Sunday, June 26, 2016

Another great McCalls shirtdress

I so enjoyed sewing McCalls 6885 that when McCalls patterns were on sale recently, I hopped over to my local store and picked up a couple more. I bought 6696 even though it's a fussy pattern (inset waist band, back gathers) partly because I love the look of the eyelet version with the bicycle and partly because I think the slip pattern could be useful. But I bought 7351 for the slim lines of view A and decided to make it first.

Then I went stash diving and found a beautiful cotton print I no longer remember acquiring. I am pretty sure that I got it while traveling somewhere in western Canada, maybe Victoria. It's an indigo batik-like print that has a strong vertical direction but it was printed sideways on the yardage, only 115cm wide. And I only had 2.0m when the pattern called for 2.9m for view A.

Skimpy fabric
But The Sewing Lawyer scoffs at the Big 4's generous yardage requirements and could see that lots of the 0.9m she did not have would be taken up by the bias strips to finish the arm openings, the back yoke lining and the pockets.

Hidden bits
So taking due care (measure twice cut once) I verified that the length of the front bodice and skirt *just* fit on the cross grain, which meant they could be cut in the same position vis-à-vis the pattern repeats. I was able to get all the other main pieces on there too, although I had to cut the back yoke and one of the collar stand pieces with the pattern going across instead of up and down. I got both front bands on the last skinny scraps - they just fit. Sadly, there are no pockets but I had already resigned myself to that impossibility. The hidden bits were cut out of scraps left over from a white shirt.

It was an enjoyable sewing experience. Substantial cotton is so well behaved! For some reason the buttonholes had to wait but I charged up the beast and made them today. That machine does buttonholes like a champ! There are 8 because stash had only 8 of the perfect buttons.

I love this dress!
See the sideways yoke? Or not...

You can tell I spent a lot of time matching the pattern, right? OK maybe not, but it makes me happy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Simplicity 5914 - colour me surprised!

When I last posted, I expressed some reservations about this ca. 2003 pattern, presumably long out of print.

There was no need. This was one of the most straightforward sews ever, and the resulting skirt is very nice indeed. I guess my front and back aren't so different after all ...

I made this skirt from a very old stashed piece of cotton sateen (its origins long forgotten). The pattern is a fabric miser and calls for only 1.5m of 115cm fabric in any size.

I can see more of these in my future. I wonder why it took me so long?

Onward! I'm about to start yet another shirtdress.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Some inferior photos from a brilliant day

It got warm enough for me to put the dress on for a quick photo shoot in the backyard. 

My those irises are fascinating!


For my next project I decided to dig out a really old Simplicity skirt pattern, number 5914. Now this one really IS simple. It has only two main pattern pieces - a centre piece and a side panel, and a single facing piece. The thing that makes me a little nervous is that the front and back are the same. And I'm pretty sure that my front and back are not. However we shall see. I'm making it out of a very ancient cotton sateen from deep stash. So it may turn out to be an experiment rather than a skirt.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A simple shirtdress

After I figured out a few problems* with my new (to me) sewing machine the Pfaff quilt expression 4.0, otherwise known as "the beast" because it's so big and powerful, I had a lot of fun making this dress. Too bad the weather is not cooperating and I feel it's just too cool to even put it on for some quick modeled photos. This is a hot weather dress. Maybe later.

This is an "easy" pattern from McCalls. I'm never sure what criteria pattern companies use to decide if a pattern is "easy". Although this dress has only two "main" pattern pieces and no darts, I'm not sure I agree with McCalls' rating. It has a proper shirt collar (two pieces with a stand) and a partial placket with a curious pleat built into the bottom end of it. These are at least moderately difficult to sew because they really demand very precise sewing.

But I own David Page Coffin's book on Shirtmaking (a valuable resource) and - as I told the lady behind the counter at Fabricland tonight (who unaccountably assumed that I needed help choosing my pattern size) - 40+ years of sewing experience. I laugh at shirt collars and applied plackets.

I used David P.C.'s instructions (p. 100 in his book) which help me avoid the dreaded nasty blob of fabric lumpiness just at the point where the collar stand meets the placket and is completely finished by machine.

After I finished sewing this, I read on the McCalls blog that the bottom bit of the placket is not supposed to be sewn down. Oops. Maybe next time I should have a peek at the instructions.

I checked all the pattern reviews on PR looking for some indication about the hemline. This pattern has three different hem lengths/styles. I had it in mind to make the hem from view D but I think the technical drawing isn't quite accurate. As drawn on the pattern tissue, the shirt tails are much more exaggerated. Several reviewers noted that the hemline was very short at the side seams - 6.5" or 17cm shorter, in fact - and that it felt uncomfortable as a result.

For safety's sake I decided to cut the hem for view C and decide on shaping later. I'm glad I did. When I tried the dress on I realized that it was a nice knee length and that I didn't want it to be any shorter. To keep the shirtiness of it I left slits at the side seams and sewed in a little bias triangle reinforcement, mimicking something that is sometimes done in nice men's shirts.

The fabric is an embroidered mid-weight cotton/linen (I think). From deep stash. It has a nice drape for this dress, although I am thinking of doing it again in a stiffer cotton (African print).

My only complaint about this pattern is that the arm openings are quite deep. If (when) I make this again I will raise the opening by at least 1cm.

* Problems with the 4.0 were:

1. In stitching down the placket, I was getting tension issues. This machine has electronically set tension and I had not had any problem before even when sewing through multiple layers of quilting cotton (that Bionic Gear Bag project, remember it?). I had a hunch that the tension might regularize if I inserted a slightly bigger needle. It did. Problem solved!

2. I had a thread jam and the built-in thread cutter simply stopped working. I went on line and came across a clue as to how to reset the sensor. I tried it. It worked. You have no idea how happy I was!

For posterity, here is a picture of what needs to be adjusted, if you have this machine and encounter the same problem. Take off the throat plate, get something pointy and use it to push the little nut at upper left as far to the left in its channel as it will go. I don't think I had to move it more than about 1mm, and this was messing up the cutting completely. Problem solved!

I love this machine, especially the buttonholes...

There are more shirtdresses in my near future.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Burnt by machine

That's the name of my knitted top, get it?

I finished it!

It took as long to finish the arm and neck openings as it did to knit the pieces. This is how it goes with machine knitting, I'm learning.

In the case of this top, a lot of the time spent on that phase was thinking about how exactly to do it - by machine. It's a technical/mechanical issue.

Knitting by machine is so different from knitting by hand where you can flip stitches around, combine them and add new ones wherever you want.

On a knitting machine, you are stuck with each stitch on its own fixed needle. If you want to add or subtract one in the middle of a piece - as I had to to make the vertical darts for shaping this top - you need to move all the stitches to one side of where you are increasing or decreasing to make room (or take one stitch away) in the middle.

Needles on one bed only knit, and on the other bed they only purl. Making garter stitch, the easiest thing in the world for a hand knitter (knit every row) is about the slowest stitch you can do on a machine because you literally have to switch the stitches from one bed to the other, or reform them on a single bed machine, every single row.

So the problem with my bands was that the pattern called for them to be knitted on (stitches picked up around the edges) in reverse stockinette stitch so they would curl and look nice and round. Easy by hand, tough by machine because of the configuration of the needles and how they would knit. No matter how I figured it, I'd end up either with the stockinette side showing (curling the wrong way, therefore) or with the "seam" where the stitches of the band were joined to the body on the outside instead of the inside.

There are probably ways of doing it but it was going to be really, really awkward.

So I did it by hand with skinny 2.5mm circular needles. Picked up the stitches, knit four rows, cast off. I am very pleased with how it turned out.

And here's the back. Yes, that is a band of garter stitch on either side of the (totally redundant) keyhole opening. See above for degree of difficulty.

The Sewing/Knitting Lawyer is happy with how this one turned out. It should be a nice basic item for summer.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Knitting on my Passap

A while ago I ordered a book of knitting patterns by a very prolific UK designer, Kim Hargreaves. There are 1,574 of her patterns on Ravelry! This is a knitting superstar who comes up with endless pretty, simple, feminine designs. An on-line bio says she was "responsible for creating the image and philosophy of Rowan" as its head in house designer and the person who oversaw design, photography and styling for the Rowan magazines and chose many of the designers. Now she heads her own company and she publishes these books, one of which (Indigo) I own.

I bought it because I was smitten with one of the patterns (Searing), which I have in mind for a hand-manipulated machine knitting project, but that is not what I am working on this weekend. No sirree - I'm making Burnt (Kim Hargreaves has this thing for one-word names).

Such a simple but classy little top. The slip-stitch rib is a cinch on the Passap (CX/N, a rib every 5 stitches).

Making it a bit more complex for machine knitting are the vertical darts (3 per side, front and back), and the back slit opening which is faced with garter stitch.

I figured out the technical issues and have knitted the front and the back. As usual I had to do some fixing up of the knitting with a needle and yarn, but I will not reveal where and my hunch is that no one will notice.

If they do I shall freeze them with an icy stare.

My top is black, which is hard to machine knit with (god help you if/when you drop a stitch and have to go fishing for it) and hard to photograph. The pieces are now blocking and I'm resting up for the next phase which will consist of machine knitting the neck and arm opening bands (reverse stockinette, which will roll nicely I hope).

Now I have a hankering for a sewing project.

Methinks a shirt dress for summer. Uncharacteristically, I just bought two McCalls patterns and one of them is 6885. I would never have considered it except when I saw Goodbye Valentino's gorgeous version I realized that abandoning the kiddy sunhat and exaggerated shirt tail hem left a pretty, classic dress.

I'll be back when I finish Burnt - in the meantime please excuse me while I go stash-diving.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Is it spring yet?

Looks pretty subdued here...
I finished something!

It's a jacket. No, it's a cardigan. No, it's both, and it's totally off the beaten track for The Sewing Lawyer, because it is has glitter and sequins. And it's kind of blobby. It is like the most synthetic fake bouclé ever.

But somehow in this little hole in the wall store in Montreal last summer, shopping with the PR crowd, it yelled at me to buy it. So I did. And then it sat in a pile in my sewing room, telling me that it would make a really nice and versatile cardigan to wear with an understated and rather plain dress. Or with jeans and a dark T-shirt.

So I paired it up with some plain dark navy cotton and linen woven. And I made a dress too.

Both patterns are OOP. The jacket is Vogue 9548 which dates back to 1996. I made the sleeveless dress way back before blogging was a thing.

I thought it had definite potential as an unstructured jacket in a not terribly stretchy knit. The sleeves have a darted cap and attach to the cut-in arm holes without much if any easing. I thought I might have to adjust but no, they are quite perfect.

I used the cotton-linen to face and stabilize the front and neck openings. No interfacing. I had to make a facing pattern because the dress is designed to be fully lined to the neck edge. I didn't sew the darts but instead took in the princess seams somewhat at the waist. Easy.

The dress is Simplicity 2927, an OOP Project Runway pattern. I modified it so that the pockets are inside the curved princess seam rather than patch pockets. MUCH nicer.

The only fitting adjustment needed was to take in the side seams above the waist and let them out a tiny bit at the hip.

Oh yes, it has some glitter on it too, and a single matching gold button.

The trim is a curious product from the stash of a local sewing friend who told me she had just the thing to accent this plain dress that would be paired with the flashy jacket. It's a pre-made lamé bias trim, just 1/4" wide, and it's fusible. It stuck to my fabric like nobody's business, and I really hope it doesn't come off in the wash because piercing it with stitches (even in invisible thread) undermines the liquid metal effect.

Apparently it's intended to be a trim on quilts. My friend got several packages of this interesting stuff (plain package) at Dressew in Vancouver for the princely sum of $0.99 (CAD) each. Elsewhere it sells for $18.00 (US). [AARGH "washable when sewn in place"...]

This is why, if you are ever in Vancouver, you should get yourself to Dressew if you possibly can. Take cash and make sure you have plenty of time. Go directly to the basement. You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Where was I?

Update: That Bionic Gear Bag. I made another one. I modified it so all the pockets are the same size and the same height. This simplified things, and thankfully I did not have to consult the pattern at all.

My original bag works for all my hand knitting supplies that formerly lived in a motley collection of plastic zip lock bags. My second one is dandy for my machine knitting tools. I hope never to have to make another, but won't rule it out. They are super useful.

Update: Speaking of machine knitting, I got a bulky (9mm) gauge machine with a ribber and now I am pretty sure I do not need any more knitting machines. This of course does not stop me from compulsively watching the local on-line ads, since that is where almost all of my machines came from after all.

Acquisition of this machine, a Singer 151, sent me diving into my stash in search of suitable yarn. Never mind that it is the beginning of warmer weather (we can hope) and thick, woolly sweaters are not necessarily seasonally appropriate. I rediscovered some mohair yarn and made myself a cardigan. It was fun! It involved hand manipulating stitches on the ribber and main beds to make the lattice stitch pattern.

The design is sort of my own. I actually bought a pattern (Ravelry download) but ended up mostly abandoning it because (a) my gauge was slightly different, (b) I needed to knit separate pieces with seams and (c) it had no helpful schematics so I couldn't easily figure out the shaping for the raglan seams. It worked. If I do this often enough, I'll learn to trust myself and stop spending $$ on patterns that don't help much, right?

Update: Sewing. I am doing some. I got a new sewing machine. It's a Pfaff quilt expression 4.0, the first generation of the gigantic Pfaffs from (I think) 2008. This machine has a 10" harp, lots of light, a 9mm stitch width and 222 built in stitches including 11 different buttonhole styles.

I thought it would take me a long time to get used to the fact that the foot pedal lowers the presser foot (it has a knee lever to lift it up) and that I wouldn't like the auto tie-off feature. However I have adapted really well to these modern features and am really enjoying sewing on this big beast.

Its first project was Bionic Gear Bag the second and I think it made the construction easier because I could use both hands to position the project.

Currently, I'm working on a dress. It's a pattern I purchased back in the days when I was a mad keen watcher of current patterns and had ready access to all the brands. The pattern is Simplicity 2927, a Project Runway dress/tunic pattern.

I think this looks like a nice and easy dress to wear for summer and I sure hope it fits. I threw caution to the winds and cut it right out of a length of navy blue cotton/linen blend from stash. I am going to make a cardigan jacket to go with it out of an interesting sweater knit I picked up in Montreal last year.

One of the dress variations has piping at the edges of the round yoke, the keyhole and princess seams. A friend of mine whose stash is even bigger than mine offered me the perfect trim - it's a narrow pre-made and fusible bias trim intended for quilting, and it's some kind of metallic gold fabric. Time will tell if I need to tack down the edges. I have some invisible thread and can use one of the 222 stitches on my new machine to just catch the edges, but I'm reluctant to interfere with the perfection of the apparently liquid gold trim if I don't absolutely have to.

At left is a peek of the dress in progress. I decided against trimming the princess seams. Less is more, dontcha know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Love-hate relationship

Zipped closed
I made this bag. It's the "Bionic Gear Bag" (pattern available on Craftsy). I cannot remember where I first saw mention of the bag, but it looked super practical. As I accumulate stuff, and especially stuff for my growing collection of knitting machines, I could really see the benefit of being able to put all the tools and little bits for all my machines into one bag that would allow them to stay organized yet be easily accessible.

As usual, the stash coughed up every bit of fabric, interfacing, batting and the zippers needed to put this together. I made it from quilting cotton on the outside and a mystery light twill fabric for the inside pockets. I can't see the advantage of a busy interior for a bag that's being used to store lots of small items. Neutral seemed better, although some of the fabric combinations possible with quilting cottons are pretty cute. I chose some random zippers from my extensive collection.

Loaded for sewing
So the bag is terrific. As advertised, when unzipped it stands up very nicely all by itself with its "tray" at the front for the stuff you need at the moment. The pockets (4 zippered pockets and 4 open compartments of different sizes) don't flop closed and are also very easy to access. When you zip it closed, everything is nice and compact and secure. There is no need to be worried about things falling out or getting out of their compartments, even if the bag gets turned upside down.

Loaded for machine knitting
It's big enough (approximately 10" or 25cm side to side and 4.5" or 11cm deep) to hold all kinds of things (like my Kai shears or all the rulers and scale sets from my knitting machines). It is sturdy enough to hold substantial items.

So what's not to like?

Well, it's the pattern.

Downloaded PDF patterns by indie designers are a great idea but they require no expertise in pattern writing, and no discipline re keeping the document short yet complete.

This PDF has 82 pages! It isn't a pattern, it's a novella.

In fairness "only" 37 of these pages relate to the bag shown in my photos. The other 45 (!) are devoted to the task of explaining how to construct a little zippered pouch. I haven't yet managed to work up the psychic energy to assess how a little zippered pouch could possibly be such a complicated project.

There is one (1) page out of the 37 that describes the pieces and materials, and one (1) page that has an actual pattern piece on it, which you can photocopy and use. The rest of the document contains pages with many words that fail miserably, in my opinion, to accurately and completely describe the task at hand, and a number of photographs that are not all that clear (busy fabric, awkwardly cropped/posed and unlabelled) so do not actually help all that much.

There is not a single drawing of this bag in the 37 pages. Not a single schematic, cross section or other graphic that would allow you to avoid reading the many many many pages of many many many words. Nothing to give you an actual overview, either of the thing you are making or of the document.

And so much extraneous verbiage is on offer! I absolutely do not need to know about the designer's pet peeves or favourite sewing notions. I don't want to be asked if I am "gettin' excited yet" after I complete a sewing task.

And really, what is the point of a "tip" about prewashing that starts:
Personally, I never do it. (Oh, did I say that out loud?!?!) But that said, while working on the "fox" themed example for this one, omg, I wish I had. It shrunk terribly when I just misted it to press it. I watched it shrivel before my very eyes. Note to self: maybe stay away from this brand of cotton in the future! 
Get an editor!

I am not the first person to point out that this pattern is (to put it mildly) not well written. In fact it's so bad that someone (not the designer) posted YouTube videos "translating" the pattern so it can be understood. There are some videos on the designer's website but they are not helpful. Like the pattern, they contain too much detail (how to find the centre of a piece by folding it in half and placing a pin - wow), and not enough actual information.

If, unlike me, you don't mind watching about 2 hours of video so you can work out how to make the thing you bought a pattern for, go ahead. Here's the link to Part I of the Sewalong. I watched enough of it so I could understand the gist of what I was supposed to be doing in putting together the pieces for the innards of the bag (the zipper pockets and compartments assembly). After that I was able to wing it with occasional searches of the PDF.

In short this pattern caused considerable frustration. But I love the finished bag. I may even make another one.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Coat of many colours

The photo at left is reasonably accurate in depicting the crazy colours in The Sewing Lawyer's recently completed jacket, and she likes all of them!

The jacket doesn't go with everything in my closet, but there are quite a lot of choices.

To the right, here it is with my new grey pants and a teal sweater (which is however hiding from view under the buttoned jacket).

Aubergine top
Or how do you like it with an aubergine wool top (Jalie 2682) and the same pants?

Or we could go with a dress. My new grey one, from BurdaStyle (August, 2012), is a natural.

Grey dress
Or a black dress (BurdaStyle, February, 2012).  I even tried it with a bright turquoise dress (Burda, February 2012).
Turquoise dress
Black dress

I do like what the crazy stripes do in the back.

It occurs to me that there is a hole in my wardrobe that could be plugged with a new pair of dark navy pants. You may not be surprised to learn that there is a pant length of such fabric in The Sewing Lawyer's stash. And something in a nice cherry red... So many possibilities, so little time!