Alaska Wedding Dress

Pattern: Simplicity's Special Occasion Dresses #4070
Fabric: 2yds rayon poplin + rayon challis lining
Cost: $35

First off, thank you all for the comments from my jacket series. It was a wonderful learning process, and it got me thinking - wouldn't it be great if there were more patterns on the market that lead you through some of these more complicated steps?? While much of what Beth shared with me was good tips for sewing in general, there are definitely some steps that were crucial to making a nice jacket: how to sew a sleeve head, where to clip certain corners to get your collar to lie flat, etc. Yet none of the blazer patterns I've used in the past mention these things. I would love to see a pattern or a book-with-a-pattern out there that tackles more complicated garments with some of the same handholding that indie companies offer with their beginner patterns. Of course they'd probably have to charge a good sum of money for it, but taken like a class it would be well worth it! I don't know if there is actually a market for this or if this material really is better as a a class, but I would certainly put some money down for a step-by-step jacket pattern or other complicated garment. Have you followed any particularly good jacket patterns out there?

Anyway, all this jacket talk and I haven't even mentioned its companion, my new Simplicity 4070 dress. Unlike the jacket, this dress was much more simple to make, and the perfect completion to my wedding guest outfit. It's a classic princess seam shape that Simplicity uses as the basis for many of their formal wear patterns (at one point I counted nine patterns made from this block). I really wanted to use a princess seam pattern for this dress because they are classic, easy to fit, and work nicely for formal wear.

I bought this particular pattern in 2011, when I had only been sewing intensely for about a year. And, unfortunately, I ordered the wrong size - I clicked the larger size range instead of the smaller sized pattern by mistake. Now, I mention that I had only been sewing seriously for about a year because that was enough time to give me the idea that, 'hey! I could grade this pattern down!' without the knowledge that different size ranges are made using a completely different pattern block to account for the proportions (Colette did an interesting post on this before they started creating patterns in a wider size range).

So, 2011 Meg grabbed her felt-tipped pen and graded down a size or two to make up a simple woven dress. Looking at the blog picture now, I must admit that the results were actually not bad! It appears that there was a little extra room at some places in the bodice, but overall it was definitely wearable. So I hemmed and hawed about whether to use the pattern again and, after not finding another suitable pattern in my stash, I decided I should at least make up a muslin of the bodice to test the fit. And you know what? The fit was actually really good! Perhaps the two size ranges weren't that different after all, or 2011 Meg actually knew what she was doing, but I was very pleased with the test fit. So much so, in fact, that I plan on actually finishing that muslin to make a crop top. But that is for another time...

This dress was sewn up in a rayon poplin from, chosen because it resembled this beauty from Pinterest. I thought the flowers would be great for a summer wedding, and the dark colors both suit me and the moody atmosphere of an evening wedding in Alaska. Apparently I was not the only one with that idea because at least two other friends showed up in floral-on-black dresses, too. But at least when you make your own no one can show up wearing the exact same dress!

After making my jacket, the construction of this was a breeze. Once I verified the fit, I sharpened my scissors and jumped right in. I tried to use as many of the techniques Beth had taught me, especially around the basics like cutting carefully and paying close attention to the notches and seam allowances. To keep the poplin fabric and challis lining under control, I used spray starch for the first time, which did help. I thought the starch would make the fabric super stiff, but in reality it just gave a bit more body to the light fabric which helped keep the grain straight when I cut and sewed.

To showcase the beautiful fabric, I took pains to pattern match across the princess seams and back. It is, of course, impossible to get a perfect match on princess seams, but by cutting with care I avoided breaking up the print too much. And my favorite part is the back slit along the neck, which gives a nice touch while still being conservative enough for a church wedding (or at least for this wedding).

I also attached a strip of fabric as a "belt" to help give some waist definition. The pattern actually has this in many of its views, but I just "drafted" my own after the fact when I tried the dress on. I think the dark fabric there helped break up the pattern a bit and accentuate my mid section.

To finish, I followed the pattern and lined the bodice and skirt separately and then attached the skirt-and-lining to the top-and-lining with a single seam. It's not as elegant as constructing the entire lining and bodice separately, but it does help keep everything in place at the waist. Unfortunately this is not so great for creating a clean back zipper, so I ended up unpicking a bit of the waist seam so I could enclose the zipper between the shell and the lining by hand. While I almost never hand sew, I didn't mind stitching the lining to the zipper in while watching a bit of the Warriors basketball championship games. Go Warriors! Go hand sewing!

For the hem, I kept it long and cheated a bit with the hemming by cutting the lining shorter and sewing it to the dress right sides together before attaching the skirt to the bodice. This was a bit of a pain because the challis lining was a bit shifty, but it gave a nice invisible hem without all the trouble, and if you cut carefully you can get a nice, even hem.

Overall, I am very pleased with this dress. It is very comfy as long as you don't eat too much wedding cake, seems to fit great, and could be worn for a number of occasions. Win win win!

Meg Makes a Jacket, the Finale

Pattern: Simplicity's Misses' Sportswear #2455
Fabric: 2 yds wool + acetate lining
Cost: $45

Well I didn't mean to drag these jacket posts out so long, but as you can tell this was a rather big project for me! I am very pleased with the final product, and this past weekend it accompanied me to a wedding in Alaska. It is so nice to have a classic, goes-with-anything jacket in my wardrobe that I can wear for more formal occasions, yet still fits my style.

This last part of the project I finished on my own. After about 6 hours of sewing with Beth, I was exhausted and a bit cross-eyed, not to mention starting to make mistakes! It was amazing to soak all the information in though, and I managed to jot down a few more tips before heading home to attach the sleeves and sew on the lining.

First, she opened up a jacket she had and showed me how to support the shoulder with a bias strip of fabric sewn within the seam allowance. Without using an actual shoulder pad, this extra step gives the jacket a bit more support where needed.

Then it was time to do the lining. I may have promised Beth that I would hand sew in the lining, but once I got home all thoughts of that went out the window. Truth be told, I actually don't mind leaving many of my things unlined, so I reasoned that practicing bagging the lining could be just as educational as putting one in by hand. Right?!

The jacket pattern we used does not include instructions for a lining, so I did some internet research and followed Beth's advice for drafting my own. I like Tasia's (of Sewaholic) tutorial on drafting a lining, but the one that won over was the Grainline tutorial, as I am extremely visual and a sucker for good graphics. The only hiccup I ran into with hers, however, is that the instructions are meant for patterns with facings, so I actually needed to draft my lining shorter, not longer, than the pattern pieces. Other than that, though, both tutorials provide helpful instructions for making a successful lining that allows for ease of movement.

Here is the inside of Beth's jacket, where she drafted her lining with a single pleat that I think looks elegant and allows for ease of movement. I ended up doing an inverted pleat, which didn't hang as well for me.

After everything is inserted, Beth also recommended tacking the lining down to the jacket at the top of the sleeve. This helps prevent the lining from sliding around too much. Unfortunately, I forgot the important detail that this should be done at the top and not the underarm. By tacking the underarm, you restrict movement, and I believe that's why you see a few creases around the under arm in the picture of my jacket at the top of the post. I will fix and report back. Here is the proper way, tacking it at the shoulder seam:

These last few steps (attaching the sleeves, inserting the lining) were done over the course of about a month. While Beth and I made rapid progress in her sewing studio, I found that it was hard to set aside time for a such a Big Project. Rather than sewing on the weeknights, I felt I had to wait to work on it until I had the proper concentration, like a long block of time on the weekend. This definitely slowed me down, and left me appreciating both the Big and Little projects that I do. The final jacket took another month or two to complete, but the end project was very worth it.

Overall, the experience of sewing with a teacher and role model like Beth was incredibly rewarding. She was so patient and non-judgmental, and I can't believe how many tricks that woman has up her (handmade) sleeve! I have a feeling I just scratched the surface with this project. If you have the chance of pushing your skills with a sewing teacher I highly recommend it, or even a visit to Beth herself if you live in the Bay Area or are planning a visit. Many women go to her for fitting help, but I could see hiring her for help if I ever made a Big White Dress or other important project. And I still need to pick her brain about collared shirts, because she said she had some tips!

After this immense brain exercise though, I think I'll cosy up with some 2-hour t-shirt patterns for a bit to recover. And hopefully I'll be back soon with a post about the dress that you can glimpse in the above photos.

Meg Makes a Jacket, Part II

When we last left off on our adventures, local sewist and jacket queen Beth was helping me make Simplicity #2455, a tailored jacket with a collar and peplum detail. In my last post, I detailed the muslin, cutting, and assembly stage. So let's dive into the construction!

I was previously intimidated by jackets because they require a certain set of skills. This is especially true of Simplicity #2455, which has curved princess seams, a gathered peplum, and a notched collar. However, as I learned in my session, precise sewing can help alleviate a lot of your problems.

First and foremost is Beth sewing tip #7: Respect the seam allowance. While I have sometimes been careless with 1/8" here or there, she is very careful to fully align all the seam allowances. This may seem obvious to some, but I'm the type of learner who has to really see it to believe it. On a jacket like this with lots of details, careful seam allowances help everything go together and hang correctly. I recently took the same care with another garment I was making, and it does make a big difference! 

Of course, saying to take care and knowing how to do it are two different things. So one way to ensure perfect seam allowances is to use lots of pins. Beth sewing tip #8: Stick the pins so that the head is closest to the outside edge and line of stitching. This allows you to keep the fabric in place and remove the pins with your right hand as you sew. We tried it my way with the pins sticking the other way (to the left! at first, but having the head of the pin closest to the seam line really does help prevent things from shifting. 

Then, for especially troublesome areas, try Beth sewing tip #9: Draw on your seam allowances with chalk. I know, this seems like such an EXTRA step, but it really does help you to be extra exact in the sewing process. When I was struggling with a wonky curved edge, this trick produced a noticeable improvement.

Pattern markings and notches can also help you to be more precise, which is Beth sewing tip #10: Pay attention to the notches. I previously thought that notches were just there to guide novice sewists to attach the back to the front (and consequently I ignored them), but on a well-drafted pattern I realized that they can also show you where to ease two pieces together. Where I had previously assumed that I had cut a piece too long, I now know that I should be easing it in for a better fit. To me this I now also the sign of a good pattern, where the extra little details improve the fit and function of the garment.

This particular pattern required a few different techniques for easing. On a straighter, shorter seam (like a shoulder), I learned Beth sewing tip #11: Bend the fabric pieces over your finger with the longer piece on the outside and pin in place. By curving them this way you help distribute the extra ease. It's geometry, and it works! Bend the pieces again as you sew.

There is also the issue of what to do when easing in a curved piece like a princess seam or sleeve head. Enter Beth sewing tip #12: Match the two pieces along the seam line, not the edge of the fabric. Because of the curve, there is actually a lot less ease at the seam line than the edge of the fabric, and you will have an easier time getting everything into place. Again, lots of pins help here.

Once you have your seam all sewn up, you get to Beth sewing tip #13: Clip, clip, clip! For any curved seam, it is imperative to clip into the seam allowance to let the fabric relax. You'll notice the garment hanging and behaving better as a result. In fact, we used our scissors to trim and nip at many places in the project. While I generally clip my seams, I learned to watch how the fabric relaxed after each clip, and in turn to look for more places where I could relieve a little extra tension. For curved seams we took notches out to allow the fabric to spread, while for the inner corners of the collar (pictured above) we took out wedges to reduce bulk and allow the fabric to lay flat. It seems this is one of the secrets to a perfectly notched collar.

While we had our scissors out, we also graded seams and cut out extra fabric at bulky junctions. Beth is big on Beth sewing tip #14: Trim out the bulk. We trimmed the seam allowances at bulky junctions, and graded seams where possible to reduce excess fabric.While this step is easy to skip, it helps improve how your garment looks and behaves.

At this point I still have a bit more to share, but I am currently en route to a wedding in Alaska where I'll be sporting my new jacket and some other home made duds (yup, the bulk of this post was written at 30,000 feet!). So I'll be back next week to share the rest of this project. Sorry for all the bits and pieces, but sometimes this much info can't be written all in one sitting!

See you next week with the finished garment!

Meg Makes a Jacket Part I

This last winter, I passed the time admiring the endless stream of jackets popping up on my blog roll. I have sewn a few over the years, but for me that perfectly tailored jacket still had an air of mystery about it.

In the spring, I decided there was no better way to learn than go directly to the source: Beth, the queen of tailored jackets. Beth is a local sewist and sewing teacher who I have gotten to know over the past few years through meetups and fellow bloggers, and she is well known online through Craftsy and her blog, SunnyGal Studio. As we walked through the aisles of our local fabric store one day, I somehow convinced her to show me the secrets to her latest Simplicity #2455.

It had been a while since I had taken a sewing lesson, and I was very eager. I started by sewing up a full muslin before our meeting. I graded between a size 12 and a 10 in the shoulders, but otherwise sewed everything up as is. At her house, I tried the jacket on and we decided to add one more adjustment: lengthening the front by adding a wedge at the waist. This is an issue I've noticed in other jackets, where the front hem angles up a bit on me, and it was nice to be able to fix this properly in the muslin stage rather than try to disguise it with the hem.

Beth sewing tip #1: Make a muslin.

Next we set about cutting out the actual fabric, a soft black wool I picked up from the remnant section at Stone Mountain. It was so nice in fact that the clerk wondered aloud about who had let those 2 1/2 yards slip in there. Anyway, Beth and I picked out our "right side" of the fabric, and carefully folded it with wrong sides out on her cutting table. I think she quickly caught on that I usually tend to be a bit haphazard about these things, but I tried my best to learn from her meticulous ways. Using lots of pins, we laid out the pieces across the length of the fabric, being careful to measure the grain line on the pattern so that it lay equidistant to the selvedge. Beth sewing tip #2: Precise pattern cutting is the basis of a nice garment.

Here, I also picked up Beth sewing tip #3: If you are right-handed, it is easiest to cut with your pattern piece and fabric on the same side as your hand. So right-handed people should cut with the pattern piece to the right, which keeps your pieces from getting lifted up and shifted around. Here is me doing it wrong, with my hand all getting in the way:

Next we did tailor's tacks. Weeeee! I had previously thought that tailor's tacks were one of those too-complicated-sewing-techniques that I had no use for. As Beth showed me, however, they are actually quite quick and easy, and really very precise. Perhaps I should upgrade from the classroom chalk I've been using to mark points? To make one, you just take a length of thick thread and make a single quick stitch through the marking on your pattern and the fabric underneath. You then snip and move on to the next one. (Or, here's a Crafsty tutorial.)  Beth sewing tip #4: Tailor's tacks are fun!

Then we moved on to the interfacing. Beth takes hers very seriously, and buys it by the yard from (Beth sewing tip #5: When it comes to interfacing, buy the good stuff!) We tested out a few on a scrap, and decided on ProSheer Elegance Light for the collar and lapel, and ProWeft Supreme Light for tailoring the under collar (both in black). For tailoring, Beth subscribes to the idea that what you do to one side you must do to the other: If one part of your fabric is stabilized with interfacing, the corresponding part should also be stabilized in order to give the fabric a similar drape all around. For example, if the collar and lapel facing is interfaced with a medium weight interfacing (like the ProSheer Elegance Light), then the front of your jacket should also be stabilized (lighter weight interfacing is fine, such as the Pro Weft Supreme Light) in order to give the fabric an even hand. The same could be said for the front and back of a jacket.

Using this principle, we interfaced the lapel area of the jacket (not just the facing) to give it some body in the chest. To help the hem of the jacket and sleeve hang correctly, we interfaced those areas, too. To do this, you cut the edge with pinking shears so it blends well with the rest of the fabric. We then pressed it on with lots of steam. Beth sewing tip #6: After fusing your interfacing, let the fabric sit for a second to cool down so the glue sets in the proper place. 

Here is the lapel and hem with pinked interfacing:

I also learned that pressing wool and certain other types of fabric can scorch the fabric and cause it to become shiny. If you think about it, you know what I'm talking about. To avoid this, Beth insists you always press the wrong side of the fabric only. And if you must press the right side, use a press cloth to protect the fabric. It really does help!

At this point we were ready to begin sewing. I know, I know, all that and it was just the prep work! Because it's a lot to take in (and it's my bedtime), I'll be back soon with some jacket construction and more Beth sewing tips for better results, and of course the finished jacket. Hmm, this could end up being three posts...

A Dog in a Sweatshirt

Pattern: Milla Milla's Dog Hoodie and Sweatshirt
Fabric: fleece sweatshirt knit
Cost: $5

Well, if you haven't heard me complain already, this Spring's been a cold one. Not cold like Midwest winters cold, but just foggy and windy and generally unpleasant. Luckily, that means I get to make more cute doggy clothes! Beatrix requested a sweatshirt for June, and I was only too happy to oblige.

Her bowling-ball-with-legs shape means traditional dog pattern don't fit her, and trying to think about drafting dog sleeves hurts my head. Luckily, Ginger Makes tipped me off to Milla Milla, a dog pattern company that offers a "FB" size. Their patterns are a bit different than traditional sewing patterns in that the instructions and pattern are sold separately, but the fit was much better than any other thing I had tried so far (except my self-drafted one - that's been my best so far). If you're interested in sewing for your canine friend, you can get $1 off when you create an account on the website, and I got an additional $3 off with the code millamilla.

This pattern features a raglan sleeve, hood and waistband. I also added a pocket, which is a free download from the site. While my first version in ponte fit great, unfortunately this one seems to have grown a bit with wear and is a bit too large. Getting sizing right on your pet is a bit challenging - it needs to be tight enough to stay on and in place without being too constricting. Perhaps this one will shrink back up in the wash?

The fabric is so soft and snuggly I was thinking of using the other half a yard to make baby gifts, but since those babies all live in warmer climates I'm thinking I may just tweak the pattern some more. Beatrix insists!