handmade chambray top

Chambray V-Neck Shirt

With each year that passes since I started sewing in 2013, I buy fewer clothes. It’s impossible to quell Inner Sewing Voice saying, “Meh, I could probably make that. Or something like it.” It’s annoying, because the truth is I absolutely cannot make every piece of clothing I see and like. Sometimes Inner Sewing Voice needs to be taken down a peg.

There are times, however, when I break form and buy something new. When that happens, I look for details that would be hard to replicate—nice hardware, a fantastic fabric, or intricate embroidery. One of the last blouses I bought is from Dot Fox, a boutique on Bardstown Road in Louisville. After trying on a few ill-fitting vintage pieces (vintage is not meant for tall people with broad backs and wide hips), I found a lighter-than-air, rust-colored blouse with pretty silver embroidery on the front and an interesting neckline detail.

The blouse, by a brand called Entro, has a center front seam and is lined in the front for added coverage. It’s made from a thin rayon-poly blend that’s soft and semi-sheer. I love this shirt! It’s different than a lot of the tops I own, and I wanted to take a stab at sewing something inspired by its details.

handmade chambray top

Enter my DIY, franken-pattered chambray top. After unsuccessfully trying to trace the garment (the crinkly fabric made it way too frustrating), I decided to use a couple commercial patterns as a base. I used the armhole, sleeve cap, shoulder, and back neckline of Vogue 8944, and the side angle of Tessuti’s Ruby top for the front and back side seams.

IMG_1682

handmade chambray top

Here are the design details I wanted to achieve:

  • Loose-fitting through the body
  • Center front seam
  • Sharp v-neck
  • Button closure or tie at neck

I eyeballed the V neckline and ended up having to pinch some fabric out near the neck. It was a pretty easy fix, but I’m thinking that to create a sharp, more severe V, I probably needed to cut off a smaller wedge on the front pattern piece.

handmade chambray shirt

To finish the V, I used this step-by-step Burda tutorial for binding a v-neck. After that, I finished the neckline with a wide piece of self bias binding, which extends into the neck ties. I can’t remember all the steps I took to finish the neck edge, but before the finished product, the binding was facing up like a sad little collar. The finished product lies relatively flat on my neck, so I’m calling it a success!

handmade chambray top

The ties are anchored with small sew-on snaps. I like the way they hang gently at the center this way. The snaps are also unassuming enough that I can wear the ties hanging loose or tie the ends in a loose knot. Whatevs!

handmade chambray top

IMG_1697

IMG_1703

I wore this all day with my handmade jeans, and it made for an easy, comfy outfit. I’m thrilled this sewing experiment turned out pretty well! Have you ever franken-patterned anything?

butterick b6207 knit dress

Quick and Dirty Knit Dress

Like the first sip of a tiki drink. Like jumping into Lake Michigan on a hot day. Like peeling off a wet sports bra.

Butterick B6207

Sooooo satisfying. That’s what it felt like making this super-easy dress after my last project: copying a pair of Levi’s. Butterick B6207 was exactly the palate cleanser I needed to get excited about sewing again. In total, supplies for the dress cost less than $10: under $2 for the pattern and about $7 for 2 yards of poly-spandex fabric. The JoAnn sales gods were smiling down on me that day.

butterick b6207 knit dress

butterick b6207 knit dress

butterick b6207 split hem

The pattern is labeled Fast & Easy—totally true, especially if you use a serger for the seams. I used a twin needle to hem the body and sleeves. The most interesting design lines are the split hem and the two-piece sleeve. My busy fabric camouflages the sleeve detail. :-/

butterick b6207 line drawings

Butterick B6207

Here’s what I’ll change (if there’s a) next time:

  • Color-block the sleeves, because what’s the point of that extra work if it’s undetectable?!
  • Double-check the neckband length. Obviously, stretch is a factor with knit neckbands, but the pattern piece is pretty long. My neckband sits fine, but I could’ve done with shaving 1/2″ off for a snugger fit.
  • Use a regular sewing machine for the side seams before finishing the edges. I serged the side seams together, and then realized that finishing the split hem requires two separate seam allowances. It was easy enough to unpick a bit of the serger seam, but I was left with a tiny seam allowance.

butterick b6207 knit dress

We took these photos in Palmisano Park, which is definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the Bridgeport/Pilsen area in Chicago. Aside from this giant hill (by Midwest standards, gimme a break), you’ll see a quarry, wetlands, and at least five dogs at any given moment. And there will likely be a drone flying around your head that’s being piloted by a small child. It’s pretty great.

 

homemade jeans

The Time I Made Jeans

I am no longer afraid of making pants. Am I itching to whip up another pair of jeans? Absolutely not. It takes for-ev-er. The denim you buy has got to be perfect. Topstitching is tedious. But I can honestly say that I enjoyed the experience of sewing my first pair of jeans. And they actually fit!

handmade jeans

handmade jeans

homemade jeans

handmade jeans

back pockets

Instead of using a jeans pattern, I decided to rip apart a beloved old pair of Levi’s that finally bit the dust. A couple years ago, Ingrid from We the Sewing wrote about copying ready-to-wear jeans. She totally inspired me (even if it took awhile for me to get around to the sewing part). She wasn’t kidding about how long it takes to rip out a bunch of industrial-strength stitching. I broke a seam ripper and jabbed myself in the fingers many, many times in the process.

After ripping the old pair apart piece by piece, I traced a pattern. I love the seaming details on the front pocket and back yoke, so I did my best to preserve the original design.

RTW jeans copy 2RTW jeans copyrtw copy 3

Throughout the sewing process, I referred to a couple of very detailed tutorials:

pocket stay jeans

homemade jeans zippertopstitching detail

front pocket detail

Excuse the lint—that’s the price you pay with stretchy black denim. The lining is an amazing Leah Duncan voile. Here are the construction details:

  • Used my regular sewing machine for the seams.
  • Serged raw edges.
  • Used marching regular thread for everything, including topstitching and decorative back pocket stitching. I wanted to conceal any glaring mistakes my first time around!

Here’s what I would do differently next time:

  • Buy a quality jeans button. Newsflash: The ones at JoAnn are subpar. (No offense JoAnn—your black stretch denim is pretty good.) That’s why you see this placeholder braided-leather shank button. Pretty? Yes. Sturdy? Hell naw.
  • Interface the waistband. The jeans stay up just fine, but it’d be nice to have a little more structure.
  • Research common fitting issues. This pair bunches a bit under the butt and at the knees. It’s not too bothersome, but I think I could eliminate some of the excess fabric with precise fitting adjustments.

After a project like this, I think it’s time to reward myself with some easy Mandy Boat Tees. Do you have any go-to palate cleanser patterns?

 

tamarindo, costa rica

Costa Rica | Hiking, Sand, Surfboards, and a Willow Tank

We hiked, we kayaked, we swam, we lounged, we drank tropical drinks, and we forded a creek in a Rav 4 (before the drinking, of course). We saw monkeys, iguanas, horses, a coati—essentially a Costa Rican raccoon, and SO MANY DOGS. And yes, I got hit in the face by a surfboard. (I’m fine.)

My boyfriend Marc and I spent a week on the west coast of Costa Rica with our friends Matt and Maddie. Before I barrage you with a bunch of gratuitous vacation photos, this is where we went:

  • Tamarindo. A pretty lively tourist town with a nice beach, though with a pretty constant flow of vendors hawking trinkets. There are certain sections of Tamarindo that almost feel like a sun-soaked version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The town is close enough to take a half-day trip to Rincón de la Vieja National Park, where we hiked and learned what a howler monkey sounds like up close (Hint: It’s terrifying).
  • Nosara. A small ex-pat town with an amazing surf break. It’s probably best if you’re an experienced surfer. (Ahem. This is where the infamous surfboard-in-the-face incident occurred.) It’s also where I’ve seen the most stars in my life. The beach is surreal and totally gorgeous at night.
  • Sámara. A chill beach town that fulfilled all of my greatest expectations of what a coastal city in Costa Rica would be. It’s full of tourists, yes, but it’s not in-your-face touristy. The vibe is much more laid back than in Tamarindo, save for the occasional group of wild horses fighting each other on the beach.

We stayed in Airbnbs throughout.

Tamarindo
view from our Airbnb in Tamarindo
sunset in Tamarindo
sunset in Tamarindo
sunset in Tamarindo
There she gooooooes!
tamarindo
At the beach-side bar that served us coconut water + rum, my new favorite drink! (Note to self: Stop taking photos with an arrow pointing directly at my hoo-ha)
Grainline Studio Willow Tank
Willow Tank, special Costa Rica edition
Willow Tank
~love dis fabric~
rincon-de-la-vieja
hiking in Rincón de la Vieja
old witch tree
posing in front of the home of an old witch
rincon de la vieja
We chased a waterfall, and it was slightly lackluster. #DrySeason
tamarindo
last day in Tamarindo
Lola's Beach Bar
Stopped off at Lola’s Beach Bar on the way to Nosara.
lolita pig
Meet Lolita, the owner of Lola’s Beach Bar.
imperial
In Costa Rica, Imperial is what you drink if you drink beer.
ouch
Surfbort face, Day 1
ouch
Surfbort face, Day 2
Let me explain: Marc and I rented surfboards from our Airbnb host in Nosara. He said that the waves were “totally fine” for beginners. I’ve taken one surf lesson in my life, in Puerto Rico. I loved it and was totally into the idea of surfing in Costa Rica.

When Marc and I paddled out into the waves on Playa Guiones, we quickly realized that we were in way over our heads, literally and figuratively. We were both about ready to head back to shore after being unable to paddle past what I’m going to describe as very large waves. Then, one final wave knocked me off my board and shot Marc’s board out from under him—and directly into my right cheekbone.

caipirinha
Nothing better than a cold caipirinha to ice your injured face. (P.S. This is face is a total put-on; it’s clinically impossible to be sad while drinking cachaça on the beach.)
It was embarrassing and painful, but it gave me an excuse to lie down, ice my stupid swollen face, and watch what turned out to be the most batshit ending to any Oscars, ever. Silver lining, y’all! A week later, the scratches have healed nicely, the swelling’s totally gone, and my shiner is slowly but surely dissipating.

Costa Rica
Taking a moment to give thanks to the monkey gods after our SUV made it through this standing water. GPS, you crazy.

coco-loco
This man LOVES tropical drinks. #LocoForCocoLocos
puppy
I WANT TO EAT THIS PUPPY.
Sámara Beach,
boat ride off Sámara Beach, right before we saw a bajillion dolphins
on-a-boat
mandatory group shot 😀
sunset
pre-sunset on the boat
sunset-samara
Sámara at sunset
I apologize for the lack of monkey photos. I was too busy screaming in delight whenever I saw monkeys jumping through the trees to even think about pictures.

Costa Rica was a total blast! But it’s nice to be home after a week of not sleeping in my own bed. And I hate to admit it but GOOD LORD do I love driving on 100% paved roads again. Chicago’s potholes got nothin’ on Costa Rican roads.

#PuraVida #LongLiveChicago

victory patterns lola dress

Lola Sweatshirt Dress

Form-fitting one day, baggy the next. I don’t discriminate when it comes to winter dresses. The Lola Dress from Victory Patterns is quite a departure from last week’s curve-hugging Neenah Dress. A girl can only feel like sausage meat inside a casing for so long before she needs to break freeeee!

loladresssvictory11

OK, that’s a little hyberbolic. Neenah’s not that tight. But this sweatshirt dress is straight-up slouchy in comparison. In this case, slouchy is great.

I made a size 8 and added 1 inch of length to the torso (per usual for me). I think this fits exactly how it’s intended, but I was expecting something tighter. Maybe that’s because most knit dresses I own/make are designed to schlurp me in at the waist a bit more. That said, I wore this all day at work and it was incredibly comfortable.

lola dress victory patternsI used a scuba knit for the body and some leftover black ribbing for the bands. The triangle detail at the neckline is the reverse of the scuba knit.

lola dress victory patterns

lola dress victory patternsSurprisingly, my favorite part of this dress is the gargantuan pockets. I love pockets on a dress, but honestly, I wasn’t sure about pockets that could literally hold a newborn baby.

lola dress victory patterns

Skepticism aside, I freaking love these pockets. It’s like having cozy mittens attached to my hips.

loladresssvictory10

Pockets are also great when you take photos in the frigid cold. No pain, no gain… I guess. Here’s to yet another fantastic design from Victory Patterns!

seamwork neenah dress

My Favorite Seamwork Pattern | Neenah

Here’s a quick summary of Seamwork for those with no clue what it is:

seamwork 26
From Seamwork, Issue No. 26
  • Seamwork is a monthly online sewing magazine ($6/month) published by the folks at Colette Patterns.
  • Articles includes profiles, Q&As, sewing advice columns, step-by-step tutorials, pattern styling tips, personal essays, homemade beauty product recipes, fabric advice, etc.
  • Each issue has a theme (Issue No. 26’s is “Back to Basics”) and includes two new sewing patterns (PDF only). The patterns reflect the theme and are designed to be relatively easy, fast projects.
  • Your subscription includes 2 Seamwork credits per issue. Seamwork patterns cost 1 credit, and PDF Colette patterns cost 3 credits.

It breaks down to a pretty great deal—if you actually get around to printing, taping, and cutting the patterns, let alone sewing the damn things. I love getting a shiny new issue in my inbox the first of each month, but I’m realizing that I rarely follow through with the actual garments. Right now I’m hovering at 15 Seamwork patterns in my library, with 20 credits burning a hole in my pocket.

It’s a lot like flight miles. I build up my Southwest Airlines miles and then, oddly, am kind of sad to use them, even when it’s for something totally rad like a vacation to Costa Rica.* Am I turning into a digital hoarder?!

This is all to say that I’m really glad I took the time to sew this Neenah Dress! It’s one of just three Seamwork garments I’ve made, the others being the Almada robe and the Akita top. I like my Almada robe, but I sewed it in the wrong type of fabric: an ultra-lightweight rayon challis that wrinkles like crazy. Akita turned out way too tight in the chest. I followed the sizing chart and made a 6, but I’ll size up if I ever try it out again.

But that’s enough about my misfires. I’m happy to say that I adore Neenah.

neenah-dress-neck-down-1

seamwork neenah dress

neenahback2

seamwork neenah dress

I figured the fit of this dress would be relatively forgiving, so I went with size small rather than medium. For reference, my measurements (36-29-39) fall between a 6 (U.S. small) and 8 (U.S. medium) for Neenah. Before I go on, I should mention how important it is to check your fabric’s percentage of stretch before making Neenah. The pattern calls for a knit with at least 25% stretch. According to the stretch gauge, my stable knit (I think cotton-spandex?) just barely made the cut.

I sewed up the body and sleeves and tried on the dress. Luckily, the body fit pretty great. Snug, but still very comfortable. As for the sleeves…

The were way, way too tight at first. It was like wearing a super-duper-tight long-sleeve compression shirt. NOT COMFORTABLE, hence the panel that begins about an inch from the underarm seam. The sleeves are still snug, but the additional fabric makes them infinitely more wearable.

seamwork neenah dress

neenah-over-shoulder

After the sleeve fiasco, I figured I’d need to cut a wider piece for the turtleneck to ensure it wouldn’t get stuck on my dome. I believe I added about 1.5 inches of width. It’s a tiny bit of a squeeze to get the dress over my head, but it’s not so tight that it rips off my makeup or musses my hair up too badly.

neenah-back-neck-down

I didn’t add length, which is rare because I’m 6’o” and have a long torso. Maybe the fabric pooling a little at my back is an indicator that I could’ve added length in the waist area, but honestly, I won’t change much if I sew this again. I might add another half inch on the sleeve, but that’s about it.

seamwork neenah dress

Neenah is a winner in my book, and it’s definitely the most wearable Seamwork pattern in my wardrobe. Do you have any Seamwork hits or misses?

*If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica, I’m all ears on tips. I’m going with Marc and another couple for a week at the end of February. We’re flying into Liberia, but everything else is tentative at this point. Let me know if you have any must-see spots!

best of 2016

Best of 2016

2016 was not a good year for celebrities or U.S. democracy. I’m not going to beat a dead horse about that one. The year 2016 was, however, a pretty productive year for me. I’ll get to my favorite sewing projects of the last year in a bit.

First, I’d like to start by saying that it’s been a good year on a personal level.

the boy
No, we’re not engaged yet. 💗 👫 💗

Beyond feeling settled in a new job, I’m feeling hopeful about the future.

When I was a senior in college, I had something of an awakening to my own anxiety and existentialism. I’d been busy my whole life with anything and everything I could pack into my waking hours: music, a bunch of sports, studying, babysitting, partying, attempts at dating, etc. When my volleyball season ended senior year, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

The unknown terrified me. For the first time ever, I wasn’t on a strict schedule. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, crippled with thoughts about what the hell I was going to do with my life. And those thoughts begot more thoughts about how I hadn’t spent enough time thinking about my future. Ever found yourself in a similar circle of doom? It’s exhausting. There were times when the fear and anxiety manifested itself in more tangible ways, making it hard to focus, have conversations, or even—at times—to move around. I was having a rough go of it.

I know now that those feelings were anxiety and depression rearing their annoying heads. This past August, after many, many months of promising myself that I’d start going to therapy, I finally took the plunge. And it’s been pretty great.

What am I doing? I’m trying to stop feeling guilty for needing some help. I’m trying to be more present in my everyday interactions. I’m trying to steer away from feelings of regret. And I’ve learned to like myself again. That’s saying a lot for someone whose default is humorous self-deprecation teetering on the edge of self-loathing.

Finally, I’m trying to let go of the idea that there’s one perfect path for my life. There’s a fantastic Hidden Brain podcast episode called “How Silicone Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck.” The episode centers around the idea that anyone can use “design thinking” to shape the way they live.

Design thinking is about recognizing your constraints, realizing there isn’t just one answer, and then trying something: “Building a prototype,” getting information from it, and then trying something else.

I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty here because you should listen to the episode, even if you’re not feeling particularly stuck. (Hidden Brain is a badass podcast.)

The point is, I’m realizing that I don’t “have” to do any one thing with my life. None of us do. I mean, we should conform to certain societal norms so we don’t get locked up, but there are no invisible rules or regulations controlling our actions, other than the ones we impose on ourselves. I know I’m getting a little heady here. Apparently that comes with the territory of self-examination and trying to better yourself. I’ll take it if it means feeling this much better everyday. 😊

That’s about all I can muster in regards to talking about my personal life, so without further ado… here are my five favorite garments of last year! (In no particular order:)

instabhlannadress

Anna Dress

The sewing world went crazy when Rifle Paper Co. released a line of fabrics—and for good reason. This wins for the prettiest fabric I’ve ever worked with.

hannahdressvictorypatternsbackshadow

Hannah Dress

I’m so glad I found Victory Patterns! This dress was a giant (but surprisingly easy) puzzle piece to sew, and it’s incredibly fun to wear.

IMG_0356

Cardamome Dress

Thanks to Cardamome, I now know how to use elastic thread to smock. This is easily one of the most comfortable pieces I’ve ever made.

negronishirtnewyorktimesstreetstyle

Bodybuilder Negroni Shirt

Still can’t believe that this shirt landed Marc on a New York Times street style blog.

20160320_171512.jpg

Color-Blocked Archer

Won’t stop, can’t stop sewing Archers. This shirt is a staple in my wardrobe, and people seem to really dig the double-blue color blocking.

There you have it. An unsolicited glimpse into my personal life with a sprinkling of pretty handmade clothes. Hopefully 2017 will bring some regularity back to my blogging schedule. ‘Til next time!