Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Coat sewing and a vintage beginners book

As I'm entering my sixth week of coat sewing it's time for an update, if only to prove to myself that I actually am making progress. Once construction began it felt good to finally reduce the number of cut pieces scattered around my sewing room. Look, it's on a hanger!
Why is it taking so long? Although it's not a pattern for beginners, it's not very difficult either. There's just this immense to-sew list. Add a busy schedule to the mix and suddenly it's a never ending story. However, I do enjoy this kind of project when sewing time is scarce. It's easy to break things up in smaller tasks and babysteps will get you there in the end. My fabric choice is not helping much, to put it mildly. As I mentioned in my previous post sewing coated poplin is like sewing leather. As little pinning as possible and no unpicking or you'll end up with permanent holes. Also, there is a pattern of skipped stitches. I tried everything: change needles, change tension, bring out the walking foot, clean, oil, and change needles again. Working fine for every kind of fabric, except for my coat shell. I finally found settings for topstitching that worked, but when I tested buttonholes disaster struck again. I made 26 test buttonholes on different settings and finally settled for tiny corded buttonholes for the epaulettes and sleeve bands.

They looked okay, but not perfect. For the other buttonholes, like the ones who are in plain sight when you wear the coat unbuttoned, I wanted a better finish. Bound buttonholes could be a solution but I had to take a few issues into consideration.
* For a coat my buttons are on the small side. Tiny bound buttonholes means fiddling.
* On a double breasted coat there's a gazillion of them.
* That fabric again. Totally unforgiving.
* As the picture below shows the coat can be buttoned in different ways. Some of the buttonholes need to look good from both sides.

It's been a while since my last bound buttonhole so I did a quick search on the internet for tutorials. Wow. If I were a beginner I would never ever dare make a bound buttonhole after reading one tutorial after another telling you how scary and terrifying they are. If you are a beginner reading this, please read this great post on skills by Robin of A little sewing. I so agree, never underestimate the importance of manual dexterity. So practice, practice, practice! Eventually all you need to know about bound buttonholes can be reduced to some simple diagrams. You don't need to be a daredevil to do some testing on scraps and it's the fastest way to build your skills and confidence.

One of my most treasured sewing books dates back to the 40s, the one on the right in the picture below. It's a concise guide for sewing garments.

It starts with the usual 'what you need to start sewing' and ends on page 95 with how to draft and make your wedding dress. Bound buttonholes on the bottom of the right page:

Next step in the book: go practice and then make yourself a dress with 16 bound buttonholes. That book is such a gem!

Back to my coat. First thing to do was to rescue all scraps from the bin in order to cut rectangles for the buttonholes, their counterparts in the facings and some spares for the test runs. It was close, but I had just enough fabric left! In an ideal world I would have been making the buttonholes as one of the first steps, on a flat bodice front. Stitching and pivoting was a bit harder because of the volume of a coat with the sleeves already attached. Backwards designing isn't smart. But, so far, so good.

Next on the list is the collar. To be continued!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Spring coat progress

Did I mention cutting 42 pattern pieces? Check! As a result every surface in my sewing room is covered in glorious coral pink. But let's pick up where I left in my previous post. I started by making a muslin since I had never made an Ottobre pattern before. The fit was spot on, except for some length issues. I added 1cm to the bodice and 5 cm below the waistline.

Ottobre does not provide pattern layouts or cutting suggestions. After adding 6 cm to so many pattern pieces I got a little worried about the amount of fabric I had bought, knowing it was no longer available. Can you believe my luck? After cutting 3.20 meters this was all I have left:

Careful sewing ahead! Messing up the collar, late night scorching incidents or other mishaps and it's game over. Not to mention yet another reason to sew very carefully, coated poplin is hard to handle. It's like sewing leather: no pinning and no unpicking seams. Even the tiniest pin will leave a permanent hole. After finding this out the hard way I reduced the number of pins to the bare minimum and made a quick trip to the hardware store for more washers. Not the heaviest of pattern weights but for this kind of fabric they were doing just fine. Several tests for the topstitching resulted in the use of a microtex needle and stitching at half speed. Note to self: slowing down is clever when unpicking is not an option!

When I finished the cutting I was a bit disappointed by the looks and the hand of the outer shell. Although windproof it was very thin. The print of the lining showed through and it just didn't feel right. Back to the cutting table to add a layer of light weight cotton underlining. By that time I lost count of the number of pattern pieces lying around. 

After the epic cutting session life got busy. Work, tax forms, househunting for a friend. My sewing time got reduced to half an hour to an hour a day. Well, this trench coat may be complex and time consuming but it's easy to split it up into nice, small tasks!

On some days there's just enough time to produce some pockets.....

..or sew mitered corners for the lined vent. For the next few days epaulettes, collar, belt, loops and sleeves are on the do list. Splendid lunch break sewing! Fingers crossed for some more sewing time next week to join all 60+ bits and pieces together. Only time will tell how long it takes to finish this coat but in the meantime I'm enjoying every step of the way.

Happy sewing!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A coral spring coat

 When the first signs of spring are showing I just can't help myself. I need to buy coral fabric. All of it. Coral shirts, cardigans, lingerie, you name it, it's in my closet. So when I saw this coated poplin I knew it would make the perfect wind and waterproof spring coat. 

The print for the lining is from my stash, the selvedge mentions Sprintex, Made in France. Sprintex is a company from Villefranche sur Saone, known for its digital rotary and inkjet prints. I haven't done a burn test yet but it looks like viscose and has a very soft and silky feel. The ivory satin will be used to make piping.

The pattern I'll be using is from Ottobre magazine, 2/2014. I've never made an Ottobre pattern before and am not familiar with their sizing or amount of ease in their finished measurements, so I'll make a muslin first. According to the size charts all patterns are drafted for women of 168 cm plus or minus 4 cm. At 173 cm I'm only just above the top end of that scale. However, Ottobre uses models of different sizes and heights and shares this information at the bottom of the page. The model wearing this floral trench is 163 cm and I think the coat is rather short on her. Must check!

The number of pattern pieces is adding up to 42 so cutting will take a while!

Buttons, a whopping amount of 17, in two different sizes, lots of matching thread for topstitching and I'm ready to go. 

Happy spring sewing!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Jungle January jacket

Given the amount of animal print fabric in my stash it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the roaring attraction of Pretty Grievances' Jungle January. I had an end of the bolt piece of fabric with a tiny amount of stretch in it and picked this pattern from Knipmode december 2013.

It had been a while since I made a Knipmode jacket and as there's rumour of inconsistency in sizing I thread traced the seam lines and added generous seam allowances. Instead of making a muslin (nothing around that would mimic the drape and stretch of this fabric) I imagined I could fit along the way. What could go wrong with such a straightforward pattern?

For starters: the neckline curve was way off. I checked the pattern pieces to see if the neckline was stretched, despite my staystitching. Nope. The only way to fix it was by adding four darts, thus removing 12 cm (!) equally divided over front and back. That's not a fitting issue, that's bad drafting! And what makes me really angry is that, by looking at the magazine pictures again, I think they knew. See for yourself.

Luckily animal print provides good camouflage for unwanted darts and I can do the necklace trick as well.

Now let's discuss the other elephant in the room jungle. Have another close look at those models. What's up with their arms? Could it have something to do with an incredibly low and therefore very restrictive armscye?

Not even my generous seam allowances could fix this completely. Darn, my jungle chic-ish jacket is utterly useless for climbing trees, friction based fire making or wrestling a python!

Never mind, I'll wear it open. Makes it easier to flash my Hong Kong finished seams and facings as well!

Needless to say this pattern will get its walking papers. As a wearable muslin this jacket will do, as long as I remember to get changed when cleaning windows ;)

Frozen jungle!

Wee-ooh wim-o-weh.......Lion alert!!!

Happy jungle sewing, and let's be careful out there!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Deer and Doe in the snow

O, irony! When I reflected on last year's sewing I noticed my least worn 2014 garment was a black Anna dress. The first thing I made in 2015? Another black dress! I know, I know. To balance this decision the time was right for a remake of my most worn garment of 2014, a Deer and Doe Plantain shirt. In the unpredictable Dutch climate long sleeved shirts are never out of season and my first Plantain has been in heavy rotation.

The pattern is a free download and can be found here. Construction wise I have nothing to add to the earlier post, it was a quick and easy project. I used a lightweight stretch fabric, consisting of a sheer black layer with wrinkled taupe cotton jersey with cut-outs as a top layer.

Clockwise: neckband detail, sheer under layer and top layer

For the neckband and elbow patches I used the wrong side of the fabric. 
Did you mention elbow patches? Come on, show them!

That will do. Thank you.

I usually take my pictures by using a tripod. So awkward! Static poses, caused by trying not to move out of focus, forced smiles or dumb pointing with a clearly visible remote, it's my least favourite part of blogging. Could you tell that for this shoot I was modelling for a real person, challenging me to try some silly different poses?

Prepare yourself, Mr Foxgloves. Snowball fight!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Finished McCall's/Burda shirtdress

The tale of three shirtdresses, merged into one: the finale! It was one of those projects that unexpectedly took forever. This dress started as a McCall's 6696 for Christmas. 
After tracing the pattern I wanted some more drama, and drama is exactly what I got. In more ways than one, ha! 
In an earlier post I described how I selected the bodice of Burda 5/2010 #137, a self drafted 3/4 circle skirt and the sleeves of said M6696.
All three elements came with their own set of troubles. Sigh.

I made a muslin for the bodice and made adjustments for forward shoulders, a small FBA, and added an inch to the indecently low neckline. Because of the altered shoulders I needed to adjust the collar and lapels as well. They were constructed in a rather unusual way:

The bodice had a cut-on facing in the front, but no facing for the back neckline was included so I drafted one. 

On the left you can see the facing, and the collar during construction.
Due to shortage of fabric I had to redraft the skirt to a half circle skirt. On the front I added extra width for the cut-on button band and facings, in line with the bodice facings.

After cutting the sleeves I had some doubts. Cruella de Vil vibes?
I went looking for pictures all over the internet but, other than the envelope pictures, no one seemed to have to used the long sleeves with pointed cuffs of M6696. 

A quick poll on Instagram showed most of the reactions were in favour of the cuffs. Democratic decision made (and not regretted!).

So....Bodice? Check! Sleeves? Check! Skirt? Check! Construction time!

This happy dance was days later, after testing buttonholes, sewing eleven of them, using a chalk marker to get the hem straight and handstitching four metres of hem, finished with satin bias tape.

Will I make this dress again? Probably yes. After all the work put into fitting this pattern mix it deserves a remake. I imagine a sleeveless summer dress in bright floral fabric or white linen. 
What will I change? Looking at the pictures I think the curved waistline on the bodice will look better if it's straightened out. And I will shorten the vertical darts. In fact I will revisit the darts on this one. Odd how revealing pictures can be, compared to what you see in the mirror. Especially when working with black fabric and artificial lights. But it's nothing that can't be fixed!

Now is the glass half full or half empty? In other words, did I finish my Christmas dress ridiculously late or marvelously early? At least there's one item less on my December 2015 to do list!

Now that the Christmas leftover drinks are out I'd like to thank the Empress of the 1000 Shirtdresses for hosting an inspiring challenge and for pushing back the deadline so many times that even the slowest of shirtdress sewists could finish in time.

Thanks, Mary. Cheers!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A McCall's dress that didn't fail to impress

This, my dears, is not my long overdue shirtdress for Idle Fancy's Autumn of 1000 shirtdresses. If nothing else, that tiny waist should have been a clue! It is in fact the engagement dress of actress Grace Kelly.

On one of the last days of our Christmas break my youngest daughter and I met at Paleis Het Loo, a Royal palace halfway between our respective homes, to visit the exhibiton 'Grace Kelly, princess and style icon.' The exhibition opened with stunning dresses from Kelly's 50's Hollywood period, most of them designed by costume designers Helen Rose and Edith Head.

A lace dress, designed by Oleg Cassini, made me wonder about the lace pattern placement. The, slightly off center, vertical use of scallops in the skirt puzzled me. Would you cut it like that? The same scallops were used exquisitely in the bodice, especially along the deep v-neck in the back. It was one of Grace Kelly's favourite dresses and seeing the fabulous fit of the bodice makes you understand why. That neckline is to die for.

Of course THE lace dress was the wedding dress Kelly wore in April 1956 when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco. It was designed by Helen Rose and gifted by the MGM studio.

The second part of the exposition showed the dresses from her Monaco years, during which she promoted French Haute Couture and wore designs by Lanvin, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Madame Grès and Chanel. Lots of iconic dresses and accessories, including of course the Kelly bag, were on display. No pictures, as by then security pointed out to me I apparently missed a 'no cameras' sign. Oops.

By the way, did you know that  Grace Kelly was wearing a McCall's dress when she first met her future husband Prince Rainier of Monaco? 

On the day of the scheduled photo session at the palace a power failure in her hotel prevented her from ironing her clothes. This silk taffeta McCall's dress was the only one to emerge uncreased from her suitcases. A sign at the exhibition said: 'It was extraordinary that Grace Kelly wore a dress made from a home sewing easy to make pattern on this important occasion.' She had even advertised the same dress as a model on the cover of a 1955 spring collection pattern book. 
Extraordinary? To be honest, I preferred this dress over some of the designer pieces!

Which brings me back to home sewing. My Christmas dress, the McCall's 6696 meets Burda mix, is finally taking shape. I know. It's halfway January, but since I already missed that deadline I can take my time and finish it whenever I want. As a matter of fact the dress on top of this post vaguely reminded me of my own work in progress. Shirtdress, lapels, jacquard, even the turned sleeve bands......let's get on with it!