Some of my handmade clothes are total workhorses. An Archer that I wear once a week in the winter. Jeans that replaced a worn-to-shreds pair of Levis. My go-to house sweats.
This dress is not a workhorse. I made Nikko as a birthday present to myself so I’d have something to wear to my annual house party. And I love it. Sometimes, you’ve gotta make a dress that makes you feel like a badass, even if you know it’ll spend more time in your closet than on your body.
I should know better than to sew a dress the day of a party. You could write a mathematical proof showing that impulse sewing directly increases your level of stress. But sometimes (who am I kidding, A LOT of the time) your fabric speaks to you.
You have a serger now it says. I’m a thick, sturdy knit it says. You’ve already sewn this pattern twice it says. And so I listened. I listened and that meant I was sewing on a neckband and finishing sleeves and the hem barely 90 minutes before folks walked through the door for my birthday party.
It wasn’t all so haphazard, though. If I’ve learned anything in three-ish years of sewing, it’s that a little planning goes a long way when it comes to the finished product—and your sanity. Here are some tips for a speedy sew:
Cut out multiple projects at once. I don’t know how I had the patience to cut out several different projects in one evening, but I did and this ponte double-knit floral dress was one of ’em. If only I’d gotten to sewing it before the morning of the party…
Pick a pattern you’ve already used. I knew this dress would fit without much fuss, as I’ve used Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 8904 pattern four times now. A long sleeveless dress with panels, short sleeveless dress with panels, long sleeveless V-neck hack for Cruella, and now the short version with sleeves and no panels. (I’d link to it but the Vogue site gives a 404 error when you click through—it might be out of print…?!?!)
Choose a fast sewing method. Sorry French seams and Hong Kong finishes! We’ll meet again some leisurely day. I used my SUPER FAST WONDERFUL serger for most of the construction of this dress and used the sewing machine to anchor the neckband and sew the hems.
Don’t rush the finishing touches. Listen, I know that my hems look better when I use a walking foot. I know it. But I let my pre-hosting jitters cloud my brain into 1). using a regular foot and 2). not busting out the twin needle. I used a ballpoint needle (I’m not INSANE, y’alls) and a zigzag stitch, and my bottom hem turned out a wee bit wavy for my liking. Note to self: Take the extra 3 minutes to attach the walking foot and thread the twin needle. Le sigh.
Do you have any tips for speedy sewing? I’m all ears. And happy SPRING everybody! I’m embracing it with plenty of pretty florals and rosé wine. Actually, I drank rosé most of the winter, too. The gods of booze snobbery will have to pry my rosé out of my cold, dead hands.
It’s been churn and burn in my sewing world lately. I usually try to write a post fairly quickly after sewing something, but life’s been busy. Plus, lots of output means less time for blogging. But I’m here to remedy that today. Please forgive the garment and photo overload in this post! First up: the costume. Halloween is looming, and for once I’m not procrastinating. This year I’ll be dressing up as the most fabulous harpy to come out of the Disney empire:
Cruella de Vil. No, it’s not the most creative costume, but I’ve been itching to be Cruella for a few years now. I used Very Easy Vogue coat pattern V8930 to make the yellowish-cream “fur” coat. As in, I used banana-colored fleece for the body and faux fur for the facing/collar piece.
And, of course, the coat is lined in vivid red. I made a simple black dress using the base layer of V8904 (also sewn here and here), except I sewed a V-neckline. The shoes are Anne Klein pumps from DSW. I’ve gathered most of the other accessories (red gloves, cigarette holder, green earrings), and now I’ve just got to settle on a wig, maybe make a purse, and find a real or fake dalmatian puppy for my pocket. Are any of you attempting a DIY Halloween costume this year? Spill!
I’ve kept my sewing machine pretty warm with Halloween stuff lately, but I’ve also made some non-costume-related garments. When Grainline Studio launched the Lark Tee sewing pattern, I bought it immediately and planned a trip to Vogue Fabrics to get my hands on some knits. I didn’t hesitate to buy Lark because A). I don’t own a T-shirt pattern, B). Grainline’s drafting is generally spot on, and C). it’s infinitely customizable, with four neckline options (crew, scoop, V, and boat) and four sleeve options (long, 3/4, short, and cap).
For construction, I used a ballpoint needle, walking foot, and the lightning bolt stitch on my sewing machine. Each is a size 8. Here are the rest of the dirty details about my three Larks (and counting):
Long Sleeve with V-Neck
I didn’t have a twin needle handy when I finished the hem and sleeves of this shirt, and I kind of botched the sleeve hems with a regular zigzag stitch. Since I didn’t stabilize them with anything, they turned out wavy enough to be bothersome. Luckily, cutting the hems off and adding cuffs turned out to be a really simple fix. I’m a fan of cuffs on long sleeves, and I think I might treat all of my LS Larks this way!
I looooove the color of this fabric—a sturdy ponte knit from The Needle Shop in Chicago—but unfortunately it’s pilling like crazy after just three washes. I think I might start air-drying this bad boy to avoid any more damage. (It might also help if I stopped wearing jewelry with it :-P). As for the neckline, this was my first attempt at a V-neck. It’s not horrible, but it’s a little more rounded underneath the point than it should be. I fixed that with my second V-neck after reading Jen’s tutorial for the Lark sew along. Speaking of my second V-neck…
3/4 Sleeve with V-Neck
I know it’s kind of hard to see the V-neck detailing on black, but the point of the V is much prettier on this version. I folded the neckband strip carefully to get a thin line of white at the edge, and I like how that turned out. The neckline is anchored down with a twin needle stitch (finally replaced my broken one!). I also used the twin needle to hem the sleeves and bottom.
This fabric is probably the best knit I’ve ever bought. Its a bamboo-lycra blend from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston. At $16/yard it’s pretty pricey, and I hesitated to purchase it at first. But I’m glad I went with my gut, since it’s washed and worn beautifully thus far and remains buttery soft to the touch.
Short Sleeve with Scoop Neck
This particular Lark Tee is a testament to how differently patterns can behave depending on the type of fabric you use. I can’t remember the exact content of this cotton-spandex blend from Vogue Fabrics, but it’s definitely more structured than the bamboo knit. I think I could’ve easily cut a size down for this, and I might go back and take in the sides if the fit starts to bother me. Again, I used a twin needle to anchor the neckline and finish the hems.
This is a great basic T-shirt pattern to build your layering wardrobe. It seems like it runs a bit big, so definitely make a test version and go from there. I have pretty broad shoulders and a 36″ bust, and the 8 fits great around the chest. It falls into a looser shape around the hips, but that’s part of the design. I should also note that this thing is pretty long. I’m 6’0″ with a long torso, and I normally have to lengthen my shirt patterns (including other Grainline Studio patterns) by at least 1″. I didn’t lengthen these shirts at all, and they’re plenty long.
One of the benefits of moving is finding buried treasure. Nobody in their right mind enjoys the laborious process of packing, cleaning, and carting boxes, so I’ll take a silver lining wherever I can get one. This time around—my fifth Chicago apartment in three years—I stumbled across a few forgotten gems. In the bottom what I like to call my Second Hamper, the contents of which hadn’t been laundered in probably 10 months, I found this Madewell Indigo Ink Sweatshirt that I’d scored on super sale a couple years ago. Chaching! It was like shopping in my own (dirty) closet.
When it came time to pack up my sewing supplies, I discovered a few cheap-o patterns I’d bought during one of JoAnn’s pattern sales when I first started sewing. At first glance, these patterns seemed pretty dull: a boring tote, some simple A-line dresses—nothing to write home about. And then I found McCall’s M6654, an easy-level pattern designed for knits.
I know, it looks kind of boring. But I’ve been looking to add another skirt to my winter wardrobe, and this run-of-the-mill piece fit the bill just fine. The pattern offers semi-fitted and loose-fitting elastic-waist skirts in seven lengths, from mini to maxi. I went with the semi-fitted view and cut out a size 14 (28″ waist; 38″ hip) at length B. Luckily, I had everything I needed already in my stash: just enough french terry leftover from Marc’s Strathcona tee, and some leftover 2″ elastic from my Hudson pants, substituted for the 1″ elastic called for in the pattern.
This was one of the easier projects I’ve sewn in awhile, and that’s saying something since I’ve been whipping up relatively easy garments all year. I used a ballpoint needle coupled with a stretch stitch for the seams and a twin needle for the hem. The fabric is pooling a bit under the waistband, which means I probably could’ve gone one size smaller, especially considering the decent amount of stretch in my fabric. That said, the skirt was incredibly comfortable even after furniture shopping all day, including a multi-hour IKEA trip.
Since I sometimes have trouble deciding how to wear a simple knit skirt, I figured it might be helpful to show two different ways to style one.
The majority of the time, I’ll be dressing this skirt down, as I work in a very laid-back office and generally dress for comfort. Here, I paired the skirt with a tent-style long-sleeve top from Una Mae’s in Chicago. It’s got an interesting, flowing shape that skims the body and doesn’t compete with the semi-fitted cut of the skirt. Add some tights (a colorful pair would be cute) and a pair of casual boots, and this’ll take me anywhere from weekend shopping to the office to a dive bar.
Look #2 skews dressier. The elastic-waist design makes this skirt a good candidate to pair with an airy blouse. I tucked in a semi-sheer printed blouse and threw on a wide elastic belt for a little extra polish. Simple black tights and monochromatic suede booties with a chunky heel complete the outfit. I could see wearing this to work in a business casual environment, or out to a restaurant with two or more dollar $igns on Yelp.
Winter has been cramping my style lately. It gets dark at approximately 4 p.m. each day, making it impossible to snap blog-worthy pics without resorting to hideous artificial light. That said, I don’t want to jump ship from posting for the next four months, so this post marks the official lowering of my standards for photos. Sorry, y’alls, but it had to happen sometime. (I feel the need to confess here that 99% of my photos have been taken with my Samsung Galaxy S 3 camera phone…)
I haven’t had time to take proper photos of a couple items I’ve recently sewn (men’s Strathcona T-shirt and a super-easy knit skirt), so I wanted to share a few detail images of my favorite new finishing/hem technique: the twin-needle stitch!
Here, a twin stitch is used on the neckband of a nearly finished Strathcona tee for Marc.
Here’s the opposite side of the hem of a knit skirt.
Why was I so terrified of using twin needles for so long?! It turns out they’re just as easy to use as a regular needle (just takes an extra second the thread), and they provide knit garments with a hem that looks less homespun and more RTW professional. I’m excited to have this simple finish in my small but growing bag of tricks. How do you use twin needles? Any tips?
Stay tuned for sewn garment posts, and try to stay safe on the road this holiday weekend! We had a slight mishap on our way out of the Chicago:
This year, I’m thankful for my friends, family, and that we got out of that little accident completely unscathed. Happy Thanksgiving!
I’m not the best at Pinterest. In fact, I stayed away from it entirely for awhile. Why is that inspirational fitness quote next to three pictures of buttery, gooey mac & cheese?! Is this some kind of SICK JOKE?! Even after jumping on the bandwagon last year, I’m still more likely to be checking out the latest Pinterest fails than pinning and liking a bunch of pictures. That said, Pinterest does have its practical uses, one of them being my Sewing Pattern Crushes board. It’s only eight pins deep thus far, but it’s already served as inspiration and a reminder about cool patterns that may have slipped my mind.
The Hudson Pant is one such pin. Kelli of True Bias released this pattern in June, and I’ve been crushing on it ever since. I was drawn toward the modern tapered cut, contrasting details, and the possibility that I could, hopefully, make a pair of sweatpants that aren’t floods! I bought the PDF pattern ($10), printed it out, taped it together, and got to work. First up: a straightforward pair of bright blue pants with gray details.
I added 4.5″ to the length of the pattern at the adjustment lines, since the directions state that these pants are designed for a 5’5″ woman with a 28″ inseam. As you can see above, the pants are a little droopy above the calf band, so I made a note to add less length for the next pair.
Now to talk about something that all women deal with at some point in their lives: camel toe. Sorry to be blunt, but this is a common problem for folks with a longer-than-average rise. It’s not super obvious in the pictures (for modesty’s sake), but when my pants ride up onto my hips, which is an issue I have with every pair of elastic-waisted anything, the crotch definitely pulls a bit.
To try and remedy this issue for my next pair of pants, I utilized the lengthening technique described by Threads magazine to add 1″ total to the torso of each pant leg, but I’ll get to that patterned pair in a minute. All-in-all, my first go at the Hudson Pant turned out to be precisely what I needed: a super comfortable pair of lounging pants. I’ve been wearing them around the apartment every day since I finished them, so I’d say they’re a success! Even in spite of the slightly wonky crotch.
And speaking of a slightly wonky crotch, you can see that my abstract patterned pair didn’t fare 100% better, even with the 1″ crotch-length adjustment. I’m wondering if the Threads tutorial, which is designed for fitting jeans, just doesn’t translate to a knit fabric? Either way, round two of the Hudson Pant, in a pink and purple abstract knit from the Needle Shop, fits better than the first pair.
Instead of 4.5″ of length I added 3″, and I’m thrilled. They’re still plenty long enough without being overly slouchy. Throw in a cute pair of shoes and they go from casual to dressy-casual in a matter of seconds.
The seat of these pants fits well, a pleasant surprise since most sweat-style pants give you immediate frump-butt unless you have the Ass of Beyoncé.
And there you have it! One pattern, two very different-looking pairs of knit pants. They’re both ridiculously comfy and are an easy sew if you have a long afternoon to kill.
This will most likely be the last piece I post about before summer officially ends, so stay tuned for a wrap-up of the Summer of PDF Sewing Patterns. How did your summer sewing shape up?
I tend to gravitate toward prints. There’s something about sewing with a colorful floral, geometric print, or even an ugly-sweater knit that makes me feel happy. Plus, if I’m going to invest planning, labor, and money into an article of clothing, I want it to be more vibrant than something I can buy off the rack. The one-of-a-kind factor is part of what makes this hobby so gratifying.
Unfortunately, this obsession with bold prints means that I haven’t sewed many everyday wardrobe staples. I’m a creature of habit, and this summer the habit has been wearing the same store-bought chambray skirt roughly twice a week. It’s comfy, it goes with nearly everything in my wardrobe, and it’s weighty enough to stand up against the ridiculous Chicago wind. But I’ve put the poor thing through the ringer, so I figured it was high time to add another versatile skirt to my wardrobe.
I’ve already gone the bold-print quarter-circle skirt route, so this time I went for a half-circle in a black ponte knit from JoAnn. I used the trusty By Hand London app again for the waist radius and length measurements, but since I was working with a knit I also heeded iCandy’s tips about subtracting 2″ from the waist measurement before plugging it into the app. Keep in mind that the app adds in 5/8″ seam allowances.
I used a homemade twine compass to trace the waist radius and length, although that part was tricky since my tracing pencil kept dragging the knit fabric along with it. I ended up marking a series of dashes that I followed with my rotary cutter. Note to self: buy marking chalk! That’d probably be more friendly on a knit, right?
For the waistband, I followed iCandy’s suggested dimensions:
Length: waist measurement minus 2″ plus 1.25″ for seam allowance
Height: double your desired waistband height plus 1.25″ for seam allowance
The step-by-step construction of this skirt is amazingly easy. I don’t have a serger, so I attached my machine’s walking foot, inserted a ballpoint needle, and used a zigzag stitch for the seams. After stitching the back seam, I attached the waistband per the directions of the straightforward iCandy tutorial. After clipping the excess seam allowance and ironing the waistband, I hemmed the bottom of the skirt with a roughly 1″ hem. This isn’t technically required since it’s a knit and won’t fray, but I like a clean finish.
And that’s about it! It’s really a sewing 101 project, and an especially good one if you’re looking to break into the world of knits. I didn’t add a zipper since the material is stretchy enough to get on and off (gently) over my head, but I might try another version with a short zipper and see which is more comfortable. I’m a little afraid this material will stretch out over time, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world since that would just mean the skirt would sit a little lower.
It’s not an earth-shattering make, but it’s comfy, it fits great, and it cost under $7 total. Not too shabby for a new wardrobe staple. I’ve already paired it with my Colette Sorbetto crop top (pictured) and a tucked-in tee, and both are comfy.
What’s your most versatile piece of self-made clothing?