cap:

L = sqrt (x2 + y2 + z2) (Here)

Places where people know things so far over my head I’m not sure we exist in the same atmosphere–unspeakable things. . .

[Shudder]

You know that I have been slowly going mad by perfecting my Simplicity 2444 muslin. The issue, if you remember, was that the sleeves did not fit–they were pulling on the side seams making it next-to impossible to raise my arms. The major problem was that the armscye was too low. So, I went a-searching to see if there was a particular method I should use to reshape it.

I. Found. Nothing.

Seriously–there are no tutorials that tell you how to raise the armscye. I know. I was shocked. I found lots of other tutorials that did not help at all. I did also find a lot of forums, but I’m not really a fan of forums. It’s hard to know who really knows what they’re talking about.

I figured that since no one was talking about it, it must mean that I needed to go with the obvious answer: raise the armscye at the side seam and then use a French curve to blend the seam line.

That part was easy. What came next is where the nightmare began.

I figured that changing the shape of the armhole meant changing the shape of the sleeve as well. So, off I went a-searching again.

I remembered this article from Fashion Incubator and took another look at it. Insisting that “sleeve cap is bogus”, she points out that most armholes in commercial patterns aren’t anatomically correct. I also read a different perspective from Madalynne on her updated sleeve drafting tutorial (bookmark it–those things are the best ever!). She says that all sleeves need some ease; it just depends on several factors (fit, style, fabric, etc.) to know how much. My thinking was that since I needed to reshape the sleeve, why not go ahead and try both reducing and removing all the ease to see who’s right in this issue.

I used this tutorial from Green Apples to remove all the sleeve cap ease, but it didn’t really turn out to be as simple for me as it seemed to be for her.

No matter how much I measured and reduced and folded and re-measured and double-checked, the sleeve head still would not fit the armhole. It was consistently too big. The odd thing was that all the markings and notches lined up just fine. It was only in the front of the sleeve that I was ending up with extra. So, I re-measured and recalculated and I kept coming up with the same number. Both the armhole and the sleeve head measured 16 3/4″ along the seam line (not counting seam allowance, of course). So, why wouldn’t the sleeve fit???

I really don’t know.

The one thing that I did figure out is that it simply wasn’t enough to remove sleeve cap height like in the tutorial. I needed to remove sleeve cap width as well–particularly on the sleeve front.

I went to crazy town for a few hours and did some truly insane things which I ended up undoing later. We won’t go into all that. It was wrongity wrong.

I did also remember that I had forgotten to remove my armhole dart measurement from the seam line. When I fixed that issue, I still had a inch to remove which I did by scooping the sleeve front curve rather than add to it like in the tutorial. I also removed a bit by folding the notch over about 1/2″ and shaving just a tad off the edge. Sorry if that’s confusing. It’s one of those situations where I can’t really explain why I did what I did. I just know that there was a crazy sort of logic to it at the time and it ended up working, hurray!

To experiment, I only changed one sleeve. For the other, I kept about an inch of ease and set it in like a normal sleeve. And here are the results:

I don't usually wear camis under my muslins, but I wasn't about to reveal the ol' midriff.

I don’t usually wear camis under my muslins, but I wasn’t about to reveal the ol’ midriff.

This sleeve is set in:

And I forgot to remove some  basting stitches.

And I forgot to remove some basting stitches. That big wrinkle you see is because I was twitching around trying to get a good shot and didn’t adjust the bodice again before taking the picture.

S2444 Muslin Set In Sleeve Side

This sleeve has no ease:

S2444 Muslin Sleeve No Ease Front

I’m seeing lots of wrinkles that worry me. But, let’s not forget that it will have a skirt attached which will weigh things down.

S2444 Muslin Sleeve No Ease Side

Can you tell a difference? Both of them feel exactly the same. I have a full range of motion on both sides. When I lift my arms straight up, the bodice still pulls up. But, I kind of think that’s just the way it’s going to be.

My verdict?

Well, I can’t say that I fully agree/disagree with either theory. It seems that removing all sleeve cap ease can be a viable option, but it depends on the shape of your arm and the fabric you’re using and the style you’re going for. Is a certain amount of sleeve cap ease always necessary? I don’t know. Yesterday when I was writing this draft, I would have given a completely different answer. But after looking at the pictures, I have to say that these sleeves, at least, need some ease.  (Disclaimer: I am no expert. Both of the ladies mentioned (Fashion Incubator and Madalynne) are. Obviously, my conclusion is based on this one experiment.)

Here’s my reasoning: At first I was all about the ease-less sleeve. It’s so much easier to insert and I spent about a thousand hours modifying the sleeve to make it fit. But look closely at the pictures of the ease-less sleeve. Notice how the sleeve seems to pull at the shoulder. Look again at the set-in sleeve. The seam where the sleeve meets the shoulder (does this have a name?) runs right along the end of my shoulder. Yes, it’s a bit poofier–especially at the back–but (ignoring the basting stitches I should have removed) it looks nicer and clearly fits better.

Here’s my plan: I’m going to start with my ease-less sleeve (it’s either that or going all the way back to the original–which might not be the worst idea) and add probably around 1/4″-3/8″ back to the sleeve cap height. Then I’ll add 1/4″ to the sleeve cap width on the front and back.

I also discovered during this last muslin that if I pinch all the extra from the neckline at the shoulder seams, I can fix the gaping neckline issue that I couldn’t get rid of in the first version I made. SUCCESS!!! I am just a bit worried that the neckline stretched a bit during the process because I didn’t think to staystitch. Is it worth making up one more muslin just to check the neckline? Nope. I’ll stay on the safe side of removing the extra–it’s something I can easily tweak as I’m sewing the real thing.

Also, I toyed with the idea of recutting the back bodice using a straight center line (I talked about this issue here. Turns out, it wasn’t a drafting error after all. Thanks to Oona for setting me straight!), but once I pinched at the shoulder seams, it fit just fine. And, wouldn’t ya’ know it, I had to add exactly 0″ to the shoulder length. Sonja pointed out that my drastically elongated shoulder seam (from muslin #1) was probably adding to my sleeve woes. She was right (Thanks 🙂 )! Leaving the shoulder seams be solved half the problem.

And thank you to my commiserators!.

And thank you, finally, to Simplicity 2444 for being a pattern tempting enough to make me work for a decent fit and for providing me this oh-so-frustrating learning opportunity.

And now this post has turned into an Oscar acceptance speech. . .

Seriously, I feel like I just passed the exam of the century–that’s how obsessed I have been with this muslin. All that’s left to do now is redraw the sleeve pattern piece because the one I have now is looking a little worse for wear. . .

S2444 Sleeve Pattern

Yeah. . . starting with the original pattern piece is probably the way to go. . .

I also need to true some things (notches and edges and such). And then I’m going to do some happy experimentation (file this under “Not Content to Leave Well-Enough Alone”) because I Have an Idea and I want to try it out before I begin. I’m not so sorry to delay the making of the dress a leettle bit longer because at least I can start working on something new.

I have a good feeling about this one. . .

So what’s up y’all? Working on anything fun? Challenging? Tell me all about it! More importantly, what’s your take on the sleeve cap ease issue?

Those Things Which Are Behind. . .

Here we are at the end of the year. I’ve been seeing lots of reflective and thoughtful posts popping up all over and I’ve enjoyed reading them so much that I’ve decided to do my own abridged version.

In the School of Sewing

I’ve been sewing “seriously” for only ten months, so pretty much everything I did was growth. Every completed project was an accomplishment because each one presented a chance to learn a new skill or technique. There are, however, a few projects that stand out as particular learning experiences.

Simplicity

While it is not my favorite dress ever, I still have fond feelings for this shirtdress (I’ll be posting pictures soon). It was the product of my first (and only, so far) sew-along I’ve ever done, and I loved being a part of it. I think the most significant lesson I learned was how to attach a notched collar. Sunni gave an excellent tutorial and if you ever plan to sew a notched collar, you most definitely need to read it (there’s a link in this post.)

Sewing with Knits Striped tee

I love this t-shirt. I wear it far more often than I probably should. To be honest, this wasn’t my first project with knits (it was my second), but I picked this one because I also had to learn to deal with stripes and matching them the best I could.

New Look 6107 china jersey

Okay–I know this is another knit project, but learning to adapt a woven pattern for knits (with mostly my own brain, even!) made me really excited! It opens up a whole other world of possibilities. And going from being totally afraid of knits to wanting to work with them all the time is a pretty big step!

The Sad Face Times

Sometimes things just don’t want to work out.

This dress never made it to completion. I realized well over half-way through that the shape and style of the dress was quite possibly the most unflattering thing I could wear. It’s not all loss, though, because making this fail of a dress sent me on a whole other pathway of enlightenment which I shall discuss more later.

McCall's 5391 hem facings

Remember all my twill? Yeah. . . I don’t really want to talk about it either. The lesson here: don’t be afraid to let go.

Shirt Dress 1

Okay. Maybe it’s not fair to put my very first dress into the fail category, but honestly, I really hated that dress. I tried to love it for its quirkiness and character. But, it was a terrible fit. I didn’t feel great in it. And I had no qualms at giving it away. That’s right, I sent my first dress to Goodwill. Maybe someone there will buy it and make it into a pillow. Or a bag.

Making Good Choices

Sometimes, even when the construction isn’t perfect and the fit is just a tad bit off, some garments still get worn all the time.

Simplicity 2588

My first dress may have been a fail, but my second actually worked out pretty well (pictures are here). While this dress was never worn for its original purpose, I still wear it just about every other week (now that it’s cold). It’s simple, it fits, and I still really love that cording detail on the bodice. But, let’s just say that those princess seams still need a lot of work.

Simplicity 2209

I wore this dress out when it was warm. I realize now that those darts are still not great, but when the heat and humidity take over, I’m sure I’ll be wearing it constantly once again. It’s pretty much perfect for Atlanta summers. (You can see more pictures here.)

New Look 6107 neckline

This blouse is so comfy and so versatile. I still wear it when it’s cold; I just toss on a cardi. I do still want to perfect those button loops, though.

For the Win

I was going to pick only one, but I have to go with two. They are my favorites for completely different reasons.

New Look 6808

This blouse is a technical favorite (pictures are coming!). And by that I mean that I love it because I think it’s some of my best work. This was my first attempt at French seams–I was amazed when they were a success! Also, I learned that the pattern is not the boss of me. Sometimes, I actually do know better–as evidenced by my vastly superior-to-the-pattern zipper insertion method. To be honest, though, I’ve been noticing lately when I wear it that the shoulders don’t really fit at all. I should have made them much broader. More goals for the future!

But still, I’m really happy with all the extra work I did to make this blouse fit well and look great inside and out.

Simplicity 2180

This dress somehow manages to be my favorite in spite of itself. The arms are a bit tight. The bodice bunches in the back. The seams are not even remotely lined up. The zipper is an absolute nightmare. And it’s made out of quilting cotton which does not provide the greatest drape. (You can see more pictures here.)

But, I still love it. I feel that in a small way it sort of encapsulates the style I wish I had. It’s bright. It’s fun. I love the mis-matchy prints that actually work really well together.  It’s mostly comfortable, but not sloppy. It’s a little bit quirky and a lot unique.

Looking over this list I can see that I prefer structure with comfort; I love me some color; and I will never quite do things by the book.

And I guess that’s okay.

The Better Late Than Never Summer Blouse in the Autumn

Due to last weekend, I sort of have a lot of hard feelings for twill. But, I refuse to let a weekend of failure keep me down. Therefore let me introduce you to a new sewing rule to which I plan to always adhere:

Whenever a sewing project fails you, always follow it with a project at which you know you will succeed.

The last garment on my Summer Sewing List of Randomness was New look 6808. I chose view C because I loved the collar and the bow. Because I had already made a muslin, I knew my final product would fit properly.

Also, at the time, I was watching the Sassy Librarian Blouse class on Craftsy and had learned some really useful tips I could apply to the darts and the collar.

Since the fabric I used, a cotton Swiss dot, was so lightweight, I thought it would be a good time to give French seams a try.

My recently acquired tailor’s ham made pressing the darts so much easier–they turned out very smooth for once!

I also got to use my new cotton interfacing.

All of these elements added up to a really satisfying sewing experience–something I haven’t had for a long while. I was particularly pleased with my French seams (where I could use them–more on that later) especially around the armscye. The cap sleeves really turned out well even though sleeves tend to be my least favorite part of the construction.

If you do make this pattern, here are a couple of things to watch out for:

1. The facings. There was something off about the facings. The inner ring that gets attached to the neckline was perfect. But, the outer ring turned out way too big–I have a big ruffle in one spot. Perhaps when you sew the front facing to the back facing, you need to angle your seam inwards a bit. OR, maybe the facings had too much of a curve. I should go back and double check this.

2. The zipper. I just don’t even know what is going on with the zipper. The pattern calls for a lapped side zipper that zips from about an inch or so under the arm all the way down to the hem. First, it’s completely unnecessary for the zipper to be upside-down like that. It would make a lot more sense to sew a normal seam at the top and the bottom, center the zipper in between, and let it be right side up. Unless you’re making your hem really, really fitted around your hips, you shouldn’t have a problem getting the blouse on and off. Also, per the instructions, you have to sew your hem before inserting the zipper. And that just feels wrong. Unless I read the instructions wrong, there’s no mention of how to finish that hem so the seam allowance isn’t peeking out. You could also opt for an invisible zip which would be much easier to finish at the hem. I’d recommend you insert it before doing the sleeve.

It’s considered classy to include as many shots of the hanger as possible, right?

I’m going to go back and check those instructions again. I have a tendency to think I know what I’m supposed to do next and off I go! I could have missed something.

***Update: This is what I missed:

Apparently, you’re supposed to fold the ends of the zipper tape up over the seam allowance. I don’t see how that actually solves the problem, though. . .

Also, if your fabric is as lightweight as mine, you most definitely want to interface your zipper. I did not and really wish I did.

3. The sleeves. Most everything about the sleeves is pretty standard and simple. You cut out four sleeve pieces, sew two together wrong sides facing, flip them inside out (this means you don’t have to hem!), and baste the raw edges together. That’s all normal. What’s not normal is that you don’t sew an underarm seam. Instead, the instructions say to overlap the two ends at the underarm seam and then sew your sleeve like normal.

I simply could not wrap my brain around this idea. And the accompanying picture. . .

. . . did not help.

But, I blindly followed along and to my great surprise, it worked!

This is the outside. . .

And this is the inside.

Let’s chat about French seams for a bit.

First, they are the best things ever. Seam finishes done that quickly and neatly?? Yes, please! Why haven’t I been doing these all along??? Also, I had no idea they were so simple! I was, for some unknown reason, under the impression that you really have to know what you’re doing before attempting a French seam. Not so! Even “Frenching” the set-in sleeve was soooo easy! No wonder I’m feeling so accomplished today.

I know this isn’t that huge of a deal, but I’m still super pleased with this accomplishment.

I did run into a sticky bit with all my French seaming. I wasn’t sure how to finish off my zipper and accompanying seam allowance in keeping with all the rest of the French. I asked the Google and discovered the Hong Kong seam. Apparently, a Hong Kong seam is done by sandwiching your seam allowance in a narrow strip of fabric similar to bias tape. It seems that French seamers prefer this method to finish their zippers.

But this got me thinking: What if instead of cutting those extra strips to cover the seam allowance and zipper tape, you simply made your seam allowances wider and folded them up over your zipper tape and stitched them down? Has anyone ever done this? Or heard of it? Obviously, it’s something that requires prior consideration and planning.

I’m thinking that the next time I have to finish a zipper without a lining, I’m going to add an inch to each seam allowance and use the extra to encase the zipper tape. As with normal French seams, you wouldn’t want to try this with weightier fabrics as that would produce lots of bulk.

I’ll experiment with that and let you know how it goes.

Well, it’s official–my summer sewing is done! Better late than never, I suppose.

It’s time to move on to fall–hurray!

Shhh. . . Neville is hiding.