Wardrobe Assessment: Old and New Basics

This year, one of my personal sewing goals was to quit sewing with black. In fact, I said “No more black at all.  Period.”  When I started experimenting with sewing for myself, I sewed with black.  Black linen, black cotton, black silk, black dresses, black blouses black pants, black skirts, black black black.  Monotonous, but generally tasteful.

I also made a goal this year to severely limit the fabrics I buy, with the intention of learning to become a more thoughtful consumer (not to mention saving money).  Both of those goals helped teach me which colors work well for me, as well as how to combine them in a pleasing way.  When taken together, these colors look rather bright, but when mixed with my other clothes they make more sense.

I dyed some tencel-linen blend fabric blue recently using iDye.  (I also dyed the aqua colored voile pictured, to see what would happen.)  I played with this photo to show the texture of the fabric.

iDye is very simple to use.  I use it for many of my dye projects and find that it generally holds the color well. (Tip: Wash the fabric a few times after you dye it, drying between.  I wash with like color loads, it helps freshen the colors, too.  The dye doesn’t bother my washing machine, in fact it seems to clean all the gunk out of it.)

This 1930’s ensemble pattern finally arrived.  It was a sad, sopping wet little package on my rainy front step but luckily LanetzLiving knows what she’s about and the patterns were wrapped in thick airtight plastic bags.

I have a suspicion that this skirt might prove one of those excessively useful skirts I want to make over and over in different colors- a “new basic.”  Bonus- it fits on 1 yard of fabric!

The only change I’ll make is to add side slot pockets and either a super-high waistband or a contour band. It’s very long, reaching within 6 inches of the floor. Suggestions?

I know I slacked off uploading patterns over Christmas, I’ll finish out the sizes shortly.  Apologies if you’re hanging out for one, it will be there soon.

Shopping for 30’s Suit Patterns with a “Make Do and Mend” Surprise

I bought a jacket pattern.  Three, actually.  As much as I adore Robin’s jacket, I know my drafting skills aren’t quite up to scratch.  I just want to sew, not fink around with drafting gorgeously complicated lines and angles.

When I shop, I set out with a clear idea of what I want.  (Have you read Zoe’s timely post on shopping and consumption?)

I wanted a 1930’s suit jacket, smart and pert with clean lines.  The 30’s can be challenging to a modern eye, even if I like it.  Example:

I know I’m not the woman to pull that off, though it appeals to me.

Eventually, I discovered this treasure at LanetzLiving (20% sale on too, which cinched it):

Oh!  Oh!  OH!  I will make every one of these pieces, I have the perfect fabrics for each!  That blouse!  So 30’s, but I could so easily make it in a plain smooth batiste in one of “my colors” and it would work very well.  Note the jacket is neither double nor single breasted- what do you call that?  Finally, while the skirt looks relatively nondescript, I’d be willing to bet it’s one of those perfectly useful 30’s skirt patterns.

This was an impulse buy, albeit a long-considered one.  The past two winters, I wanted a tailored cape-jacket.  I’m one step closer.  This is my favorite cape-jacket in two years of looking.

(Stitches and Loops, great customer service)

After my pleasant experience with a 1940’s Advance suit pattern, I’m thrilled to add this to the queue.  Look at those long, slim lapels- and the same closure as the late 30’s pattern.  But wait, there’s more to this pattern:

I found (and printed) a leaflet from the war years called “You Have the Goods on Him,” all about making a woman’s suit from a man’s with conceptual advice and cutting layouts.  Like Zoe, I shop as a “hunter gatherer,” so now I’m on the hunt for a great big wool gabardine man’s jacket!  When I find a good one, I’ll be sure to share the “make do and mend” experience.  I wonder what color it will be?

Do you like the 30’s, or have any experience sewing from the era?  Do you know what those front closures are called?  Who are your favorite online pattern sources?

While I was finding patterns, I discovered this amazing page on the social history behind 30’s fashion.

Are Gauchos A No No? What About Chef-chos?

The Gaucho Tradition

I have a gap in my existing wardrobe.  I don’t have many clothes I can wear in public except nice work clothes.  I can “tone down” many work separates by mixing them with more relaxed clothing, but after a recent wardrobe cull I realized I need more casual pieces.  Most of my “not nice work clothes” have paint, bleach, worn out seams or are a weird half-wearable muslin from a failed design experiment.

That’s the point of my current wardrobe project– a collection of “nice casual” clothes with a few dressy pieces thrown in for fun.  Color, durability, and comfort trump any other considerations for this project.

Both of these fabrics sit on my cutting table, sliced to pieces and waiting for the needle.   I’m working with houndstooth, again!  This is a high-quality polyester and cotton blend, as far as I can tell from burn tests.  When my husband saw the fabric he said “Chef Pants.”

Not bad, but I had to think about the concept for a while: “Chef pants but not actually chef pants…”

Image from designofnewpants.blogspot.com- very useful style post on pants

I love wearing 1940’s style wide-leg trousers in the summer for a whole raft of reasons- so I decided to make 1930’s style gauchos.  The style works for me. I have a small child, which means I need to be able to get down on the ground without pulling my clothes out of shape or showing my rear.

I cut my new “chef-chos” and a red batik “Not-A-Tshirt” today.  The top is based on Burda 08-2009-117 without the ruffle- just a front and back.  No darts, no closure, no sleeves.  I thought the simple, comfortable cut would showcase the batik best.

I keep eyeing the two fabrics on my counter- I’m itching to sew them up.  First thing in the morning, I’m racing out to buy a new iron!

I’m interested to know if gauchos are currently “permitted,” and if anyone would like me to show how I drafted mine?  I used the width from some 30’s palazzo pants, and the hip-waist-crotch fit from my sloper.  Slanting front pockets, back zip, hip yoke.

Finished Object: Housecoat 1939 (Or, My Answer To The Snuggie)

Snuggie is the original blanket with sleeves, keeping you warm and comfortable and able to read a book, use a TV remote or enjoy a warm drink.”  -from the online snuggie store

Wow, I can be warm AND comfortable AND I can use my arms?  Strike me dead.  How did anyone do anything in a cold house and stay warm before the advent of the snuggie?

With housecoats.  Beautiful, ladylike housecoats.  Or in my case, a snuggly warm one I threw together as an experiment.   No front tie, I thought it might be overkill.  I scavenged the blue facing peeking around the CF from Lydia’s corpse.  I mean, skirt.  From her skirt.

Puffed sleeve head supported by net, but comfy enough for lounging.  In these photos, I’m wearing regular clothes underneath.

The skirt feels deliciously glamorous, even in purple flannelette.  I shortened the sleeves by 2″.

I suspect the back would fall in prettier folds had I paid more attention to the cutting.  Speaking of cutting, I paid a hairdresser to cut off the mess I made of my hair.  I don’t want to talk about it.

The back is fuller than the front, which is cut almost flat.   Hem bias bound.  I love my binding foot, it’s a breeze.

Can’t twirl in a snuggie.  What lifts the spirit like a good twirl?

I have a weakness for odd old-fashioned loungewear.  This will be the next in that vein; as much as I want to start it yesterday, I need to knock out some more quick utility sewing.  A minki tiger housecoat for my girl, hemp fleece lounge pants for the man, and I keep thinking I’ll venture into panty-making.  They’re outrageously expensive here.

Moderne: A Fresh Start

(Wearing History’s Moderne, sent to me free as a test-sew pattern. Though Lauren let me off the hook I’m not ready to give up just yet.)

After my recent break-up with the lilac cotton pique for Moderne, I wanted another crack at the pattern with more suitable fabric.  I already altered the pattern and put it together well enough to know I like the cut, so why waste the pattern work?  Lately, I find myself working on ridiculously complex projects to the exclusion of simpler sewing.  I might need to take my time on this Moderne, fitting it between lighter projects.

My tropical weight wool arrived last week.  The small person delighted in burrowing into its folds.  Check out the drape.  It’s soft against my skin, no itch.  I never worked with tropical weight wool and despite the name, I feared it might be too heavy to wear in this climate.

Now I have no doubt it will be light enough for year-round wear.  It’s gently slubbed and faintly luminous- like silk but not so flashy.  It’s also surprisingly wide, I may be able to eke out a little waistcoat or even a skirt in addition to the dress.  I crammed the wool into my front-loader, dumped in a cup of vinegar and washed on the wool setting.  Dried on the line and hey presto, beautifully pre-washed fabric with no noticeable change to texture or width.  I know I should have tried a sample before washing the whole shebang, but I have experience with my machine’s wool setting.  I will not hand-wash anything but hand-knitted items.

Tonight I needed a break from WW2 jackets.  Seriously.   So I played with my new fabric.  Here’s a 22mm self-covered button.  It’s a little blah on the gray.

I like the Chanel-style buttons in Claire Shaeffer’s book and after seeing Patty’s gorgeous coat with those delicious buttons, I wanted to try it out.  This is with the silk (shiny shiny silk!).  I suppose it’s a good thing I went through an outrageous black phase in my sewing.  I have a PILE of useful black fabric scraps (not to mention a wardrobe full of black separates, which mix so easily with everything).

The linen is subtler and the texture pleases me, so I’ll use linen for the button rims and buttonholes.

Zero problems with the buttonhole, I like the effect.  I wonder if I should make smaller cuff buttons, or just use plain black linen buttons on the cuff?  These buttons on the cuff would provide a real “wow” factor when I reach out my hand, but I’m not sure I want to make five for the body plus four more for the cuffs.

I tried every top-stitch on my machine with two different weight threads, then stitched my favorites on a curve to gauge the result.  The five from the furthest right were with a regular weight poly-cotton; the other straight lines were with a slightly heavier mercerized cotton top-stitch thread.  I think I like the lighter weight thread.  The french knot lines charm me, but the Husband said they remind him of Frankenstein.  They may be too heavy, and don’t look so great on a curve.  I’ll probably use the plain saddle stitch (second from the right).  As always, input is appreciated.

In the interests of science, I plan to throw the whole sample into my next load of darks and see what happens.  Will the buttonhole ravel?  Will the stitching warp?  How will the Armo-weft interfacing behave with the fabric when washed?  I don’t know, but I figure if I torture this piece of fabric to the fullest extent of my imagination, I know how I can handle the finished garment.  Maybe I’ll spill coffee and wine on it and see what happens.

Next time: WW2 Jacket the Second: Man Version.  It will all about how I discovered men’s bodies are shaped differently to women’s (no really!), what I realized I did wrong on the first jacket, and why cutting napped fabric when you need a nap yourself is a terrible idea.

Experiments In At Home Clothes, A Double Feature

Sometimes funny little ideas fester in my brain, and I put them on a back burner to simmer while I work on more pressing issues.  Occasionally the simmering ideas fizzle away (like my ill-advised crush on jodhpurs), though they usually persist until I call the idea into being.  Most frequently, my funny persistent ideas lead to comfortable (if over-engineered) house-clothes.  By the way, the person who says hourglass shapes can wear anything is full of it.  An outfit with no waist definition adds about ten pounds to my figure.

First, the top:

I made the normal bow-necked woven short-sleeved version, but my interest piqued when I saw the fabric choice for view 1- jersey.  This week I spotted some clearance rack striped viscose and decided to play around.  The front and the entire sleeve are cut as one.  The back connects to the sleeve and has a zipper closure from the back neck.  The side also has a zipper, and the front and back both have double rows of tucks.  I left out the tucks and the zips, as I was more interested in how the seams came together than in messing around with extra sewing.

Check out that underarm gusset.

I thought to make a sort of keyhole back with a button and loop at the top, except the button and loop looked weird.  I can wear this top front to back as well, it has an artsy-slouchy feel.

It was an interesting exercise, but I won’t wear it outside the house and I doubt I’ll play with this pattern again.  Can you spot the front shoulder darts?  I satisfied my curiosity with a minimum outlay of money and time, and it’s comfy enough to be useful.  Had it turned out fan-tab-ulous, I would be making it in a nice fabric.

The Pants– I made them of corduroy, blending my block pants pattern with the pants from my 1930’s beach pajamas.  By the way, I’m thoroughly disgusted to learn that palazzo pants are the “trend” for this summer.  All my pants are made that way.  Blast.

I like them; they’ll serve the office of sweatpants for me in the coming winter months.  I must find the time to slap in some welt pockets or a quickie patch pocket; no pockets is proving incredibly impractical.

The front crotch from my block pattern is so short, I had to take in the original beach pajamas’ inseam by 1.5″.  I lined up the grainlines and played with the two until it seemed right, then I traced off the combination of the two patterns.

By contrast, on the back my crotch seam extended past the original beach pajama crotch and I ended up extending the inseam.

I used gnomes and haircloth (nice and firm with good recovery) for the facings, and Hong Konged the heck out of the seams.  I used a decorative stitch so I could be sure I caught all the raw edges, and because it’s fun.  I laugh every time I drop these pants.  Invisible side zip.

No breaks in the fall!  My photos will be somewhat less incredible than usual because my ecologist husband went off on a research trip again.   Today Lila called the shots in the fading late afternoon sunlight.

Speaking of the husband, I’m working on the pattern draft for his jacket and documenting the process.  He requested a male version of my recent WW2 jacket.

I totally don’t blame him.   I’m entering the jacket in Pattern Review’s Lined Jacket contest.  The contests work best when loads of people vote, so please check it out.  Voting opens soon.  If you think I should win, please vote for me.  I’d love that.

What other crazy ideas are simmering in my head while I lovingly draft a jacket for an absent partner?  Check out my 1950’s Weigel’s dress:

The pattern and fabric came from two work colleagues, I’m itching to get started.

This is the Riverbends top from Anthropologie.  If my draft works, I’ll make this from a delicious slubbed ivory NZ merino.  If my draft doesn’t work, I’ll have another over-engineered house shirt from a crappy slubbed rayon.  Win-win, really.

It’s Not Me- It’s You: Breaking Up


Lydia and I haven’t spoken for nearly a week.  She kept her silence, but every time I passed her on my way to the sewing machine there she was in all her Lilac glory.  I couldn’t ignore her forever.

I kept putting off the “where are we going?” talk.  How could I tell this beautiful piece of dressmaking that I couldn’t see a future together?  What’s wrong with me?  What will Lauren think- she set us up together in the first place?

Finally, I knew I had to face my failure.  I poured myself a glass of wine, and then another.  She saw me and knew what was coming.   I put on a little Bunny Berigan from her era to set the mood.

“Lydia-” I began, but she cut me off.  She was always so assertive.

“I know what you’re going to say.  I’m not stupid.  You haven’t touched me for a week.”

“I’ve been busy, you know that.  I was sick, too.”

“Not too sick to cover that fluffy piece of corduroy with buttonholes and pocket flaps.”

I winced.  She’d noticed.

“Look Lydia, we knew what this was going into it.  An experiment.  We’ve had some great times together, but this isn’t working out.  I love so many things about you- your cut, your vibrance, your texture, your unexpected details.  But I’d be lying if I said I thought this was more than a fling.”

She said nothing.

“I tried to make it work, you know I did,” I insisted.

“Remember the alterations?

“Of course.  You were the first pattern I altered using my block.  I’ll never forget that.”

“Look at me.”  Up to this point, my eyes stayed fixed on the floor below her or on the wine in my glass.  “Look at me,” she insisted.

My eyes slid upward and filled with her brilliant lilac perfection.  For a moment, the whole world seemed dual shades of purple, the colors of the silk and cotton.  I caught my breath.

“Try me on.  One last time.  You owe me that.”  I couldn’t refuse and slipped her over my head, once more marveling at the way her tone compliments my own tones, how the asymmetrical cut of her bodice hovers smoothly over my flesh, and how the sleeves draw attention down from my bust.  I wavered.

“There’s so much good here.  We can’t just throw that away.” She crooned.  Just then, my eye caught the dreadful sleeve heads.

“Lydia, I can’t get past the sleeve heads.  They’re just not right.”

She switched and became spiteful.  “That’s hardly my fault, you’re the one who can’t set in a sleeve smoothly.”  At that, I reefed her off.

“I told you at the time, that’s never happened before.  I’m under a lot of stress.  I was tired.  How could you hold that against me?”

“Isn’t that what everyone says?”

“Listen, Lydia, I smoothly set in sleeves on a hemp jacket once.  Hemp.

“You’re so cruel to compare me to your other projects.  I won’t listen.”

“You will listen,” I said, needled by her remarks on my set-in sleeves.  “It’s not me, it’s you- your fabric.  That’s not my fault.  You’re the one who won’t give.  You’re the one who won’t ease.  You’re the one who wrinkles the second I touch you.  I should have known you were more suited to a breezy sundress or a straight-tailored shirt.  I’m the one who tried to make you into something you aren’t, but  I can’t keep pouring myself into you with so little return.  We rushed into this and I made a mistake.  Your fabric isn’t right for the pattern.”

Lydia sat silently for some time as I realized that in the heat of the moment, I hit the nail on the head.

“Could you try to salvage the skirt?” she asked at some length.  “Think of the front kick pleat- it’s so unique.  I know you want to watch it dance while you walk.”

“You’re right, I do.  I might finish the skirt.  I’m sorry Lydia, you’re headed for the ragbag.  You and I and the pattern don’t work together.”

She sagged silently; she knew it was over.  I tried to make the skirt work and realized I cut the right front yoke in the size 12, though the rest was a size 16.  I slapped in the bound buttonholes with all the finesse of a myopic baboon.

I plan to put the skirt together anyway and see what happens.  At any rate, it’s about $15 worth of fabric, which is next to nothing in Aussie dollars.  Now that I finally decided to give up and analyzed why it didn’t work out, I feel light.  I feel free.  I feel ready to start over.

Meanwhile, I still want this dress.  I know the pattern and construction inside out now, and I want a dress to show for it.  After some cruising around Fashion Fabrics Club, I noticed a few lightweight wools which might fit the dress better.  I don’t blame the pattern or my sewing skills, I think I was trying to make a silk purse from a hog’s ear and this time it didn’t work.

One of these might work better.  A completely smooth, plain fabric wouldn’t be right, I’d be back in Deco Star Trek territory.  With a subtle pattern in a color which flatters me, this will be a very smart work dress.  Especially if I steal Patty’s insanely gorgeous tailored buttons.  It could become something Miss Lemon would envy.

( Miss Lemon, from an era when women could be fashionable without compromising dignity.)

I’d love fabric input.  My husband overheard some of my conversation with Lydia and said I should just go ahead and buy the right fabric for the dress.  It’s always nice to be encouraged to do something like that.

Edited to add:  I shopped, slept on it, and then this morning bought this gray tropical weight wool:

It’s so scary to buy fabric online, but I think this will do.  Black silk accents and stitching?  I think so.

Moderne: We have sleeves!

I’m making this dress- Wearing History’s Moderne, View 1.  This style is not for the faint of heart, nor is the construction.  No one ever accused me of shrinking violet syndrome, so here we are.  I finished the sleeves today and attached them.

At this point, I said sayonara to the archaic 1930’s instructions which tell you to make four more bound buttonholes, join the sleeve seam, then attach the facing and topstitch in the round.  I preferred to do it flat, even if that means that the sleeve/facing seam at the wrist won’t be enclosed.  Somehow I’ll get over it.  I also chose to make “hand worked” style machine buttonholes as I have no interest in tiny bound buttonholes.  Yes, it would be a pretty couture touch in a plainly visible area but if I got caught up in making buttonholes I wouldn’t finish the dress til sometime around Independence Day.

I am the type of sewist who likes to sit in front of my machine and sew.  That’s why I put in so much prep work on big projects.  I honestly can’t figure out how it happened, but the front of my sleeve head had WAY too much ease.  I played and trimmed and steamed and somehow managed to set the sleeves.  I haven’t had this much trouble with sleeves in a long time, I can’t blame the pattern because I re-drew the sleeve heads myself.  I’m not thrilled with the result, but I can live with it.

Speaking of fiddling while sewing, I had to re-cut the collar a few times to get the right length.  I like the copious top-stitching which makes it stand up stiffly.  Between finishing the collar and attaching the sleeves, I tried it on and worried I made a huge mistake- I looked like the commander of the Art Deco spacecraft from the future.

I’m less worried now, though I can tell I made a poor fabric choice.  This is a tailored dress.  I like tailored dresses, but they require a fabric which eases well.  I dyed this cotton pique and the silk accents using a larger than usual dose of sodium carbonate as a fixer.  I suspect the sodium carbonate somehow stiffened the fabrics, though I washed them normally after dyeing.  This pique has the texture of a paper napkin and will not ease.  I plan to soak the whole thing in some kind of fabric conditioner or a sodium bicarbonate solution after construction, in the hopes it will soften the fibres again.  I would never have bought the pique were it this stiff in the shop.

I’m really, really excited about the sleeves- they’re completely unexpected.  I want to make this dress in the future using a lightweight wool or a silk, something smooth and buttery that responds to steam.

I had thought to use a CF zipper.  No matter how I approach the problem, I can’t figure out how to make it work.  I’d use a separating zip, but the side front skirt yoke would have to be attached to the waist seam, rendering my efforts laughable.  I ripped out the side seam almost to the armscythe and it’s easier to wriggle into now despite the long tight sleeves.

The skirt and lining may weigh down the bodice sufficiently so it hangs the way I wish it would.  I plan to flatline the skirt pieces with dark blue cotton voile.  Fingers crossed!

I’m working on the skirt draft to go with the Demilitarized jacket, I dug deep into Golden Section principles and I’m really excited to show you what I came up with.

Moderne Update: Bodice

This is notes to self, I can’t write much or I’ll lose sewing time…

Binder Foot and black cotton bias tape to bind the edges of the front facing.  It takes a little getting used to, but it’s worth learning.

I like to use a decorative stitch to attach the binding because it’s tough and pretty.

3.0 stitch length, 5.5 needle position, 50 wt silk-finish mercerized cotton topstitching thread.

The bound buttonholes took most of last week.

I remembered bound buttonholes take time- much more time than machine worked buttonholes.  I know they’re “purer” in a way, and as much as I like them I think I’ll still file them under “sometimes” techniques.

That said, I’m enjoying the color effect they create.  I think I may stitch an invisible zip down the front to join the skirt yoke to allow for ease of dressing. 

Addendum- I thought about it and I’ll have to use a separating zip down the CF.  If I can find a separating dress zip, that’s the way I’ll go. 

Textures of Lydia: Sample Sewing


Most of the people in my life sew.  I mean, they seriously sew.  And quilt.  And embroider.  They taught me to sew “samples” of stitches and thread weights as well as any specialized techniques in a project before I start sewing a new garment.  The habit sticks.

I tested a few stitches for the triple top-stitching details on Moderne.  I happened to have a 50-wt top-stitching thread which matched the silk I’m using for the buttons and front pleat.  The thicker stitches, closely spaced look bold while I’m looking for subtle. I’m already using a “contrast” thread, so the single stitches look softer.

I don’t know if I have enough of the first color, so I picked up another spool of the same weight mercerized cotton, the closest shade I could find (it’s another brand, but I think it will be ok).  I plan to use those enormous buttons for the front, and regular sized ones for the cufflink type buttons.

I think the top looks pinker, but doubt it would keep me up at night.  This may be the first bound buttonhole I’ve made in a year.

The back.  I often have trouble with those, this is the best I’ve ever accomplished.  I use the Kenneth King method from Cool Couture.  The lips are interfaced with a ribbon, I find welt pockets made this way stand up well to continual use.

All this prep work and practice will help but I keep fighting the urge to dive right into the sewing.  It doesn’t help that my other major project moves along in a similar prep-stage, the WW2 Advance Jacket for the RTW Tailoring Sew-Along.