A Festive, Fiery Dress for Designin’ December (aka The Anna Has Landed)

Welcome! This VERY LONG post has been a long time coming–my initial muslin for this dress was completed during the summer months!–and I am glad I can finally share it with you. But be warned: this project did not end entirely happily.

Before I dive in here, a note about Designin’ December: this fun challenge taps into one of the reasons that sewing your own clothes can be so thrilling: you can replicate a designer or high-end garment that would otherwise be unattainable (due to price, color, limited size ranges, etc.) and make it your own. I love that Linda has gone to all the effort to include other people in her quest for designer style! When she announced this sewalong of sorts, I didn’t think I’d be able to join in–I hadn’t been researching designer dresses when I decided to make this dress–but was looking forward to seeing what everyone else chose and wanted to have in their closet. But as I worked on my dress, I remembered that the Gorgeous Fabrics description for my fabric had mentioned that dresses made in this very yardage had been for sale for several hundred dollars. I decided that some snooping was in order, and while I never did find THE dress made from this fabric, Elie Saab dresses kept coming up in my search results (for “ombre silk dress”).

I don’t know about you folks, but I LOVE snooping fashion week photo galleries and slobbering over all the pretties. The evening/red carpet gowns are always near the top of my lust-list, as impractical as they may be! Elie Saab is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring modern designers, in my opinion–his evening wear is second-to-none when it comes to delicate, feminine, dramatic, gasp-inducing beauty. I looked through the selection of ES dresses that were coming through the search and found two that both had elements of my own planned project:

ES 1

Elie Saab ombre dress; Photo property of BySymphony.com

ES 2

Elie Saab ombre dress; Photo property of Bergdorf Goodman

Upon seeing these, I decided to toss my dress into the Designin’ December group just for fun! My color palette is much more similar to the second photo, but the effect I got–and wanted!–is much more like the ombre pattern of the first photo. (But seriously, I would take that first dress in a heartbeat, because WOWWWWWWW.) And of course, I am incorporating a big split like the 2nd dress has! 😉 I did opt for the higher neckline from the Anna pattern, since I would rather stick to showing off ONE bit of skin at a time. YMMV, of course! It helps that my chest resembles something more like a xylophone than bountiful cleavage, and I’m pretty sure nobody wants to see that in a deep V neckline!! But I bet you *do* want to see this dress, right? Drum roll, please…

Anna Dress-1-7

Anna in motion

Anna Dress-9

Reclining on a bridge, as one does

Anna Dress-35

Filtered for lighting, but you get the idea

Anna Dress-23

Bodice and waist

Anna Dress-38


Anna Dress-22


Anna Dress-58

Big front split, up close

IT’S SO PRETTY I’M GONNA DIEEEEE!!! 😀 The close-up series of the bodice and skirt are probably the truest depiction of the color of the fabric in real life. Now for the gory details:

I did a lot of fiddling with the fit on the bodice, but I had it down. Side seams and pleats were appropriately relocated, and excessive waist ease (all 2+ inches of it) was marked for removal. And then somehow, after tireless preparations (gelatin bath for the silk, anyone?) and conscious choice-making (cutting the dress out on the floor of our non-climate-controlled walk-up attic so that all the yardage could lay flat and not be disturbed by “helpful” kitties), I did something wrong between making the new pattern and cutting out the bodice. The result? A bodice whose waist was about 1.5″ too small for me. (Had I been going for a fully-exposed zipper, it would have fit. But yeah, no.) The worst part? I didn’t realize it was too small until I had assembled THE ENTIRE BODICE, french seams and all, and we were trying to pin the zip opening closed to see how things were going (BECAUSE I WAS WORRIED IT MIGHT BE TOO BIG LOLOLOLOLOL). PSA: try not to do this, especially when sewing meticulous french seams in a silk crepe de chine. You will hate yourself, you will hate your dress, and you will hate literally any living thing that dares to cross your path as you try not to vomit from rage and scramble to fix your fuck-up so that you can wear this damn dress. Note: this is doubly true if you are also dealing with bad things in your personal life when this sewing shitstorm occurs.

The bodice of this dress LITERALLY ended up in the trash can at one point–I knew how dangerous unpicking anything was going to be–and was only grudgingly rescued when I confirmed that I did not have enough fabric to recut the bodice AND preserve the ombre effect the way I was running it. Luckily for me and this demon dress, nobody had thrown away anything gross immediately before or after this tantrum. I believe my last words to my husband as I threw the wadded up, un-binned bodice onto my table and quit for the night were, “I don’t want to be awake anymore.” O_o

Now, since it has been several weeks since I did everything, I am not 100% sure now what went wrong. (That is why I try to start blog drafts when the project begins, which I did not do this time.) Regardless, it was my own damn fault and I had to buck up and fix it if this dress was ever going to see the light of day.

Rather than mutilate myself or go on a tapeworm diet, I ripped out (yep) the outermost pleats in the bodice and re-sewed them much narrower at the waist, tapering to the prescribed width by the time I reached the stopping points; the remainder was picked up by using a 3/8″ SA at the waist area of the center back zipper instead of the included 5/8″. This would not have been quite as possible had my invisible zipper tape not been 3/8″ wide, so thank you, little crappy zipper. Unfortunately, while these on-the-fly fixes solved the zipping-things-up problem, they *also* resulted in the side seams of the bodice no longer matching up with the side seams of the skirt, which as you may remember, I had already painstakingly fixed before sewing the final muslin. Yay! (Not.) My choices were to live with it, or scrap the dress. I opted to live with it. Is this an example of the sunk cost fallacy in action? Perhaps, but here we are. In addition, my silk dress ended up with lots of excess fabric in the back above the waist–and it was much more prominent than it had ever been in my final muslin. Instead of the excess looking like wearing/design ease in a flowing fabric, it looks quite blouse-y and I’m not particularly happy with it. 😦

And now for some gloating: I am very, very pleased with my hand stitching on the sleeve hems, split, and one side of the bottom hem. The other side of the bottom looks just as good from the outside–which is ultimately what is most important, right?–but I fell into automaton mode and did a much more visible stitch on the inside and only realized what I had done when I finished and looked at my sleeve hems again. D’oh! I don’t want to rip it out (this project has had quite enough of that already) but it does bother me. Here is one of the good pieces:


Hem stitching

I also decided to do a lot of hand overcasting on this project. I suppose that’s my vintage nerd coming forth–you see that finish a lot in Victorian-era garments particularly–but it was soothing work and I think it looks neat. I used that finish on the CB seam below the zipper and on the closed portion of the front split seam, which were both sewn normally due to the difficulty of doing french seams in those areas.


Hand overcasting; obviously the right side was the second stretch!

The entire waist seam was stabilized with silk organza selvedge strips; since the waist ease is minimal (which was what I wanted in the first place) and that seam has to bear the weight of the long-ass skirt, this was absolutely necessary. I may also go back and add a proper waist stay once I stop fuming at this dress, because that would help with both of these concerns and look a bit nicer.


You can see the organza here; I didn’t bother zipping it for such a short photo session.

This dress marks the first time I have inserted a zipper by machine. (I know, I know, that sounds stupid. But I like the control and freedom to sit on the couch that I get with hand insertions, and somehow that way always felt more approachable to me from a “this is something I can do successfully” standpoint.) It was also the first invisible zipper I have ever used. I am pleased to gloat say that I got the zip in on the first pass! I do not have a specialized foot for this kind of zipper, but my regular zipper foot was perfectly sufficient. I could have gotten a little closer to the teeth, but that’s about the only complaint I have. Rather than thread baste the zipper in place–which I had done with EVERY other seam of this dress–I used Wash-Away Wonder Tape to stick it down. (#noregrets, because that stuff RULES.) I then sewed the rest of the CB seam; the last step was to attach the facing to the neckline and zipper before putting the dress through a wash cycle to remove the gelatin. The wash went perfectly and the dress was then (clutch your pearls, y’all!) dried in the dryer on an air-only cycle for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. After a final press, this beauty was ready for her debut!

That debut was my company holiday party, and it was quite a hit! Here we are before leaving the house:


A little washed out, but you get the idea!


So handsome! (The “Captain Morgan” pose was to show off his new coordinating dress socks!)

Here are a few more photos from today’s outing; we’ve had unseasonably warm weather this weekend, so even though the lighting was utter shit, we took the opportunity to get some photos done without freezing to death!

Anna Dress-19

Anna Attitude

Anna Dress-18

“…are you taking the photo?”

Anna Dress-44

Caught a little bit of the breeze!

Anna Dress-42

Don’t mind my face–this was a great dress pic!

Anna Dress-31

Gotta flash the leg! (And UGH again with the face.)

Anna Dress-2

You know you aren’t a real model when you have to walk to your photo shoot in your evening dress AND carry your own keys and phone…

Anna Dress-70


Anna Dress-10

Some more filter tweaks for lighting purposes

Anna Dress-37

Being ridiculous

Anna Dress-36

Pulling a face for y’all

Anna Dress-27

My “Are we done yet?” face

So that’s the skinny (LOLOL see what I did there?!?) on this dress. Please check out other Designin’ December pieces over at Linda’s space, because it’s always fun to see what other people come up with! As for me, I am working out what to make next–goodness knows I have one hell of a queue built up by now! Perhaps something for Jungle January?? 😉

Have you ever screwed up mid-project and had to scramble for a fix? Were you happy enough with the results to wear or use the item? 

Fit (Anna) Now, (Anna) Party Later

Mic check…is this thing on? 🙂

I seem to have temporarily neglected my own corner of the internet–oops! I have been BUSY. I have been cleaning the house, spending time with my family and friends, helping my husband fine-tune our homemade Neapolitan-style pizza-making skills (SUCCESS!!!!), and taking another pattern class. On top of all of that, I GOT PROMOTED!!! I am now the Market Research Analyst at the company where I have worked for over 5 years, and I am beyond excited. So with all of this stuff going on, my sewing mojo has been well and truly zapped into oblivion…until now.

(WARNING: lots of words ahead!)

I am mildly ashamed to admit that, apart from the sewing I needed to do for class, I have done hardly anything in my sewing room since I last posted. I did make one thing for myself from a pattern Nina mocked up–it’s a nice, slouchy kimono-sleeved knit top–but I haven’t decided if it’s worth blogging. (I love the top, of course, but it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, particularly for people who are not me!) But recently, something prompted me to get off my ass (couch) and get back on my ass (sewing chair) to tackle a project that has been in my head for a couple of months: a silk maxi dress!

You may be having a total WTF moment right now, and I get it. Of all the things to work on, why a terribly impractical silk maxi dress? If you’ve read here for long, your WTF may be further magnified by your knowledge of the fact that I have never before worked with silk. (Unless purchasing it counts as “working with” it, in which case, I am a boss.) My only explanation is: International Anna Party.

Well, let’s back up: it all started on Instagram. The lovely Ms. Rosie tagged me in a comment on a photo, which turned out to be an “invitation” (this sew-along is open to anyone, so no invite needed; still, I wouldn’t have seen it if not for Rosie!) to participate in the International Anna Party, which is basically a sew-along/post-along celebrating the Anna dress pattern by By Hand London. I actually own every BHL pattern in paper form (thanks to backing their Kickstarter campaign) but have never made one of them; no reason for that, really, apart from being more drawn to other projects. I am aware of there being some debate in the online sewing community as to the quality of independent sewing patterns and the technical expertise of many designers, but I suppose that in the end, I don’t really care too much one way or another. I spend my money how I like, and will deal with whatever fitting issues arise if/when I get around to a particular pattern–that goes for vintage, Big 4, indie, etc.

ANYWAY ( 🙂 ), a couple of months ago I treated myself to an order from Gorgeous Fabrics (aka one of the most dangerous websites on the entire internet if you like amazing fabric) and included some ombre silk crepe that I’d been coveting for a while. I bought 4 yards (at 57″ wide, that was overkill, probably) because I knew what I wanted to do with it: a full-length dress that fully utilized the amazing coloration of the fabric, preferably with a nice, sexy split in the skirt. The Anna pattern was the only one I had in mind, honestly–it seems to look good on everyone who makes it and is very simple, allowing the fabric to really be the star (well, the fabric and whichever leg I choose to reveal). My long-term goal was to have this mythical dress done in time for my company’s holiday party in December–see? Super manageable!–but this Anna Party business gave me an extra push to get started. Just imagine it:

A perfect pairing, if I do say so myself...

A perfect pairing, if I do say so myself…

THAT SILK CREPE, THO. Red to coral to orange and back again, starring Bilbo Baggins...

THAT SILK CREPE, THO. Red to coral to orange and back again, starring Bilbo Baggins and maybe a dragon…

(So far, I am thinking of having the red focused at my waist, fading from orange/coral at my shoulders and then back out again past the waist. Thoughts??)

Obviously, I am aiming to have this dress finished before July 17, so that I can post photos to my Instagram feed (hopefully the entire blog entry will be ready in time, too) during the allowable time frame of the Anna Party. I don’t care about winning any of the prizes; I tend to join sew-alongs (or IG-alongs, apparently!) just for the motivation to finish something. To facilitate this, I have started with my fittings already:

Anna bodice 1.0, back view

Anna bodice 1.0, back view

Anna bodice 1.0, front; note the cringe.

Anna bodice 1.0, front; note the cringe.

The first muslin is straight from the pattern. Thanks to Nina’s teachings, I am learning to see probable fitting issues in a pattern before I do anything with it, but I wanted to see the fit out of the envelope on Anna, since I’ve never made a BHL pattern. It turns out that I need a LOT of fitting adjustments! The most necessary thing was to add length to the bodice, because it came up wayyyyyyy too short for me, as expected. The difficulty is that I needed all that length between my shoulders and bust, as opposed to needing it between my bust and my waist. Do not be deceived by the above photos: I held that bodice down while Tom pinned it to me–it rides wayyyy up. I added 2″ of length and shifted the shoulder seam so that I had more length at the back than the front, and got this:

Anna bodice 2.0, back view; definite improvement, I think

Anna bodice 2.0, back view; definite improvement, I think, apart from Tom’s questionable pinning! 😉

Anna bodice 2.0, front. Still cringing, but a little less. =)

Anna bodice 2.0, front. Still cringing, but a little less. =)

My second muslin confirmed that I need to: stop sewing the pleats about 2″ before where I stopped them on Muslin 2.0 (they were lengthened after v. 1.0), scoop out the front neckline a little, and shift the side seams toward the back by about 1.5″ (tapering to nothing at the armhole). What do you think? Am I on the right track here? I can definitely see an improvement from 1.0 to 2.0, but I worry that I’m suffering from confirmation bias!

Once I get the bodice where I want it, I will be making any complementary changes to the skirt side seams and CF panel seams (if needed), and lopping some inches off of the skirt length. From my waist to the floor, I need about 42″, whereas this skirt is about 46″ as drafted. And bear in mind that, at 5′ 8.5″ tall, I am taller than the average bear lady. I suspect that the extra length is due to Anna’s designers opting to factor in very high heels (rather than drafting for exceptionally tall people), but I am not intending to wear mine with more than a 2.5″ heel. I’ll do the math after all this other jazz gets worked out though–priorities, people!!

Speaking of jazz, I will leave you with a shot of me in all my vintage glory, 1920’s style! As many of you know, vintage is what got me into sewing in the first place, and I still adore it (despite my foray into more modern sewing projects of late). I was fortunate to be asked to assist with an event at a local historic mausoleum, which involved me talking to people and looking nice and era-appropriate. Easy as pie! 🙂 I had not gotten to wear “Princess Peach” (yes, I named both of my 1920’s evening gowns) yet, so she was the obvious choice for the evening. She looks pretty good for ~90 years old, huh?

20's silk gown, early 1900's ivory pendant, and 1920's (or earlier) metal mesh handbag!

20’s silk gown, early 1900’s ivory pendant, and 1920’s (or earlier) metal mesh handbag!

In Which The Blockhead Makes A Block (aka Pattern Learnings for Smart-Making)

I’m baaaaaaack! I still haven’t taken my super scuba outfit on a test drive, but I plan to very soon. (It’s been “lapping flames of Hellfire” hot here lately, and if there’s one thing your intrepid blogger hates more than being cold, it’s being hot; bonus hate-points are awarded for being hot in head-to-toe polyester.) Thanks to everyone who left encouraging comments (aka told me I did NOT look like a total trollop in the skirt): your kind words have emboldened me to eventually leave the house looking super scuba fabulous! And now for something completely different…

I alluded to this briefly a couple of times, but I enrolled myself in another patternmaking class with Nina! Our last class was this week, and I’m excited to have a skirt and a bodice block to work from going forward. We started with the bodice in the first session, and oooooh boy…I STRUGGLED that first class.

Problem 1: It was excessively hot in the building. Having been told to wear something tight to class to ensure accurate measurements, I was clad in the eye-wateringly tight skirt of doom (yeah, that’s right: I actually wore that out of the house; to be fair to me, it was for science!!), a spaghetti strap tank top, a pair of tights, and a light sweater. This was too much body-con polyester and too many layers for the temperature of the building, and I removed the sweater–my one removable layer–immediately. As a result, I spent the rest of the evening feeling pretty self-conscious about how little I was wearing, and how tight ALL OF IT was. Problem 2: I did not have a partner for class. A couple of my fellow students signed up for class in conjunction with a sibling (awwww!) in order to be able to sew for that sibling and get a good fit. There ought to have been an odd number of us, and I was supposed to be paired up with someone who ended up not showing up. Nina had paired herself up with the other un-paired student prior to it becoming clear that the mystery student was not coming, which meant I spent a lot of time awkwardly waiting for her to come around to help me while simultaneously double-checking everyone else’s measurements. Problem 3: I am still a n00b at pattern drafting. The basic concepts took some time to sink in, and since drawing them out on the paper is a total DIY job and I’ve never done it before, I struggled and felt very UNconfident about what I was doing.

By the time we finished with the front bodice piece, the heat and math and drawing and confusion had gotten the better of all of us, and the back was a massive struggle. Due to the combination of Problems 1-3, mine was half-assed like you wouldn’t believe (well, if you’ve read here for a while, you might very well believe it!) and I didn’t feel great about how the muslin of it would sew up. The measurements seemed garbled and I had no idea how close it would be to my actual body. I knew the armhole would be FUBAR, as did Nina, but we were all totally over it by the time 9:30 came around so I just took home the pieces I had and went with it. Some crazy how, I have ended up with an excellent-fitting bodice! Some crazier how, the first iteration actually wasn’t very far off; most subsequent passes at the bodice have been little tweaks here and there as opposed to major overhauls.

Bodice block, version 1.0

Bodice block, version 1.0

Bodice block, final

Bodice block, final; note the decreased size of the front waist dart and the better armhole

I did learn something funny/sad about my bust at class: my bust apex is actually closer to my waist than to my shoulders. 😦 I have no tits!!!! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??!?!?!?* Grr. (*For the record, I know it’s totally possible to have a low bust point and be small-chested. I’m just bitter!) Fortunately, the skirt was so much easier than the bodice when it came to from-scratch drafting! And, you know, no morale-crushing surprises were revealed re: my proportions in that area, so you know, maybe that colored my opinion…

First attempt at the skirt block (aka a rectangle)

First attempt at the skirt block (aka a rectangle)

Final skirt pattern--much better!

Final skirt pattern–much better!

Despite the relative ease vs the bodice draft, the skirt waist was way off when I sewed up my first muslin. The biggest issue was that the center darts on the skirt weren’t lining up with the waist darts on the bodice piece. After tweaking the dart positions, I made a second version; that would have been great, except that I forgot to think about the waist measurement issue beforehand. I decided to see how close the two pieces were to fitting together and realized there was NO WAY they’d fit. To get the bodice and skirt sewn together, I just took in the needed extra width at the skirt side seams and marked up the muslin so I would know what to adjust on the flat. Here is the whole shebang together:

Fitting shell front view

Fitting shell front view

And from the side

And from the side

And the back

And the back, complete with sloppy-ass zipper insertion

The shell has seam allowance on each armhole, but not at the neck or hem. I need to take a wedge out of the CF neck and adjust the position of the side seams between my bust and hip (and transfer these adjustments to my flat pattern pieces), but apart from that it’s basically done! My zipper insertion is pretty grotesque–I just really wanted to see how everything fit–and is causing some of those ripples at the back. I used a 22″ invisible zipper ca. 1971 because it was the closest thing I had to being long enough. With respect to the fit, I wanted as little ease in the bodice as I could get away with–I wanted that part to reflect my actual body, in part so that I could use stretch knits or wovens without having to worry about excess ease or bagginess. I’d rather add ease than subtract it, basically. 🙂 And to be frank, my figure is pretty uneventful in terms of curves–my waist is really the only thing I’ve got going for me there, so if I make something fitted, I want to make sure it gets showcased to maximum effect. Although Tom did capture a really hilarious and awesome photo of me on our way out to take these photos, and it sure provides a nice optical illusion:

This is a lie. A nice, curvy lie....

This is a lie. A nice, curvy lie….

(Seriously, isn’t that amazing and disturbing?? I promise my ass is not nearly that impressive in real life, and I have no idea how Tom managed to capture that illusion on camera…)

I really want the core concepts of block drafting to sink in, because it will help me sew better not just for myself, but for anyone else I choose to sew for in the future. I kept the worksheets in case I ever need to draw stuff out again, but hopefully I can work from my block for any womenswear tasks. Nina gave all of us sheets of oaktag so that we can transfer our patterns, and once I make the adjustments needed to my flat paper pieces, that is what I will do.

Do any of you have blocks that you rely on for fitting or designing? Have you ever self-drafted?

One Million Muslins (aka The Great Coat Conundrum of 2015)

Hello again!

I have already failed at updating weekly while I’m taking my workshop–oops! But it’s because I’ve been beyond busy and am struggling to keep up: I still work 2 nights a week plus weekends at the shop, the workshop takes one other night each week, and we’ve had some house-related emergencies in the last week that required dedicated attention and time off of work (sump pump drain line frozen + lots of snow + thaw = Mads stays up ALL NIGHT and ALL DAY bailing water out of the sump pit BY HAND until a janky-ass workaround can be set up), so unfortunately my blog has been neglected. Hell, I’m lucky I found time to do my homework for tonight’s class!! Hopefully things will settle down soon and I can feel less rushed.

The title of this post is in reference to my homework for class each week; I feel like all I do anymore is make muslins/toiles of this coat and that it’s all I’m ever going to be allowed to sew forever. But my coat has enough fit issues (gee, maybe that’s because it’s for a 12 year old and my body is decidedly NOT that of a preteen…) that I have to keep making a fresh version each week so we can see if we’re getting close, so it is what it is. I think we’re pretty much there now, though, after my last practice version–it’s looking awesome and like a grownup coat for grownups! 😀 (Disclaimer: please ignore the cardboard box pile! Tom got lots of stuff for his studio and I am going to use the cardboard for pattern supports once I have a free evening to cut them all up.)

According to Tom, it looks like "a dirty lab coat." So helpful.

According to Tom, it looks like “a dirty lab coat.” So helpful.

Look at that straight side seam action!

Look at that straight side seam action!

My big girl shoulders are now accommodated by the coat

My big girl shoulders are now accommodated by the coat



So much better, isn’t it?? I’m very excited about how it’s coming together. The side seam issue (they were tipping toward the back the last time I showed this to you) was resolved by taking a slice of bulk from the front pieces and transferring it to the back piece at each side seam. Now they’re falling straight down as they should! We’ve done so many revisions on the shoulders of this coat, but I think we’re finally there (or close). I needed about an inch at each shoulder vs. the original width, which we added last week and which can be seen in action above. (Interestingly, I assumed my shoulders were likely wider than the average, but learned last week that they are EXACTLY average at 5″ each–I was very surprised!) Nina raised the neckline all the way around, but not by too much. She also added height to the sleeve cap, because we NEEDED it. When making my muslin for last week’s class, I noticed that I had a larger armscye than sleeve, which is not okay! Making this week’s muslin, they were pretty much the same size (which makes sense for the era of the pattern, since they weren’t into gathered or puffed sleeves/shoulders), with just the tiniest bit more ease in the sleeve itself, as it should be. I took it upon myself to lengthen the sleeve this week, since I know I’ll need it. There is a cuff and a cuff facing to consider, but I’d rather have too much length (and have to shorten) than to make my coat and end up with a 12-year-old’s sleeves on a 29-year-old’s coat, if you follow me. We scooped out the armhole some more as well, just for ease of movement and what have you. What do you guys think: does it look pretty good?? I am wondering if my upper back will require any extra work; I know I am broader at the upper back than at the upper front, but I’m not sure that I need any extra wiggle room back there.

Here are some photos of my previous muslin after last week’s class, and my adjusted flat pattern before I used it to sew up what you see above:

Nina split the sleeve open to show how much height we needed; the marker is to show me where a raglan would go if I wanted one.

Nina split the sleeve open to show how much height we needed; the marker is to show me where a raglan would go if I wanted one.

Previous muslin

Previous muslin from the front

Flat pattern with changes made at last week's class--doesn't that armhole look nice?!?

Flat pattern with changes made at last week’s class–doesn’t that armhole look nice?!?

Shoulder soulmates

Shoulder soulmates

Original sleeve tracing on the left, present sleeve iteration on the right

Original sleeve tracing on the left, present sleeve iteration on the right

Tycho demanded that I stop working and feed him immediately.

Tycho demanded that I stop working and feed him immediately.

I apologize for the lack of photos of the muslin prior to this one; ultimately, this current iteration is a big improvement! We meet for the last time tonight ( 😦 😦 😦 ) so we’ll see what Nina thinks! I haven’t done anything with my facings, collars, cuffs, or cape yet, but having the main body pieces to work from will help me figure out what to do with the rest.

To counteract the very beige nature of this post, here are some photos of some new vintage pretties that I got myself recently:

1930's jacket and skirt!!

1930’s jacket and skirt!!

1920's blouse--this will be fun!!

1920’s blouse–this will be fun!!



These look like fingerwaved hair and are thus some of my favorites.

These look like fingerwaved hair and are thus some of my favorites.



Gorgeous patterns, including 2 with coats/jackets and one 1939 wrap dress!

Gorgeous patterns, including 2 with coats/jackets and one 1939 wrap dress!

Close-up of THAT JACKET THO.

Close-up of THAT JACKET THO.

I got very generous Etsy gift cards for xmas from Tom and my older sister, so I put them to good use at last! And there may or may not be more buttons on their way… 😀

I haven’t made much progress on my pants–tracing the pattern isn’t even done!–and I have been trying to help a friend make a shirt for his 1-year-old nephew, which is coming along nicely. Kids stuff is so mind-meltingly tiny, though! O_o My sewing mojo (“sewjo”) has been kind of missing lately, so hopefully I can find something to make that doesn’t require much effort and that results in something wearable and awesome. I am so tired of muslin!

In Which The Blogger Takes A Flying Leap…

Out of her comfort zone, that is.

This post will be really long (mostly because it covers two weeks worth of progress–I am behind!), and I’m going to start out a little differently from my normal style. I don’t usually get all introspective on you; not because I don’t have Deep Thoughts, but because I’m usually just too excited to share whatever it is I’m sharing to get too serious. 🙂 So if Introspective Mads doesn’t do it for you (and that’s okay!), feel free to scroll down a bit and wait for the pictures to start! (TL;DR, I’m taking a pattern making workshop and it’s been very interesting and fun and confidence-smashing and fun again!) Without further ado…

*cue Deep Thoughts*

I enjoy learning. For me, learning is pretty much a desirable end in and of itself–I just like to know things about stuff (because I haz a smrt), and generally speaking, the more things I can learn about, the better! On the other hand, I consider myself a relatively cautious person; I tend to be risk-averse and enjoy having a solid routine. While I’m willing to try new things when I feel like it (for example, learning to sew!), I don’t really enjoy being prompted or “encouraged” to do things without first being interested on my own. My introverted nature does not help matters; I tend to stick to indoor nerd-ery and can become isolated. But sometimes, with the right encouragement or inspiration, I can be coaxed out of my little bubble and into the wide and wild world of opportunity. This time, the new thing is a workshop on pattern drafting and fitting, and the encouragement came from a new friend.

I became acquainted with Paula DeGrand quite by accident: I cannot remember how I found her blog, Getting Things Sewn, but once I did, I immediately subscribed and eagerly read every subsequent post, even feeling brave enough to comment from time to time. (This is one part of the online sewing community that I struggle with: I always feel like I want to comment, and sometimes I even type out a response, and then I chicken out and delete everything because these people don’t GAF what I think and also I’m an idiot anyway.) We also interacted a bit on Pattern Review, which is how I learned that she and I would very soon be residents of the same metro area! This winter, we were finally able to meet up in person and I am happy to report that she is just as intriguing and delightful in real life as she seems on her blog.

Prior to our in-person meeting, Paula had blogged about a workshop she was taking here in Columbus–a pattern making workshop! The instructor was Nina Bagley, a very experienced and talented patternmaker with decades of experience in the fashion industry. Unfortunately for me, the workshop–focused on pants, of all things!–had already started when I learned of it, and I immediately emailed the Cultural Arts Center to inquire about any future workshops like that one. While I did receive a nice but not-terribly-informative response (equivalent to, “Thanks for your interest. As to future workshops, we don’t know…we’re trees.”), the real insider info came to me from Paula, who alerted me to the opening of registration for the next workshop; this one would be focusing on coats and capes. Guys, I got the very. last. spot. in that workshop, and I squealed and bounced around with glee.

Now you may be thinking, “But Mads, you’ve never shown even the slightest interest in (or, let’s be honest, aptitude for) pattern drafting or expert fitting! Why would you think this workshop is a good idea?” And that’s totally a fair question. I’m still quite a beginner, and I’ve never made a coat or a cape or a jacket, and I assumed I’d probably be the least-competent person in the entire workshop group. But I got excited about this for several reasons: 1) Paula’s enthusiasm is contagious, 2) $100 is a bargain-basement price for a 5-week (1 evening per week for 3 hours) local workshop with a small class size taught by someone who has worked successfully in the fashion industry for many years, 3) I want to learn everything I can about sewing, garment construction, fitting, patterns, drafting, and design in order to make better things for myself and anyone else I choose to sew for, and 4) What better way to learn than from an expert, surrounded by enthusiastic people who are better than me at our shared craft? (And also 5) I’ve had that damn 1920’s pre-teen coat pattern in my mental “Gotta Sew This” queue since I bought it, and I knew this was a great chance to be successful with making it fit and look good.) So there you have it: Mads, out of her comfort zone, becomes Mads, the pattern workshop student. Back to you, Irreverent Whippersnapper Mads!


My first week of class got off to a terrible start. Like a boss, I left home 30 minutes before the scheduled start time–more than adequate to get to where I should have been going. (Uh-oh…) My directions had me get on the freeway, which should have been my first clue not to trust them, since this was a freaking 10 minute trip. Those same directions resulted in me getting off the freeway where I was told, only to find myself utterly lost in an unfamiliar (and none too nice) part of the city, nowhere near my destination. As if that wasn’t awful enough, my so-called smart phone decided that it wasn’t about to allow me to access Maps or the navigation functionality. And my GPS is buried in the house somewhere, which obviously meant it was not in my car to help me. Cue the panic attack! (No, I don’t have a generalized anxiety thing: I do have a few actual phobias that trigger these things, and a handful of other things can set me off too. Like being lost in an unfamiliar area, by myself, with no navigation assistance, especially if I’m on a timeline. Womp womp.) So to recap, I was lost in a part of town that I’d never seen before and which felt decidedly dodgy, and on top of that, I was crying and couldn’t breathe and was, as the kids say, freaking my shit. Time to call for backup!

Tom was nearly home when I reached him. I was absolutely frantic and he was trying his best to calm me down. (I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced a panic attack, but mine certainly do not respond to people telling me to calm down!) He finally got home and had the unpleasant task of trying to give me directions from a random intersection in Columbus to a place I only knew the name of, as opposed to the actual address; I couldn’t even tell him which direction I was facing, since my car lacks a compass and I had no frame of reference via familiar streets or landmarks. Tom got me to my destination, finally. Remember how I said I’d left 30 minutes before the start time? When I finally arrived, I was 10 minutes late to class. 10. Minutes. Late. This drive should have taken 15 minutes tops. And then I had to pay for a parking meter and try to find my classroom in a new-to-me building. On top of that, it was very, very obvious that I had been crying, which was *exactly* the kind of first impression I wanted to make on a room full of strangers, one of whom is widely respected and recognized in her profession and was, for all intents and purposes, in charge of me for the next three hours. After that whole ordeal, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be there anymore!

When I walked in, I saw a huddle of people off in one corner of the room; they were all looking at something together (which turned out to be Paula’s project). I happened to walk in with another class member, so I felt a little less awkward about being late. Nobody batted an eye! After brief introductions, we got right down to business: Nina pulled and tucked and wiggled Paula’s coat, noting what adjustments she felt were needed and why. It was incredibly educational. All of us were allowed to weigh in as well, which felt strange at first but became natural by the end of our 3 hours together. (Or in my case, 2 hours and 50 minutes!) After Paula’s pattern had been cut, slashed, taped, and cut some more, Nina looked at me and asked if I had a pattern in mind. “Yes,” I said timidly. “Do you have it with you?” *RESIST THE URGE TO ROLL EYES!* “Yes.” “Well go get it and we’ll have a look!” This was the moment I’d been dreading since I realized what kind of format the class was in after about 5 minutes. It felt like those nightmares where you show up to class and the teacher announces that today, there will be a test on the socio-economic impacts of de-colonization on the African continent and you’re all, “WTF? I thought this was math class!?!” And also you’re in your underwear.

I walked back toward the group, clutching the traced-off pieces of my coat back, front, and sleeve. Being a genius (heh), I didn’t bring the actual pattern envelope with me, so Nina was sort of working blind in terms of imagining the look of the finished coat. I described it the best I could. She seemed pleased with the way the pieces worked together, but remarked that it looked “small, like for a child.” She was relieved when I clarified that it was for a child! My homework was to make a muslin of the coat body as-is and bring it back the following week. I left class that night feeling pretty good about my project and getting it to fit.

Back at The “Mads” House, I dutifully made my muslin. Nina and I had identified one sure-fire issue–a need for more length from shoulder to bust–and I was eager to see what we’d do to fix it. I packed all my stuff:

Fancy-pants bag, ready for class!

Fancy-pants bag, ready for class!

Stuffed with, er, stuff.

Stuffed with, er, stuff.

Made sure this made the trip, too--no more working blind!

Made sure this made the trip, too–no more working blind!

I made a timely arrival this week, and was really fired up to hack my muslin apart. Unfortunately for me, my rogue decision to set in one sleeve was a bad one, and Nina needed me to rip it out before we could do anything else. It somewhat helped her evaluate the fit visually, but we needed to mess with the body before we could worry about the sleeve. Feeling foolish, I went back to my seat and started tearing at things. I plodded back up front and Nina made some cuts into the front of the coat. And then she pointed out something that was terribly embarrassing: I’d cut the front piece off-grain. Badly. *sigh* Guess who is tearing their muslin to adjust the grainline before making up the next version? —–>This kid. Between that stupid mistake and my utter inability to fully wrap my head around the drafting stuff we were shown that night (different collar types–very interesting!), I left class last week feeling like I don’t have the skills or smarts necessary to do a good job on this project. I’m trying to remind myself that I’m there to learn and that if I keep working at it, I’ll get there! Besides, understanding flat pattern drafting takes time, since you have to think about things from both the 2-D and 3-D perspectives; that’s not something I really do at the moment! Would you like to see the state of my own personal Frankenstein’s Monster Coat Pattern?

Yep, that's masking tape. We created headroom for my t*ts out of masking tape. O_o

Yep, that’s masking tape. We created headroom for my t*ts out of masking tape. O_o

New shoulder line!

New shoulder line!

Original tracing on the right, Frankenmuslin on the left. Check out those neckline and armhole differences!!

Original tracing on the right, Frankenmuslin on the left. Check out those neckline and armhole differences!!

I didn’t realize that masking tape was so versatile, did you? We added some length from shoulder to bust (“headroom for my t*ts”) and scooped out the armhole. At my request, we also scooped out the front neckline–it was making me claustrophobic! The back neckline was lowered by Nina as well. She was sweet enough to clean up the lines around the neck and armhole for me and tape it all up. I also had to take a wedge out at the armhole and taper out to nothing down the side seam. Obviously my homework was to use this muslin as my new pattern and see how the changes helped with the fit; Nina will then assist me with adjusting the sleeve piece when we have class this week. My gut tells me that will result in a pretty extreme makeover for the sleeve, but I know I’m in good hands! Here is Pre-Teen Coat Muslin 2.0:

New, on-grain muslin!

New, on-grain muslin!

Trying on the new version over a hefty fleece shirt

Trying on the new version over a hefty fleece shirt

Awkward side-view selfie!

Awkward side-view selfie!

I’m mostly happy with how this is coming along. My main concerns are making sure that I’ll have enough room to wear bulky sweaters AND interline and line this thing, and that the side seams tilt to the back of the coat (which gets worse the closer to the hem you look) and I can’t tell if it’s a fit problem or due to the volume being concentrated in the front pieces vs. the back. Fastening the coat resolves that issue, so ????????????

I ordered a second, higher-quality wool for this coat than what I planned to use originally. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m still using the green and cream material for a first version.) I have a few reasons for this. First, the stuff I have is of a looser weave than I realized, and I want this sucker to be WARM, especially if the Polar Vortex insists on becoming an annual occurrence here in Ohio. Second, I’m not sure I’ll have enough of the green and cream fabric to do the attached cape, and I want a version of this coat with that damn cape, or there will be tears and violence. Third, this happened:

Yep, that's a hole.

Yep, that’s a hole.

Because I am so smart and so awesome, I decided that I could just tug this yardage out of the bin where it sleeps; naturally, it sleeps near the very bottom because it hasn’t been pre-washed yet. I may have hulked out a bit too much, because I do not remember this huge tear being present when I packed this material up the last time. 😦 It’s close to the cut end AND the selvedge, so I think I can at least get the coat itself out of this fabric. But I felt entirely justified in ordering some nicer wool coating (and interlining!) so that I can have a truly awesome, truly warm, truly cape-tastic coat one day. Behold:

This will make a fine coat and cape combo, no? =)

This will make a fine coat and cape combo, no? =)

I’ll wrap this entry up by saying that I hope it wasn’t terribly boring. I’m very excited that I’ve made a new friend (and one who is brilliant at sewing, to boot!) and I’m psyched about my workshop and hope to learn a lot. Nina is a great teacher, and my fellow students are very kind, enthusiastic, and talented. I’ll share updates each week, hopefully! (And my pants are still on the docket, so check back for progress there, too!)

Hawthorn Sew-Along – Muslin Complete!

Hello again! It’s nice and dreary here in Ohio–perfect sewing weather, right?!

I cranked out two muslins for the top portion of my Colette Hawthorn over the weekend, and I’m very happy with the fit of the 2nd. (PS: I’ve never actually made a muslin before, but my favorite part was absolutely leaving the plum-colored thread from my last project in the machine and not having to give one single fuck about matching the color. Speaking as a person with lots of OCD issues, that was a big deal!) Below are two photos of the second iteration.

Front view

Front view

Side view

Side view

The first attempt exposed three primary issues: the darts were too long (hitting me right in the, er, “apex”), the waist hit about 1″ above my actual waist, and the armholes were all pinch-y and cramping my pits like no other. The first two problems were fixed by adding 1″ to the length of the bodice; I opted to keep the darts in their original position and not lengthen them (a PITA, since I had to slash and extend the pattern piece and do math to make sure the new dart was the same length as the old one), so now the point hits where it should and the waist hits at my waist. The arms are another story entirely: on the second attempt, I cut the arm opening  marked for the largest size and did not see much of a benefit. (I cut a straight size 0 due to my actual measurements and the finished measurements on the envelope.) I’ve made some marks on the muslin that I will transfer to my traced pattern piece before cutting into my fashion fabric, and that should open them up to a more comfortable configuration. Gonzo re-drafting FTW! My armpits are looking forward to not being invaded by swaths of fabric in the future.

Irritatingly, my additional yardage will not arrive until Thursday this week, so that’s the earliest I can start on the bodice steps. To save myself some grief, I’ve already treated my fusible interfacing so that shrinkage isn’t an issue when I apply it later. Using that stuff is another first for me, and I’m pretty nervous about it. O_o I’ll also be cutting my skirt pieces ASAP so that I’m ready to jump right into those steps. Buttons are still TBD, but I think I will go for the ones below, from fabric.com:

I’d thought about a contrasting color (the same buttons come in orange, and orange is kind of my jam right now) but was afraid of it looking too juvenile. These add just a bit of whimsy while still coordinating with the fabric I picked. Thoughts?

While practicing with these muslins, I took the opportunity to test out French seams. My fabric is very light and presses well and would be a great candidate for that kind of seam. I had no trouble with this new-fangled finish method (luckily). Megan Nielsen’s tutorial was very helpful and easy to follow, and I’m glad I happened upon it over the weekend!

Even though the weather is perfect for staying inside and sewing, we have so much going on that I probably won’t be doing any sewing or prepping until at least Wednesday. And OMG I just remembered that I haven’t even pressed my fabric yet, and that I’ll have to wash and press the stuff coming on Thursday, too. FFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.

(I think my internal mantra for this project needs to be, “This isn’t homework–it’s supposed to be fun. Chill the fuck out.”)