Sewing with friends

Long time, no post, sorry. I wish I could say that Vogue 8997 dress was done, but umm, well, it’s still in pieces. Some pieces, not even all of the pieces. I need to finish cutting it out, and well, I ran out of motivation last weekend. One might even get the idea I don’t want to make this dress given how I’m dawdling about making it. On the plus side, I made a second bodice muslin and am really happy with the fit.

Oh, PicMonkey, why did I have to find all of your cool effects today? I don’t think muslin pictures on Trudy need to be this tarted up…

In the meantime, I had my best friend over for working on skirt projects for which we bought fabric back right after New Year’s. I discovered that I don’t wind great bobbins on the new machine thus far, but I’m hoping that with adjusting the metal piece by the side, that it will work properly. So far, too much of the thread builds up at the bottom of the bobbin being wound and then wraps around the spool pin making a mess. Anyway, we had started our projects back in February by tracing out our patterns from my BurdaStyle back issues and cutting fabric that day. I had shown her  my method for marking simple darts (totally taken from a video on the Threads website) and then everything was put aside to linger in my sewing room unsewn. I will even confess to having thought about making mine, but decided that was defeating the purpose of working on the same type of project simultaneously. Yesterday, we dug up the pieces and started assembling. The instructions in the Burda magazines are pretty useless for a newer sewist as they were very terse, so I went with my basic order of construction. Make the front, make the back, test for fit at the side seams, finish. Well, the back of my friend’s skirt has a bias draped piece at the bottom, so I decided we should start with the back piece. The darts were easy and then immediately onto the zipper. My friend is not a fan of sewing zippers and wanted to know if we could do it later, so I pointed out that zippers are way easier when dealing with flat pieces. For my own projects I put in zippers as soon as possible as those seams aren’t ones I will use for fit, and as I don’t like sewing them in, better to get it done as soon as possible so to get to the fun sewing. I just wish that pattern directions would catch onto this idea. Her wool is a pretty loose weave so I had the foresight to show her about stabilizing the zipper area with interfacing. Of course, I totally failed at remembering to finish the seam allowances, so we’ll have to figure that out tomorrow. Then she sewed the bias piece on, leaving her with the completed back piece. The front is just two darts on a straight skirt, so finishing the project should take no time at all.

Isn’t the drape on that bias piece absolutely lovely? I’m seriously coveting her skirt, but don’t tell ::shhh::

As she’s more of a beginning sewist, I’m really excited that she’ll have a garment worthy of wearing in a professional environment, while showing that making nice clothes that fit doesn’t have to be daunting. That’s one thing I love about skirts. They tend to be so forgiving fit-wise and construction is usually easy. I have made my share of goofy cotton skirts for summer, but they look no different than the ones I used to buy for myself before I started sewing. But really, what I love is that, so long as an appropriate fabric is chosen, there are no obvious tells that your skirt is handmade instead of store-bought. And when I first started getting serious about sewing my own clothes, with all of my tops looking slightly off, my dresses made of quilting cotton, and pants flat-out unthinkable, making a simple wool skirt that blended in with everyone else’s clothing was confidence boosting. I wore that poor skirt out, and the matching one I made in denim, but knowing that nothing I could buy was any better made than what I had made kept me going through the projects that failed or that didn’t fit like I wanted. Eventually, my skills with other garments started catching up, and now I’m making things that were unthinkable to me in 2006, but it all started with skirts for me. I don’t know what my friend’s sewing journey will look like, but at the very least, I’m glad to get to be a part of it. Besides, fabric stores are way more fun with someone else to shop with ::grin::


Dress muslin-ing

I’m finally working on Vogue 8997. Who knew I would need to prod myself into starting this project? I love sundresses and don’t have enough, so this should naturally be a home run, right? This is when I have to confess that I sometimes don’t like dealing with pattern alterations. I don’t like being reminded about my soft midsection, and I favor clothes with a close fit through the waist. Normally, no big deal, size 10 for my shoulders, full bust adjustment, use size 14 below the armscye and I will get my preferred fit. This pattern however is one with the different cup sizes, which means that I don’t have to do the FBA, but I’m a little more lost as to whether a size 14 will give me enough room since I’m not adding the extra myself. That means muslins, and I don’t like making muslins. I really only make them when using expensive fabric and for evening wear. So it seems a bit like overkill for a dress that I’m making with poly/cotton broadcloth bought on sale from Jo-Ann. Nonetheless, I traced out my bodice pieces onto the muslin, cut them out, assembled, and put in a zipper. Side note, the invisible zipper foot is AMAZING. I’m pretty good at putting them in with a narrow zipper foot, but this was so much easier. Anyway, the fit was surprisingly good, all considering.


Trudy does a reasonably good job of emulating me here, showing the same problems I saw in the mirror. The back gapes, and I don’t know how to fix it.  This is a usual problem for me, and I’m not sure how to solve it.  In addition, the shoulder seam sits a hair further back then I think it should. The fit at the waist seam is good, though I’ll only have an inch of wearing ease instead of the four that it’s drafted for. I may add room to the side seams only and hope I don’t mess up the angled seam lines on the front. For whatever reason, the left princess seam looks wonky. My husband commented about it when on me, and I’m pretty sure that Trudy does not match my bust exactly, so I think I screwed up sewing it? Regardless, I will need to shave a bit off of the left side, but not the right, which fits beautifully. I took out a half-inch on each piece’s shorten/lengthen line, whereas I normally do it through the armscye. As such, the raw edge below the arm is where I’m going to want the seam line, so I’ll be raising that.  I stitched along the edges so that I would have a better idea when the finished edge will be I’m done.  I turned under the front and back necklines because it was easy and so I would know how much coverage the dress will give me.

One thing I tend to forget with V-neck dresses is properly stabilizing the neckline, and the muslin is already wavy. Whoops. At least I have stay tape these days, and I’ll definitely be applying it as soon as possible after cutting into the real fabric. Speaking of which, I don’t know which fabric I’ll be using.

I picked up both of these at the same time and have 4 yards of one and 5 of the other, so plenty for full-skirted dresses.

Say hello to my new friend

So my old machine, my trusty Elna 2130, doesn’t work anymore. The technician made a great effort, but alas, it’s kaput. Part of me says this is what I get for having my head turned, however briefly, by that Babylock weeks ago. Well, that and never oiling it, and turning the hand wheel when the needle would get stuck instead of taking the needle out of the bar, and well, lots of use. It had been loud for years, and started skipping stitches recently, so I knew the timing was off, but I think I was content assuming that my machine situation would never change.

Look what followed me home…

Hearing that the tech couldn’t make the machine run good as new again was honestly a shock to me. I moped for far longer than a mere sewing machine deserved, but it was important to me. My husband got it for me as a Christmas present back in 2005, when I only had a box of patterns from my grandma and a single box of fabric from her stash. I had briefly messed around with sewing right after getting married, but my mom’s hand-me-down Singer was AWFUL (sorry, Mom, but I hated working with it) and once we bought our first house, home improvement projects took over all of our free time. However, by late 2005, I must have made enough noise about how much I would like to take up sewing again that my sweetie went through trial by fire to get me a machine that I would like. Why trial by fire? Imagine a twenty-something man walking into your average sewing machine dealer wanting to buy a gift for his wife. He knew that I wasn’t interested in quilting or embroidery; and what fit our budget and inclinations was a simple mechanical sewing machine. Needless to say, that’s not precisely what the various dealers were interested in selling. He still points at the Bernina dealership whenever we (infrequently) drive by it, muttering about the crazies running the place, that’s how poorly he was treated. However, he somehow managed to get me the exact machine I would have bought for myself, that mechanical Elna with a one-step buttonhole.

I was really bitten by the sewing bug when shortly thereafter I was pregnant with our first child, and I decided I would make some maternity clothes instead of buying them. Looking back, I cringe at their quilting cotton fabrics and awful fit, as I didn’t know about full bust adjustments; but I really liked those dresses, and they were certainly better and more colorful than my Navy maternity uniforms of awful khaki polyester that I was stuck wearing for the work week. Frustrated by my inability to set in sleeves without weird gathering, I found sewing blogs and Pattern Review, and my sewing got so much better. After leaving active duty and becoming a stay at home mom, I started giving my machine a workout. I made Halloween costumes, jeans, ballgowns, and everything in between and enjoyed every minute of it. One kid broke the extension table, another lost the automatic buttonhole foot, and I discolored the plastic with a faux suede that shed dye just looking at it. I showed my husband how to use it and he attached countless Velcro patches to his flight suits, and my sewing machine did it all with little complaint. No, it wasn’t the fanciest machine out there, but it was just right for this household.

Yesterday, I realized I was not going to dawdle on replacing it. I love sewing too much, and out of my machines, it was my favorite. Briefly, I entertained moving the 830 into primary status, but it still needs servicing and I realized it just wasn’t the same as picking out my own machine. So I started looking online at specs for various machines, and what is available locally. I have a ton of specialty feet for Janome/Elna, and I like the build quality for the price. The first machine that I zeroed in on has the seam allowance markings set for the left needle position, which makes zero sense to me, and I know from experience that would piss me off. So I poked through manuals online, tracked down dealer locations, and cursed the lack of pricing information out there once you get past machines available on Amazon so that I could walk in knowing what I wanted to look at.

I decided to start at the Elna dealer, circle to Janome, and give Brother/Babylock a chance as a last resort. Elna had the machine I thought I wanted out, the eXperience 540, which is computerized, but without the weird huge touchscreens that I had seen with the Babylocks. The stitch selection process was pretty straightforward and after enough flipping through the manual, I figured out how to change the needle positions, stitch widths, etc. I had brought some different fabrics with me to try, from Ambience lining to denim. I even made a fancy looking keyhole buttonhole through two layers of denim but I wasn’t feeling the 540. The tension wasn’t quite right and they only had the floor model in stock, and I was not going to buy that particular machine. So after investigating the differences between it and the 520, and not loving either, I on a whim asked to see the 3230. My poor salesperson. The Elna dealer is primarily a fabric store and the usual sewing machine person was out, so I roped the guy from the home décor department into helping me, and since the store just moved, everything in the machine department was still in boxes. So we set it up, and I sat down to sew. It was magic. Auto tension, seam allowance markings out past 1.5 inches, needle up/down, a reverse button that was easy to find, and lovely stitching even on my Ambience swatch, which shows every flaw. I tested the straight stitch through four layers of denim and was pleased with how easily the machine went. I tested the buttonhole through two layers to compare it to the sample from the 540, and honestly, it was nicer. So no, I don’t get three different buttonholes, but I have the Singer 401 for those; this machine and I clicked.

Look at that awesomely dated font on the front. This model needs a cosmetic overhaul, stat.

I honestly overlooked this model when going through Elna’s website as it’s picture there is fugly orange and looks weirdly top heavy in the picture. I’m glad that I tried it as it’s exactly what I’m looking for as a garment sewist. I did idly wonder while waiting to ring up if I should have tried more than one dealer, but really, I fell in love. I just hope that I keep feeling the same way as I rack up the years on this machine too.

Win some, lose some

I keep saying I’m going to make a dress, and I seem to keep finding other projects. Yesterday I was positive I was going to muslin Vogue 8997, but after finding everything to start making that happen, I realized I didn’t want to deal with fitting, I just wanted to operate a sewing machine. Fortunately, I happened to have a pair of shorts hanging around now for two years that I was able to finish up.


These are Simplicity 1879, a Lisette pattern now out of print, which I have made once before. That pair, which is stretching the definition of wearable muslin, cannot leave the house. They are scandalously short; and since I used some junky stretch cotton sateen on them, they telegraph every lump, bump, and underwear line I have. Not a good thing. However, at the time, I clearly liked the pattern enough to alter it and try again with black linen. So when I rescued them yesterday from unfinished object purgatory, everything was basted together to test for fit, but no interfacing had been cut, and so I took the shorts back down to the individual pattern pieces. Sewing the seams and then serging the seam allowances went well, and soon I was just about back to where I started, but this time with interfaced yoke pieces and a regular zipper in hand. Oh yeah, for some reason, I got a bee in my bonnet around the time I started this that I would no longer use invisible zippers for side seams of shorts/skirts, and I was going to master the lapped zipper.


I referenced my 1970s copies of both the Vogue Sewing Book and Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing, and both of their application methods stunk. The Internet was almost a bust, but to the rescue came Kathleen Fasanella’s tutorial. Seriously, people, she is AWESOME. I would have saved myself some effort if I had done a better job the first time of reading through and topstitching the facings down, but once I did that and lopped off the excess facing for the side that laps over, finishing the zipper went really well. It was immensely satisfying to beat the top corners with the rubber mallet and I think everything is lying better as a result. My topstitching even came out okay, and I’m not great at that. I’m really proud of this zipper; I think it’s the best (non-invisible) one that I’ve ever put in.


From there, it was just a matter of finishing the waistband and the hems, and I was done. I was initially going to skip cuffing these shorts, but I didn’t like that look, so cuffed they are. For catching the facing, I prefer to stitch in the ditch, which was a nerve wracking experience with this project. The Singer 401A still has the original foot controller, and I’m used to the subtlety of an electronic controller and I can’t manage that with the Singer. Every seam starts at warp speed until I can slow it down while keeping just enough pressure so that the sewing machine doesn’t stop. Oh, and I don’t have a stitch in the ditch foot for the Singer, which increased the difficulty to just this side of too much. I have three walking feet, multiple rufflers, but no edging foot or quarter-inch foot. I still think it turned out okay.


Alas, one of my better construction efforts and I find it just okay once donned. Those cute pleats? Yeah, my thighs take care of that. I didn’t think about how they would look when confronted with my forward and full thigh. I knew there was a reason I’ve disliked pleated pants since I was a teenager, but apparently I needed reminding again. Even worse, I don’t know what is with all of the wrinkling in the front. After all, a girl wants every line on her shorts pointing at her crotch, right?

Sad panda

I can make the wrinkles stop, I just have to not stand like my normal self.

I would stand like this if I were saving the world, I think

Crazily enough, the back, which is usually the bane of my pants fitting existence, turned out pretty nice in my opinion. I remember adding to the back thigh and the back rise, but I don’t remember any of the other alterations I made to the pattern and I can’t find anything other than the yoke pieces.

Standing straight, not a strong suit for me.  Both of legs on the shorts are the same length, I swear

If I do find the rest of the pieces, they are going in the trash. I might try the top included in the pattern, but I do not need any more of these shorts hanging around. There are too many other good looking patterns out there to try instead.

Short knitting interlude

I wish I could say that I have been sewing up a storm this week, but I haven’t. I’ve been despairing about the (unknown) status of my poor Elna all week as potentially the gears are messed up and that would mean consigning it to the landfill, and I’m not ready to face that at all. So instead, I turned my attentions to my long neglected Wispy cardigan that I’ve had on the needles since last fall.


So close to the end, but so far from finishing, ahhhhhh! One thing I have learned about knitting is I stop caring about a project when I’m about two-thirds of the way through. The yarn is no longer exciting, the basic shape is there, and I’m tired of it. I want to be done but not have to deal with the actual process of finishing. There are people who don’t care about the finished product and just knit for enjoyment of the process. Who are these freaks? Much as with sewing for me, the process is a means to an end, and the biggest beef I have with knitting is the length of time involved in the process to get an end product that I want. I’m just about done with ball five of out of six for this cardigan, which means finishing up just in time for a sweltering summer where I won’t want to wear this.

One thing I have learned thus far is I really like the look of a thinner yarn for my knitting projects. Fingering weight just feels more right to me as opposed to worsted. No one could have convinced me of this when I first decided to start knitting, but like every hobby, there’s a learning curve. Anyways, off to enjoy my Mother’s Day bit of sewing time, wherein I think I’m going to make a new dress for the first time in a year.

Oh, Trudy, don’t you look scandalous? Put some clothes on.

Black ponte pants, take two

The pants I made two weeks ago have been working great for me, though I keep forgetting how much ponte wants to pill, especially on the inner thighs. C’est la vie, next time I’ll look for one with no polyester, but I don’t know that I will find that locally. However, with another two yard cut of black ponte, what to do? Clearly, make more pants!


This time I chose to make Vogue 1378, the Donna Karan knit pants with awesome seaming. Naturally, since these are black, no one will know just how awesome the seams are but me. Based on several of the reviews from Pattern Review, I chose to cut a straight 14 for these. Then I took a half-inch out of the front rise and added two inches to the back, which had to be done over two pattern pieces. I then measured the inseam, which is 34 inches. Even with an inch hem, these would have been too long and I didn’t want to just take length out at the hem so to not interfere with the flaring that happens at the hem. So I took out an inch just above where the two bottom pieces are joined, so only two pieces and their facings to adjust. Then I took a half-inch out of the thigh, above where the inset is, again trying to minimize the number of weirdly shaped pieces I was changing. Lastly, I slashed the inner thigh and added an inch there. That amount was arbitrary, as I know I need at least some of it, but I wasn’t sure how much. Needless to say, the back piece looked especially hacked up before I even got the point of fabric cutting.


I was just able to eke this out of my 2 yards of fabric, which shrank crosswise when prewashed. I’m happy that there were no scraps to speak of, since I’m not fooling myself that any leftover fabric will become useful. The pattern calls for tons of lapped seams, which I have never done before. I decided that the easiest way for me was to run a machine basted line at 5/8″, line those up when pinning, and use the basting as the guide for the actual stitching. I used yellow polyester thread for the bobbin, and gold rayon thread for the needle and dialed the tension all the way down. This worked pretty well, especially since it was easy to discern the bobbin threads afterward for removing the basting stitches. This pattern definitely gave my 1/4″ foot a workout as all of the lapped seams are then topstitched at a quarter-inch and the bottom opening over the foot uses three rows of topstitching. I love the effect, again, even if I’m the only one who knows about it.


The directions were very helpful for figuring out assembling everything. I won’t say that this was a fast project once I got to the actual sewing as I was taking the time to get everything as good as I could reasonably get, including ripping out my first attempt at making a lapped seam. However, this is a rare project where I enjoyed the process of making it as much as the final product, which is not my usual nature.

The big hiccup for this project is that halfway through, my poor Elna decided it was done playing ball. So at the moment, it’s sitting over at the Janome dealer in town to get fixed. Looks like the timing is off and the guy pointed out that my bobbin winder spins all of the time (it’s not supposed to), and it sounds rough like something is catching. Well, I did know that it didn’t sound great, but I hope to have it back by the end of the week good as new ::fingers crossed::. So I hauled out the Bernina since I was only doing straight stitches to see if I can find more affection for that machine. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s so quiet! It may never be my dream machine, but I’m not ready to Ebay it either.

Not too shabby on getting things to line up

Once all of the pieces are assembled to create a pant leg, it was pretty straightforward to finish construction. I managed to get that nice intersecting seam on the inseam in one go, so of course the second one was a mess and had to be redone. I really like all of the seams but will admit to have grown tired of having to trim all of the exposed seam allowances. I definitely did not clean up the ones on the interior as a result. I picked up a pair of applique scissors specifically for use with this project, and they helped out a bunch. Only once did I cause a small mistake where I trimmed off too much seam allowance and so had to stitch it back down.

The waistband was done again using Kathleen Fasanella’s method, though my first go, I was too conservative and made my elastic too big. At least redoing it was easy. Lastly, I decided to go with the blind hem called for by the pattern. That’s when I remembered that the Bernina does not do any zigzagging right now. Ugh. I did the hem by hand after allowing the pants to sit overnight. At the end of a project when I’m past ready to be done with it, I dislike doing any hand sewing even when it’s the right choice for a particular situation. Fortunately, a good night’s sleep readjusted my perspective and I hemmed these without complaint.


The back view.


Getting details to show on black is hard, and this is the best my meager photo editing skills can do

My only regret is that I think these ended up too short for wearing with heels, which would have looked awesome, but realistically I will get more use out of them at this length.