Under My Own Steam

steam23I just love the Victorians. I love their innovative technology, their infant-stage science, their burgeoning middle class, their emerging social conscience, and perhaps most of all, I love their clothes.

Bustles! Lace! Peplums! Fringe! Hat pins! Leg o’mutton sleeves! Bonnets! Layers of coordinating fabric in lush velvets, shimmery brocades, and silks all in the same dress with a gazillion buttons down the front or back! I am breathless and dizzy with the sartorial possibilities. Such dresses were beautiful masterpieces of the seamstress’ art. So beautiful, and yet so restricting, because to support the weight of a dress like that you’re wearing a corset, a steel cage, a horsehair bustle and probably two petticoats. No wonder women fainted. I would too, if I had to put all that on first thing in the morning. Can you imagine trying to do anything wearing that?

Fortunately for us, the steampunk movement has arrived! Now we can freely incorporate the luxuries of Victoriana into our everyday lives and it’s considered cool. Not since before World War I has the world seen so many top hats and corsets. So I decided to embrace steampunk for my costume this Halloween. Unfortunately, a couple of image searches generated women’s costumes that all looked like this:

a) Goggles

b) Top Hat

c) Short skirt with ruffles

d) Corset worn over chemise

I find it somewhat maddening that for such a creative style where one can access the entirety of the fashion history from 1830-1902, there is  a staggering amount of homogeneity. I mean, you’ve got about 70 years of sleeves, silhouettes, and hats to play with, why make your costume like everyone else’s? Believe me, every decade of the Victorian era was different in terms of dress. In the 1830s you start with huge sleeves and a gathered skirt, but by the 1860s the sleeves are tiny and tight and the skirt is enormous and by the 1890s the sleeves are poufy again and the skirt is narrowing down to the hip hugging flared gores that begin the next century.

These lovely ladies below are courtesy of Nineteenth-Century Costume and Fashion, Norris and Curtis, 1998.

In light of this historical bounty, I’ve decided to have a little steampunk sewing challenge for myself! I’m going as a time traveler this Halloween. I plan to borrow heavily from the 1880s-1900s using my awesome costume history resource books to create basic pieces that I jazz up with a few steampunk elements.I chose to use Simplicity #9796 from 1980, Simplicity #2410 from 2010 and McCall’s #M7335 from 2016  for my patterns.

My first goal is not to buy anything for my costume if I can make it. I want to use fabric from my stash and patterns I already have and give them a steampunk makeover. My second goal is to stretch my creativity and my third goal is to force me to cut back on my fabric buying addiction. I confess, I might not be able to do it. The siren song of the perfect fabric is tough to resist, especially when they’re all so pretty!

The second half of my challenge to myself is to make at least half of the costume a wearable part of my everyday wardrobe. I think the blouse and the skirt will work, but not so much the hat or the petticoat. When was the last time you wore a petticoat to do errands? Never? Exactly. Unless you’re a reenactor, in which case, it was probably last week.

I’m opting to use a palette of brown, grey, and metallics. The neutral palette appears to be de rigueur for steampunk, but coincidently, it is also easy to work with when mixing fabrics and patterns.

The Fabrics:

From my stash, I selected 2 yards of brown shirting with metallic stripes. I have a remnant piece of stretch grey poplin from some pants that I know will make an incredible skirt. I’ve got muslin scraps I can use for a petticoat, plenty of brown lace fabric, and lace. I also have some synthetic fringe I tried to dye brown but it turned grey instead, I’m guessing because the fibers were made of something the poly dye didn’t take to. I have an old eyelet nightgown that I took apart for the fabric that will make a great overskirt. Any fabric scraps leftover can become rosettes, bows, hat trimming or whatever details I think I need. I also bought new curtains at Target, and the packaging had a lovely wide grosgrain ribbon in grey. So I’ll use that, too. It’s recycling!


The Blouse:

Note the (vintage 1980s) modern designs featuring Victorian influence: puffy sleeves, lots of buttons, a yoke and dart shaping to create a modified Victorian blouse. I played with two fabrics here, using a brown nonstretch corded lace and my striped shirting. I had a lot of these little filigree metal buttons I had bought but didn’t use for an earlier project because they were too small. The blouse pattern was one of Grandma’s, and she must have made a version for my mom, because she had drawn a new small yoke for it that was just perfect for lace. It was clearly meant to be! When I did the button placket, I turned the stripes sideways as shown on the pattern illustrations and I loved the visual interest it created.

The Skirts:

The main skirt was made in a slightly stretchy grey poplin. It features a yoke with 6 panels and optional ruffles. It reminds me of the gored skirts of the 1890s and 1900s. To make it more steampunk, I decided to use a mock felled seam in a contrasting thread on the panels. It’s very much like the seams on a pair of jeans. I’ve been seeing this look on A-line skirts this summer, and I wanted to try it out.  I must say, I really like it! steam25

To make the petticoat, I used the same pattern in unbleached muslin. I added the ruffles using the same brown shirting fabric as the blouse to the bottom edge. I had cut up an old eyelet nightgown that was too small and dyed it dark brown. I used the nightie for my first apron, with the ruffle in the photo. I gathered the side seams up to make the nice draping effect. I felt it wasn’t Victorian enough yet, so then I used a leftover rectangle of shirting to make another small apron over it in the front, and applied some fringe. Now that’s more like it!

steam3 Then I did the same thing at the back. It was still a bit lackluster, though. I used a few more scraps and created a bustle with a bow at the small of the back and a train.

I didn’t want to alter the main skirt too much because I want to wear it as an everyday item, so I combined my petticoat with the overskirt. This way I can slip the skirt on over the petticoat and pull the overskirt out over the waistband without fussing with a lot of closures.


To finish the skirt, I decorated it with my ribbon and some rosettes from a long piece of selvedge scrap.  Pretty! You’d never guess those were leftover packaging materials and scraps, would you?


The Hat:

I also used a hat pattern, and it’s the only one I purchased for the costume because it is intentionally steampunk. I don’t have a lot of hat patterns that would look right, and I wanted to give it a try. Let me tell you, hats are not for wimps! This one has six pieces for the crown, with interfacing, and they need to line up. Attaching the crown to the brim was rough going because I had to keep enlarging the hole to make it work. Somehow the crown was too wide for the brim, probably my error rather than the pattern design. Fortunately, hat trimmings cover a great deal of the crown and conceal my rougher patches. I especially like my striped bias tape I made on the brim. steam6

I made the ornament with the little gears from a tube of watch parts bought at a craft show, and I used a beadwork perforated pin base I had that was lacking a back. I attached the gears and such with thin wire, layering them on top of each other. Then I stitched it in place through a few holes on the back. Nifty!

The feathers are just some peacock feathers I had hanging around that I stitched in place when I attached the decorative holder to the hat band. Yep, I’m the kind of girl who just happens to have peacock feathers. I actually couldn’t find the brown feathers I was going to use, but I think the peacock works very well, don’t you?

I love how this costume turned out! I do believe this is the most complex project I have done to date. I began work in August and finished the costume in mid-October. Keep in mind that I’m not a very fast sewer. For me, two and a half months to finish a four-garment ensemble is lightning fast, pathetic as that sounds! Especially since there was a hat involved. As you know from an earlier post, hats are not really something I’m good with. In spite of my lack of millinery talent, I think it looks pretty good. I’ve gotten several compliments so far, which is always nice after you’ve worked on something for two and a half months!

So, let’s see how I did with my challenge!

Purchased items: hat pattern, thread, goggles.

Stash items: grosgrain ribbon, eyelet fabric, brown lace fabric, brown shirting, grey poplin, tiny gears, interfacing, filigree buttons, peacock feathers, zipper.

Already owned: boots, knee socks.

Wearable as everyday wardrobe: grey skirt, brown blouse, knee socks, boots.

I give myself an A-. I probably could have modified a hat pattern I had, but the steampunk pattern was sooo much cooler.  Overall, a very good project. I have a stylish neutral skirt to wear this fall, and a pretty blouse I could pair with jeans for casual prettiness.



Oh, and if you’re wondering what that antique key in this last photo is all about…it operates the time machine, of course. Let’s take it for a spin, shall we? Where would you like to go? I hear the 1920s were a lot of fun. How about the Renaissance? Or maybe you’d like to see some dinosaurs…? I know I would.

Happy Halloween!

This entry was posted on October 30, 2016.

In Full Bloom

My wedding is on Saturday.

(Realization hits.)

Oh, wow. It’s really here. It’s real. A year of planning, worrying, a move, a new house, a pandemic, a new garden, a new husband….a new life.

Ready or not, here it comes!

The gown is finished at last. I have a little bolero jacket, too. The silk ripples when I walk, and the tulle floats along with each step. It’s a magical confection of silk and tulle and lace. I love it.

To get here, I had to work a whole lot of hand stitching all over the gown to attach the leaves in sections and in small individual pieces. I went through two and a half spools of thread for that alone. It took me the equivalent of four and a half streaming binge-worthy series on Netflix and Hulu just to get all that done, using the embroidery hoop for the larger pieces and simple pins for the small leaves. (If I may recommend to you, Killing Eve and The Great were very interesting and fun to watch.)

To finish the edges of the bodice, I cut a couple of yards of silk bias strips and made some bias tape. I also used it to create the ties at the back. I had my sister-in-law over to help me with the hemming. We discovered, though I was not too surprised, that my skirt length was all over the place. Silk sometimes warps after cutting; it’s why typically you let it hang a day or two before you sew with it once you’ve cut it out. I also knew as I cut it that I had fudged the side panels a little. Silk is slippery-notoriously so- and I pinned it (excessively) and weighted it down with books to try and halt that sliding it is so famous for when one cuts it. This did help, however….I didn’t have quite enough fabric width. I made the panels as close as the remaining fabric would allow, but…there was a significantly shorter left side than the right side, in spite of my best efforts to mitigate that. After conferring with Mary Beth and measuring, marking with pins, and examination, we determined adding a four inch hem was needed. Fortunately, I did have enough silk left over for that. I cut all the hem pieces from a single piece of fabric, and they went on with relative ease. I hand stitched them, of course, so that was yet another Netflix binge.

I tried the dress on, satisfied with how it looked, tried to zip it up….and…

At this point, the zipper broke. It tore free of the zipper tape and wouldn’t zip past the ruptured area. Frustrated and near tears, I went to bed. I was so close to finishing and the stupid thing broke! My wedding was only a week away!

The next day, after dinner, I found a replacement in my stash. Thank goodness I’m the kind of sewist with extra supplies on hand! (Translation: I’m a pack rat.) I ripped out the zipper very, very carefully and installed a new one, hand sewing it in place with what felt like a thousand really small stitches to make it nice and secure. It’s a little stiff, but it is there, it works, and we are done with it. Thank heaven.

The sweet little bolero was a challenge all by itself. The pattern called for wool, but naturally, I ignored that and made it in silk charmeuse. It actually translated fairly well, though I had some issues with the shell and the lining not wanting to line up correctly. I ended up solving it by redoing the exterior darts, and then taking the back seam and making it deeper, turning it into a sort of dart with a larger portion taken from the center area. That worked pretty well. It might had been simpler to just make it a pleat, but… we’ll never know! I’m not changing it now! It does work, though, and I adore that shawl collar.

I used some of the glamorous rhinestone buttons I had purchased originally for the back of the dress on my cuffs. I didn’t end up using them on the back because a tie closure was simpler and imparted a bit of fun.

There are four buttons on each cuff with loop closures, and I adore them. The leaves trail beautifully alone the collar. It’s as elegant as I could wish for. In one of the ironies of life, it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit on my wedding day, and I may not need the jacket at all. It is late September, though, and the nights are chilly. I will likely slip it on partway through the reception. Had I not bothered to make a jacket, you absolutely know that the temperature would have been much colder.

There is also a little bonus in the works: I took a few scraps from the leftover silk to make wedding day lingerie…nothing complex, but a pair of silk panties to wear on the big day is a nice touch. I have a plan to make a little chemise that matches, but I don’t think it’s going to be finished in time for the wedding. It’s a nice thing to work on next week, though.

I also wanted to make a clutch purse for myself, but I definitely won’t get that finished, either. That will be a great project for winter…because we’re going to be going to another wedding next year! Some friends of ours got engaged the week we got married. I guess it’s contagious?

I did do my own flowers, naturally, being a florist. They look amazing! I have centerpieces, bouquets, boutonnieres, pew decorations and mantlepiece. Impressive, if I do say so myself.

Happily Ever After…..

Part of this post was written a few days prior to my wedding. It was beautiful, amazing, and joyful. I am so happy! As you can imagine, I had tons of work to do the few days before, since I did my own flowers, made the gown, and was generally a very busy lady! Hence, the late date of posting…well, post-wedding, post-honeymoon.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. I am the happiest I’ve ever been! This gown has taught me many wonderful new skills, and when I wore it, I was the most beautiful woman in the world. If you were to ask my husband, he will tell you I already was, and still am.

This entry was posted on October 7, 2020.

The Flowering

At this point, my wedding is five weeks away. I am not a nervous bride-to-be. I’m content, if a little worried that the dreaded COVID-19 will surge again in the fall as predicted and my wedding will consist only of close family and friends and anyone else who is brave enough to show up. So far, half our guests have sent a reply; and among those half again are declining to come due to COVID-19. As for the non-responding half, who knows?

Still, Dan and I proceed as if it will go off as planned, because nothing is going to stop us from getting married. Not even a pandemic.

Cancel our wedding? Never!

I spend much of my free time stitching away and snipping away, in anticipation of September 26th, 2020.

The gown has become a symbol for me of a new future, and hope, and carrying on in the face of what many consider to be a world filled with obstacles and darkness. I don’t take such a dim view, but for me, little has changed. I’m an essential worker. I go to work every day, wearing a mask, sanitiizing everything in sight, and wearing vinyl gloves all day- which I have been doing since March. This year, I’ve moved, sold my house, nearly completed my second degree, and I’m almost ready to walk down the aisle. I don’t have time to worry about a pandemic. There are bigger things going on: the start of the rest of my life.

I’ve heard the stories about people who cancelled their weddings, and brides left wondering if they will ever get to wear their gowns. I’ve heard of weddings held via Zoom call. I have even heard of a bride and groom who held their wedding in church and streamed it to all their guests, who were sitting in the parking lot of the church watching by phone and tablet. When the happy couple left the church, they were greeted by the honking of dozens of cars, wishing them well from a safe distance.

Whatever shape our wedding takes, it will happen. If that means a very small ceremony and a family dinner afterward, with a party to follow a few months later, and a postponed honeymoon, that’s what will happen. Or, if that means everything goes as planned, with cake, flowers and a Belgian honeymoon the next week, we will be married and happily ever after will be the order of the day.

Either way, I’m wearing that gown, and our day is going to be perfect.

The leaves are working their way steadily over the bodice, floating over the tulle and my skin. I’ve been stitching them on my hand onto the skirt, but I kept getting this weird puckering no matter how careful I was. I determined that I must use an embroidery hoop for stabilizing the silk and keeping it taut enough that the leaves lay flat. Before, they just want to curl and bunch, much like actual leaves, and that was far from ideal. I didn’t have this trouble on the bodice, and that might be because the silk has been stabilized with interlining and lays flat. The skirt slips through my fingers while working, and while it feels very nice, it’s not very helpful.

Once I employed the hoop, and some carefully stitched on interfacing in strategic places, I found it was a better method. I ironed the interfaced leaves on, and then I’ve been hand-stitching everything in place. It allows for some freedom, though it also has made for a few mistakes that I hope will look natural and intentional at the end.

I also began to use invisible thread with the tulle, also by hand after a disastrous attempt using the plastic filament with my sewing machine. Don’t worry; I sewed a few leaves over the holes that it made. Just don’t tell anyone, okay? It looks pretty good now. I ended up turning it under twice to encase the raw edges of the tulle on the edges of the skirt, while the shoulder seams and back seam are just stitched together in a regular seam but with very small, tight stitches so they aren’t too obvious. I hope. Hemming it will be…er, interesting, but I’m trying not to think about that yet. There are five skirts on this gown, and I’m very likely hemming it by hand because it looks nicer and it will be more couture.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and although my blog maybe indicates otherwise- it’s the truth! I just make a lot of mistakes, because let’s face it, sewing is very hard. Given the option, I will do things the more difficult way, if I think the results will be better, and that’s where my perfectionist streak comes in. If ever a perfectionist streak had a place, it’s in wedding gown sewing, that’s for sure.

As you can see from the photos, we’re not perfect just yet. I have to finish the back closures, and I’m not totally sure what to do with it. I bought buttons, but might not use them. My fiancé advised me that I would hate myself if I added buttons to the back of the dress at this point. I believe he may be right, so currently, I think I will use a ribbon tie at the nape of my neck. We are not finished with the ribbon, as you can see from the photo, it hangs down, untidy, as I have only just finished the silk binding over the raw tulle edges. The leftover piece might become ribbon tie in the near future. I also have this odd wrinkling going on with the bodice tulle, but I believe this may be because the dress is on the dress form, and not on me. If you look closely, you can see the gap where the zipper doesn’t close. The dress form and I have slightly different proportions and things that look perfect on my dress form tend not to fit me. We will do a fitting soon and decide if this means something isn’t right. The gown is meant to sport asymmetrical appliqués, for a more naturalistic effect, much like a real tree which has grown with wind, sun, and storms shaping it.

Earlier, I also hinted that I was making a bolero for warmth. This is a midway stage shown here. I had big issues earlier with my lining and the back of the bolero bagging horribly, and discovered I had botched a seam. I ripped it all out (very, very carefully because we are almost out of silk) and repinned it, stitching carefully and slowly so it would go back in a better place. I also took in the back seam by about an inch and a half. It’s still kind of weird on the right side, and I might need to adjust my dart to fix that. Aside from those issues, it is a very charming jacket. I’m still playing with leaf placement, as you can see, and there are meant to be cuffs at the end of those sleeves that aren’t finished yet. I am toying with the thought of adding the buttons onto the cuffs, though they will not be functional.

I have to say, the gown is lovely. I intended for it to be a wearable work of art, and I’m excited that it’s coming along so well. I hope that when I walk down the aisle, my family and friends will admire my work and say how beautiful it is. I suppose if they want to tell me I’m a beautiful bride, that would be fine, too.

This entry was posted on August 21, 2020. 1 Comment

Beginning to Bloom

At last!

The semester has ended and I am free for a few blissful weeks to enjoy a little free time before my summer class begins. I’m among those who are still working, in a grocery store no less, so there hasn’t been much stay at home or any lockdown for me. My free time is a very precious commodity to be spent doing things that I love or that are absolutely necessary for survival. Hopefully, I will have more of that precious time to spend on what I love to do.

For me, that means some time to work on the wedding gown, and I dove right in yesterday and worked on it for nearly seven hours. I took breaks, of course, to cook and do some housework, but still, it was a full day of creativity! I feel so much better after devoting so much time to this project. It looks amazing! It looks like a wedding gown!

When I left you last, I had posted some photos of the underlayers. We had a boned bodice lining, a slip, a tulle petticoat and a georgette petticoat. I have since cut the bodice pieces from the silk charmeuse and fused them to some woven interlining for structure and opacity. I must say, it worked very well. I stitched them together and when I pinned them over the lining, the boning channels virtually disappeared. I’ve been using Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book as a guide for my wedding sewing, and there is a wonderful corset bodice pattern in there that was a fantastically easy sew for my bodice. It looks wonderful and I had no trouble with it. It fit me perfectly on my first try.

After I completed the bodice, I stitched the top of it on to my lining, which was great, because the next part of my plan was to attach the last two skirts to the bottom edge. This was so the underlayer skirts would attach to the lining of the bodice and the outer two skirts would attach to the silk charmeuse outer bodice. That way, I could effectively turn the dress inside out from both sides and rework skirts, or if needed, remove boning and adjust the fit without taking the entire gown apart! This was a very good idea because at this stage, I was ready for a fitting!

My first fitting determined that the skirts are too long, which is expected, because I haven’t hemmed anything yet. The bodice was loose, but I thought once I had the zipper installed that would not be a problem.

I stitched an invisible zipper by hand into the bodice because I don’t trust myself to do it with silk by machine and have it come out nicely. I’m a bit clumsy with zippers yet, even after ten years of sewing, and I haven’t done one on this new machine that I can recall, so…. better safe than sorry! I then cut my skirts out of tulle and charmeuse so I could pin them on and see how they worked. I used the Zinnia Skirt from Colette Patterns as my basic shape, I just redrew it on paper to the length that would work for me. I kept the pleat placement, and it works really well on long, layered skirts! I made a slight alteration for my silk skirt, by adding a panel on each side instead of having only a front and back, to create more volume. As I began to play with them, inspiration began to work on me.

I realized two things:

  1. That I could work my tulle overskirt slightly differently than I had intended. I could create a split in the front and show the silk charmeuse underneath instead of a full overlay as I had originally planned.
  2. I was pretty much out of silk, so I’d better make other plans for the little bolero I want to make to keep me warm. When I conceived the plan for the bolero instead of a little wrap, I was going to make it in blue, but then I thought I should have it in the same silk as the gown. I’m still on the fence, so I will save that decision for later.

My original plan for the overskirts was to have a full tulle overlay on the charmeuse, but I was unhappy with all the seams. Tulle is nearly transparent, and that means the seams would be showing. I had thought maybe I’d use invisible thread, but my order was cancelled due to the pandemic, and I couldn’t find it online anyplace else. I then thought about encasing the tulle side seams into the charmeuse seams, but they didn’t line up very well, and I felt that wasn’t a very good solution. However, when I moved the skirt pieces to the sides, that was very pretty. If I did that, then I might have just one seam, in the back, and it could be covered by my leaf appliqué. Eureka!

I took inspiration from a photo my sister-in-law contributed to my Pinterest board, and I think the skirt will end up with a more layered, dimensional look with appliqué on both the silk charmeuse underneath and the tulle layer on top. It’s going to be really charming and very appropriate for a fall wedding. I’m not certain yet if I will leave the ends raw, or finish them with a rolled edge or some silk binding.

One other change you can see is the tulle on the bodice. I was going to have a full overly on the skirt and the bodice both, but I decided all those visible seams wasn’t going to be aesthetically pleasing. Once I changed the skirt, I realized the bodice overlay was history. So, I thought it would be really pretty to do a tulle overlay only to the silk charmeuse neckline and stitch a few leaves to it, sort of an illusion neckline. The only difficulty was that I had already sewn the top seam of the bodice shut. Whoops!

I ended up taking that apart to tuck the tulle down inside, and I added two straps under the tulle to support the weight of all that silk. It took some work to make it lay smoothly against the chest of the dress from. You can see from my photo that I may not have it totally fixed yet. I think when I complete it, I will do appliqué over the straps and hide them somewhat, and maybe some silk binding on the edges. Whew! This is hands down the most complex garment I have ever made, with all these layers and fabrics.

When I did my most recent fitting, I found the bodice was still too roomy, so I also unpicked my zipper and made it a bit tighter. Definitely an improvement! It doesn’t zip very well up the back of the dress form, but it does work on my body just fine.

I particularly like the ephemeral look of the skirt and how the tulle makes a train. It’s going to look great once I get the leaves sewn on! I feel lovely wearing it even in this unfinished state.

This entry was posted on May 9, 2020.

Beneath the Surface: Wedding Gown Foundations

Formal gowns require structure to support the dress and give it shape. Most of the time, when we see delicate wedding gowns and formal strapless dresses, we don’t see the parts underneath that keep the bodice up, or those that keep the waist seams stable, or the weights sewn into a hemline to keep the fabric under control. They are there, however, and they are absolutely necessary to pull off the silhouettes we love.

Although I am still working, going to school, trying to get my house ready for sale, plus planning the wedding and organizing the new house with my fiancé, I’m finding time each week to do some work on the wedding gown. Not much time, usually, but I have had the occasional afternoon when I stopped working on anything but my gown to force myself into relaxing. I think you’ll be pleased to see how far I have come since my last post. I know I’m thrilled with how things are shaping up!

I have thought more than once how glad I am that I don’t procrastinate; had I waited, I would not currently have the materials I need to create my gown and I would probably be very upset. Almost everything I ordered is now unavailable on Mood’s website, at least at the moment. Fortunately, I ordered everything by the end of January, well before anyone here had even been worrying about coronavirus, and I am well-stocked with silk thread, silks, and nettings.

I’ve been using a Patterns by Gertie pattern, #B6530 from Butterick, for my bodice. I have some Rigilene, a plastic boning, that is without a casing for my boning material. I used a super soft polyester fabric from Mood Fabrics for my lining, and a pair of push-up bra cups for the built-in bra I need. Glancing over my initial design, I came to the conclusion pretty early I’d be doing some sort of illusion neckline, and a traditional bra wasn’t in the cards for me because it would show. I also have had issues in the past with strapless bras sliding around on me, so a built-in bra seemed like a good solution.

I’ve discovered that putting together the strapless bodice portion was quite easy. In spite of all the seams, it was easy to put together and I had no issues whatsoever. It fit quite well right away, which is a must with a wedding gown bodice! It was, if anything, slightly too large when I was using all the pieces, so I removed the last back panel and I plan to install an invisible zipper to hold it closed later, which should eliminate the need for me to hold it up when I’m checking the fit. I had considered a side zipper initially, but the boning channels stopped that idea cold. I just couldn’t see where it would work under the layer and boning, so we’re going with a back zipper since there is no boning along the center back.

I’m also using Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book as a guide. Gertie suggested that Rigilene could be filed to make it softer and less likely to stab you. I can say that I did that, and it still stabs and scratches me. I could try to melt the ends. I understand that works for some people, but I’m not that brave and I can’t get more Rigilene just now if I destroy it by accident thanks to the pandemic. I’m sorry to say the bodice is currently a little torturous to wear at present, but I’m going to try and use a bit of grosgrain ribbon to stabilize it to the skirt as a skirt stay, and maybe to offer additional protection from the boning. Failing that, I will stuff a bit of cotton batting into the the boning channel ends in an effort to stop it from hurting me. My sister-in-law suggested I cut it shorter, which I could still do, but I am reserving that for the final option because I don’t relish the idea of opening each channel, sliding the boning out partway, chopping off another inch to two, sliding back in and checking the fit for comfort then sewing them all closed.

Just wait, I’ll probably have to do that.

Another thing I have discovered about boning: when it is plastic and sold in a coil, it likes to stay coiled. My bustier curves the way the coils did, which is mostly okay, but I’m going to have to apply a warm iron the them to get them to conform more to the shape I need. It doesn’t look bad, for the most part, but it could curve a bit more inward in a couple of places. I hope the warm iron won’t melt the boning into the boning channel…yeah, we’re going to go slowly and carefully with that one. I have a little more Rigilene that I haven’t used, so I’ll probably be fine there if I only destroy one or two, but it’s the bodice fabric I might run out of if things don’t go well when I use heat to shape the bodice.

However, the bra cups are wonderful. I used a tutorial from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book, and used a catch stitch to sew the tops of the cups to the bodice, using the most comfortable bra I own with the right kind of neckline as a model for placement. I actually expected to sew the bottoms of the cups, not the tops, but after having tried on the bodice, the top is the right way to do it. Not only does it look great on the dress form, it feels right when I put it on. So long as I ignore the painful stabbing from the boning, it’s fantastic!

By the way, in case you were wondering, for a lining, seam edges would go on the outside so they are not visible while putting on or wearing the garment. If you have ever worn a dress with a lining, you would see that the seams are neat and the edges are not visible when the dress is inside out. So while it might look like I have sewn this inside out, I’ve actually done it with the right side against the body and the wrong side out, which is correct. These boning channels and seam edges will disappear once I have the exterior layers on. Which leads me to another problem: the boning channels are visible through the silk charmeuse that forms the outer layer of silk. Hmm…I have some fusible interlining I might try out for solving this issue. I think it will do two things: give the bodice fabric more support, and hide the boning and seams, solving both my problems.

I also have used a vintage 1940s slip pattern, McCall’s #8521 for my skirt lining and the first layer of tulle netting that goes over it. I saw someone selling this pattern on Etsy, and they called it very rare, which makes me a tiny bit sad since my cats put a big hole in the skirt tissue paper. Ouch! It’s still usable, though, and I think going forward I will make a copy in pattern paper to protect the original from more damage. It was from Grandma’s collection, so I’m trying to be gentle with the ones I have. Preserving the pattern is important, and my kitties aren’t going to be gentle. They love playing with tissue paper.

Unfortunately, that’s what most of my patterns are made of. Sigh…

I opted to gather the fabric before stitching it to the bodice. I will have to watch that the waist seams don’t become too bulky in the near future because my gown’s skirt will probably have five or six layers total, which might make for some bumpy seams if I don’t take precautions.

The waist seam aside, I’m also wondering if I should add ruffles to the under layers to support the silks and make them float farther away from the body. Most of my inspiration dresses have a slightly wider skirt with many layers of netting and silk, almost like a ballerina’s costume. I love the transparency and lightness, but I’m not totally sure how the shape is achieved since I have only had the opportunity to examine one gown like that. That gown didn’t have ruffly petticoats. This style is not as popular here in northeast Ohio as it doubtless is in other parts of the country. Here everyone seems to be going with either the ballgown or mermaid shape, and the more bell-shaped traditional skirts have never fallen out of style here, judging by what was available at the Cleveland Bridal Expo I went to in January.

Still, my early work has shown that I’m headed in the right direction for achieving the silhouette I want. Today I was working on the first silk layer, a double georgette in antique white, which I based on Colette Patterns’ Zinnia skirt. I simply extended it to floor length, and pinned the pleats according to the directions. I think that when I cut my next skirt I will do it in a bigger room and use objects to weigh it down. In spite of my pins and careful cutting, I still ended up with slippage and a wonky hemline as a result of it. I had to cut some of the side length off, since it was very asymmetrical when I had it pinned up on the dress form. It’s too long, but that’s fine, we’re nowhere near hemming this thing yet.

Next up, I’m going to cut and sew another netting layer and then we work with the charmeuse bodice! I’m both thrilled and terrified to cut into my very expensive antique white silk charmeuse! Does every DIY bride feel this way? Yikes! I think I’m more nervous about making the gown than I am about the actual wedding.

My next post is going to cover the bodice and the lace design! See you then!

This entry was posted on April 14, 2020.

New Beginnings

Last time, I wrote a little teaser about my next project, and then I vanished for a few months. It wasn’t to build suspense, I swear! Though if you’ve been reading my blog you know that’s my modus operandi these days. I just had a lot going on: I moved to the next county, I’m getting my house ready to sell, and as always, school is intense, I have a full-time job, too, and a couple of big side projects. But I have some unexpected down time today, (translation: I’m sick and not doing anything but resting) so I thought I’d use it wisely. It’s time to get started on the work. Ready?

Yes! Me, too.

So, you might ask, what am I making that’s so secretive and important? Anwer: I’m making a wedding gown! Not just any wedding gown, but my own wearable work of art to walk down the aisle in and begin the next stage of the rest of my life.

(Squeals) I’m getting married!

I can hardly believe it. I’m ecstatic to be a bride and begin a new life with someone I love. Dan and I are incredibly happy. He’s amazing. I’m so lucky to have met him! We have bought a lovely house and though we’re still settling in, we’re very happy here. My new sewing room has three windows instead of one, but isn’t well-lit, so I try and work during daylight until I get the lighting situation worked out..oh, and most of my fabric is still packed up in boxes. It’s a process…but I do have my machine up and running and my tools have homes. Finding time to actually finish unpacking and do real sewing is harder to come by, let alone blog about it. I have done some major thinking about the gown, however.

The first thing to decide when making a gown is this: what does it look like?

I started a Pinterest board full of ideas, and here are a few of my inspiration pieces:

There is an overwhelming amount of ideas for bridal gown design out there on the internet. I confess I keep wondering if I should change my concept whenever I see something new and exciting, but I don’t want to go into bridal overload. I do have a good idea how I want it to look, and I have some patterns to help me cobble something together. There don’t seem to be many patterns for brides out there that have this type of shape and skirt, so the DIY bride has to be resourceful and creative. It doesn’t hurt if I happen to have a large stash of vintage patterns, though I did buy a Gertie petticoat pattern, and Dan got me Gertie’s Ultimate Dress book for Christmas, which has been helpful and contains a variety of patterns for skirts and bodices. I can use these in conjunction with my vintage slips and bridal patterns and I think that will make the shape I want with some minor alterations.

As the bride, you also have to ask yourself, what do I want or need from the gown? What flatters me? What makes me feel beautiful, and what reflects my personality?

What I need from a wedding gown is to flatter me, not overwhelm me, and not be white.


Not white?

It’s actually very easy to hate white when you are a pale woman with strawberry blonde hair. White is cruel to me; it washes out my coloring and makes me look paler than I already am. That blinding white that is so common of wedding gowns is terribly unflattering to my delicate coloring. The color that does look good on me is blue. It brings out my eyes, balances the reddish tones inner skin, and doesn’t overwhelm my paleness. It’s my favorite color, incidentally.

My special lace that I have chosen for my gown is blue. I found this lovely confection on Mood Fabrics. It was $80 a yard, and the loveliest thing I found in my search. There were many, many others, all beautiful, but this one captured my heart. Plus, a leaf motif is appropriate for my early fall wedding. The lace itself is embroidered in different blues on a light beige netting material and while delicate, it still makes a strong statement.

I’m going to layer my gown’s fabrics to create an airy, delicate garment. I have a very soft, white polyester material for my lining. I’ve also purchased an ivory tulle, also very soft, made of polyester for two layers of the skirt. I have a silk charmeuse in antique white for the main outer layer. I also have an antique white silk georgette for yet another layer. I purchased the last little half yard of a white Oscar de La Renta lace with a dimensional floral design. I purchased some silk thread, and some sparkly flower buttons for there back. All my fabrics and supplies came from Mood, and I was fortunate enough to get the laces on sale. I think my price tag came to about $500 total. That might sound expensive, but compared to what the ready-to-wear wedding gowns that I actually like cost, plus the fact I’m using some real silk and designer laces, I have gotten off lightly.

As for what I want to do with all this stuff, I have a general plan. I’ thinking of having the lace on the outside layer of the dress, but I’m not certain how exactly. At the moment, I am going to carefully cut it apart and sew it by hand onto the ivory tulle, maybe layered over some of the silk with the Oscar de La Renta lace appliquéd onto it. So the under layer that would be visible would be Oscar de La Renta hand applied to silk, with the topmost layer a confection of leaf lace and tulle.

This is an early draft of my gown concept. My lace is a bit smaller in scale, however, and I will be using more of it that is shown.

If the Oscar de La Renta is too distracting to be used that way, I might keep it for another project, like my bridal lingerie, or for something non-wedding entirely.

The back design is still an unknown quantity. In my sketch, you see a double layer of buttons, which I may do, or I could go with an invisible zipper very carefully stitched in place and no buttons. I may do a zipper and have the buttons over top, but as a decorative part of the gown.

The wedding takes place on September 26th, and given the time of year, that can be very chilly here in Ohio. I am also going to create a short jacket or a wrap of some kind to keep myself warm. I want to create that from velvet, shantung or brocade. I may use the buttons on the jacket instead of the gown, and I would like to line it with silk leftovers from the gown material. It should keep the chill off during outdoor photos (weather permitting) or during the reception, which will take place in a lovingly restored 1860s mansion. Between the church and the reception hall, I should be spending time in some larger spaces that are not necessarily warm spaces, so a jacket or wrap is a must!

Stay tuned for more wedding gown excitement!

This entry was posted on March 15, 2020.

Autumn Beauties

Ah, the turning of the seasons. Hard to believe it, but it’s the time of year when the mornings and nights are chilly, the leaves are beginning their cycle of transformation, and the monarchs are migrating. Fall is a season of transformation, of transition, and magic.

I’ve been wanting to make a ton of things this year but my school interferes for much of the year and my projects mostly get relegated to summer or winter break. Occasionally I can work on something for a ten minute to an hour long stretch, but those times are few and far between as the semester progresses. However, I did manage to complete a project this way during the spring and I am just now getting around to write about it. The reason for this is, as usual, me trying to get all my projects, both sewing related and house/yard related, finished in those three short months of the year that comprise summer break. Goodness knows I’d like to have more time for everything, but I’m nearing the end of my schooling, so perhaps next year.

I say that every year. It’s never true.

However, I did manage to make a lot of projects this summer due to the heatwave. I hid in my house for a few days and set up camp in the living room with the sewing machine, the cats, and two seasons of Hulu’s “Harlots.” I did nothing but sew for two days. It was awesome. One of the things I finished was this shirt.

I purchased the Archer pattern by Grainline Studio. It’s a very lovely button-down blouse with a back yoke, a shaped hem, a pleated option for the back, and cuffs. I purchased this amazingly pretty plaid cotton twill with brown eyelet embroidery from Mood Fabrics just for this pattern. I actually own very few button-down shirts, and since the one I had was developing holes along the back yoke, it was time for a replacement.

The fabric was an excellent choice. I love the teal and cranberry stripes against the coffee brown and latte background plaid. The eyelet I was intending to have on the shirt hem, but quickly realized this was impractical and it would show off much better at the back yoke, collar and cuffs. So, with some careful planning when I did my cutting, that’s exactly what I did.

I elected not to create the front pockets, although I did consider it, and wonder if I might add them on later, since they are patch pockets and it would be easy. However, I know they won’t get used. I’m hugely in favor of more pockets in women’s clothing, however, I would prefer more useful pockets. When was the last time you put anything in your front shirt pockets? Never? Right. Me too.

Posing in front of my new potting shed with a new rosebush!

I had intended to use buttons from my stash, but when I compared the buttons I had with the fabric, most either clashed badly or got lost or were just…wrong. So I went off to the local Jo Ann’s and retrieved some cool wooden buttons (which might actually be plastic, I’m not sure.) I like the recessed cut out on these very much. They’re fun to touch. I find myself playing with them occasionally when I wear this shirt to work. They do blend in a bit, but I find the texture helps them stand out while still harmonizing with the palette.

Buttons on my cuffs. I love the double buttons. I’ll tell you a secret: these don’t function. I used snaps underneath.

So in the interest of honesty, I did flub the directions a little and made a goof on the collar stand. I’m not used to doing collar stands and I was confused about the exact placement in relation to the button placket…and the result is that the placket sticks out almost an inch from there the collar stand ends and it’s meant to be flush.

I’m an unbuttoned collar kind of girl anyway. I find my mistake does not, in fact, have any effect on the wearability or attractiveness of the shirt in any way. Therefore…not a mistake? I’m going to say that. Not a mistake.

I made one other mistake, though I hesitate to call it that. Let’s go with “design decision” instead. I forgot about eyelet having holes, so when I fused the interfacing to the collar, it peeked through each hole. I decided to leave it; the interfacing served to highlight the holes and that wasn’t a bad thing, I felt. I wanted to show those off, and it isn’t too noticeable since most people I know don’t sew their own clothing anyway.

The finished collar!

I also had to work around the eyelet on the top part of the collar; I wanted to preserve the eyelet’s scalloped edges because they’re too pretty to cut off. I ended up cutting the top piece a little larger and then carefully hemmed the collar’s bottom edge before topstitching it to the top eyelet portion so it wouldn’t show through the holes in the collar or poke out underneath the scalloped edges on top. Whew! I was super careful, and I didn’t have to redo it! I like the way it turned out.

The shirt back in all it’s glory! Note also the gathered back shirt tail panel, a variation detail the the Archer pattern offers for a little more feminine spin on a classic design.
Back Yoke view. So lovely.

The back yoke is my favorite part. I love how it shows off the eyelet and makes the shirt so very feminine. I had to plan it out carefully to make sure when I cut my fabric that the plains all matched up and those scalloped edges were safe from harm. You can probably tell I’m proud of my details and all my fussy matching with the plaid. You can’t even tell it’s a separate piece from my pictures! A job well done, if I do say so myself.

The Archer also offers a shaped hemline. I learned a trick some time ago about giving a shirt tail a clean edge involving bias tape. You need only stitch a piece of single fold bias tape along the edge of the shirt tail and then fold it upward and stitch it in place. It tucks in your edges and provides a clean finish and some extra durability for your shirt. I used a coordinating teal bias tape that picks up the teal in the shirt, although I didn’t take any photos of it, I know it’s there, and I see it every time I put the shirt on and that makes me smile. It’s the little things that matter, as they say.

Please enjoy this gratuitous cat photo. Ace photobombs me every single time.

Stay tuned, my dear readers. I have a few more projects to write about, and one very, very big project I hope to show you the first steps of soon. You’re going to be excited! I know I am…oh, I can’t wait to get started. If only these pesky job and school responsibilities would just evaporate and let me get to what’s really important! It’s driving me crazy that I can’t begin work on it just yet.

I’ll give you a hint: it’s one of the most important garments I will ever wear, but only once…

This entry was posted on October 15, 2019.

Pretty in Plaid

Hello my dear readers!

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in months, please forgive me. I have, in fact, been sewing but it takes time and so does work, and my studies in Graphic Design, and housework and a million other things. Unfortunately, when it comes to what I can skip this week to keep my full schedule rolling, I usually choose sewing and blogging to sacrifice. Luckily, I make zero money on this blog and I’m not a professional or attempting to be internet famous.

Thank goodness for that, I’m busy enough.

However, as I mentioned, I am sewing a little, just not as much right now. I’ve actually completed four sewing projects this winter, which sounds a bit pathetic, but they were almost all very involved. The most complicated of these was a button-down shirt.

halfbodyThe breakdown:

Pattern: The Bruyere Shirt, by Deer and Doe Patterns

Fabric: Mid-weight Cotton Flannel

Needle: 80

Skill level: Intermediate

Can I just say, I love this shirt. I wear it weekly,  and not just because my workplace has opted for “Flannel Fridays” in an attempt to break away from the uniforms. (It’s like casual Friday, but far fewer options.) This pattern is a gem. Lots of pieces, yes, and fussy matching using a plaid fabric, but wow! The fit is so nice in the finished product, and it’s super flattering. I love this pattern. I will likely make it again in a lightweight sleeveless version, and wow, I can’t wait to make the other one I bought, the Bluet, a shirtdress with princess seams and cap sleeves.

I did make a few mistakes on this one, most of which I will repair at some point. I think my sleeves are a smidge to long, and the cuffs are a bit too wide, they stick out weirdly from my wrists like little wings. I also should close up the slash above the cuff somewhat, it’s too wide and too long. I have tiny little elven wrists, so this happens all the time when I do sleeves with cuffs. I have some wandering plaid on the waistband. Also, the hem is slightly uneven at the button placket bottom, which I blame the plaid for entirely. It led me astray, thinking all was even as I hemmed. That’s right. It’s the fabric’s fault, not mine!

Ahem. Where were we?


The plaid matches. Oh, yes it does.

Oh, right, fabric. This darling fabric was purchased expressly for this project. I know, I told myself I was going to burn a hole in my stash this past year. I have been diligently using up fabrics, trying to get the pile to shrink, finishing my UFO drawers, and generally being a good girl. When the “Flannel Fridays” thing came out at work, though…I have exactly two plaid shirts, and neither is flannel. To be honest, I doubt most of my coworkers understand the difference between a plaid shirt and a flannel shirt, but the picture on the poster shows a plaid shirt, so most of us just go for plaid and forget the flannel part. However, this is Ohio, and winter is a definite season here, so I opted for purchasing actual plaid flannel to be stylish and warm. I layer a chunky cardigan over the shirt and wear my denim leggings underneath with my cute boots and I’m ready for work, sans uniform.

(I know, people call them ‘jeggings’ but I flatly refuse to on general principle. I don’t like smooshing words together. It’s just…wrong. Spellcheck agrees with me.)



I also was going to use stash buttons for this project, I had some steel filigree type all picked out from the button box…and they just didn’t work. I ended up in the button aisle at JoAnn’s, splurging on these amazingly cute (and expensive) black and white little guys. They are perfect, so no regrets there, and I had a coupon anyway.


One suggestion I would make is perhaps to make a few extra pieces from the waistband and maybe put some lightweight interfacing in there to help it stiffen up a little. Perhaps a bit of interfacing int he collar too, it’s kind of wrinkle prone when I wear it. But there are wonderful facings inside on the back yoke. I finished my main seams with some bias tape to keep them from unraveling as flannel enjoys doing. I also loved having directions in both English and French, though my command of that language is not so great that I understood them all, but I appreciated them all the sameside2

I really appreciate how this shirt is on the long side, giving me some coverage over my derriere to wear leggings (because I just can’t wear them without coverage. I feel like it isn’t a look that would work for me.) The curved hem is quite lovely as well. There are some wonderful box pleats at the waistband that gives a vaguely skirt-like shape to the bottom pieces.  I think this one would work with contrast fabrics, or a lace yoke. Such pretty possibilities! I definitely would endorse this one as figure-flattering and feminine and worth the time it took to get all these pieces together.









This entry was posted on February 22, 2019.

First Impressions

When this fabric arrived, I looked at it and wondered,“What was I thinking?bljuedress10

We’ve all done it. You’re shopping, feeling good, and you buy something that you think will be great or you need a couple more dollars in your cart for free shipping, or whatever offer you’re going for. You pick something out and then later, you’re staring at it in confusion. That’s kind of what happened here with this pique knit in navy blue. I opened the package, and said, “What did I do?”

I didn’t like it. It was medium weight, pebbly, and while the drape was okay, it wasn’t the kind of pique I was expecting. When I ordered it, I was thinking it would be more of a waffle texture, like a henley, but that wasn’t what I got. I hadn’t been sewing with knits much at that point, so I was understandably confused, not realizing ‘pique’ meant a lot of different things. Instead it was more bumpy, like the skin of a lime, and to my eyes, about as attractive.

Looking at it, my first thought was, ‘polo shirts’ because I grew up in the 1980s and that’s what everybody was wearing. It was the preppy yuppy look with lots of stretch pique knits and alligators embroidered on the chest. Ew. Even now, I cringe.

I think I might even have owned one, but my excuse is that I was a kid and my mom and grandma picked out most of my clothes and sometimes I just agreed with whatever they asked me about liking, because I was bored and wanted to go look at toys. At the time, I rarely appreciated long clothes buying sessions unless there were dresses. I was all about dresses. I still am.

But I digress.

The pique was unloved, initially. A mistake, I thought. Perhaps I could make it into sleepwear that would never see the light of day. I threw it in the antique steamer trunk that I use to store my fabric and forgot about it.

Time is a funny thing. We sometimes need time to come to a decision about something, even if it happens to be something we’re not actually thinking about. I am firm believer in walking away from something for a long time and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. More often than not, time away brings new ideas when I see it again.

I was going through some of grandma’s patterns back in the late winter, deciding what to make, Scanwhen I saw this one little dress from McCall’s, #2127 dated 1969. Originally, I had thought to make it in some other fabric, but in the end, decided to try the pique knit. I cut the pieces and…did nothing for a while. I’m easily distracted, and I went in pursuit of spring/summer sewing instead, cranking out little knit tops, a rayon blouse and a pair of pants and then… I went through my project bins looking to clean them up. I do that periodically, because I promised myself I would complete at least half of my unfinished projects that were languishing in the drawers this year so I could fill them with… more unfinished projects.

That’s logical, right? Of course it is.

So, throwing my initial dislike out the window, I decided to give the homely fabric a chance. I mean, at least it was blue. I love blue. I wasn’t crazy about the texture, but maybe with the right pattern and jazzed up with some trims I could come to love it. If I didn’t love it, well, I could sleep in it, probably. Knits make good sleepwear.

I set to work, stitching up the pieces. I still wasn’t sure about it after cutting, as it still seemed like a polo shirt to my eyes. I was worried it was going to look weird after I got done, and not in an avant-garde, street style kind of way but in a train wreck, fashion-don’t kind of way. Still, I persevered and began stitching.

When I began check the fit, I found I had to run it in a lot. When I initially traced the pieces I made them a little too large for a knit, thinking I was going to do this pattern in a woven, as it was originally intended to be. That was way before I decided on the pique knit, naturally.

After I made a few adjustments and trimmed down the excess, it was a very flattering fit. So much so, I didn’t mind the pique knit so much. It had some cute details with the waist seam shaping, coming to a point just at my sternum and curving away gracefully with bodice gathers to enhance the bust. I found some nifty bubble trim on Etsy and it was the right length and color, so I hand-stitched it to the sleeves and down the center front. It’s a nice vertical element, and feels right for the design. Originally I was going to do buttons as decorative elements like on the line art the envelope is sporting, but once I had the trim it brought in some texture and interest, so I didn’t need them.


I liked that the design worked well with my narrow shoulders, too, which is always a problem for me with the more modern designs. My shoulders are narrow and small, and using modern patterns for me means that the shoulder seams are inevitably hanging a good two inches or three off of my actual shoulders.

My understanding is that the more common female body type in this century has broader shoulders and hips than the dominant type of the previous hundred years. This is probably why vintage patterns produce clothes that fit me better than their more modern counterparts; I’m literally built like an old-fashioned girl.

The pique was pretty easy to work with; it is a bit of a medium weight, so I used a thicker needle, a ballpoint 90/10. It is also very stable, as far as I can tell, if a bit unexpectedly clingy. I might not have cut the skirt quite so slim if I had known the knit was going to hug me like that. I don’t recall polo shirts doing that…so please remember, for your own pique knit sewing adventure: pique wants to get nice and cozy with you. It wants to hug you lots. Give yourself some ease space in this relationship or it will become incredibly clingy! (Perhaps this is due to my initial rejection and it feels insecure?)


bluedress3My sewing form was a big help in this project, too. I don’t use it all the time, as I find it isn’t true to my size in spite of what the settings say.  It is great with knits or loose garments, though, so I get some use out of it.

However, it comes in very handy with hemming to a correct, consistent length. I like to finish my hems by hand when possible. I’ve messed up too many hems by machine for my liking, I’m afraid. Few things are as painful as finishing a garment only to discover you’ve messed up your hem and have to rip most or all of it out. Ah, well. Live and learn.

The sewing form is also good for getting an idea how a garment will hang and for applying trim. I was able to pin the trim on very easily with minimal repositioning, which would probably not have happened if I tried it while either wearing the dress or having it lay flat in front of me. It’s not always so easy to run a long piece of trim vertically down a garment and have it look evenly spaced and lined up, but having it parallel to my line of sight was super helpful with that.  I attached the trim by hand and that worked pretty well. I was concerned the heavy texture of the trim would mess up either the trim itself or the sewing machine if I tried to do it by machine, and since I had very little leftover I couldn’t risk damaging it. It worked out very well- I have about three inches of leftover trim, so I feel a job was well done here in using it up and applying it. However, as a perfectionist, I can still see a spot that might need adjusting on my skirt before I actually wear this cute little number out in public. bluedress9

Overall, this turned out to be a rather nice dress that I like very much, which is surprising given my first impression of the fabric as ugly and not something I would ever wear. I love a happy ending, don’t you? I still have some of this fabric left, enough to make something small. I don’t know what, yet. Maybe some that sleepwear I was initially considering, or perhaps I’ll discover an unexpectedly cute pattern and fabric combination like I did here. Who knows?

That’s what I like about sewing: it forces me to be creative in ways I wouldn’t ordinarily consider, a result partly gained through my own inept blundering when I buy an ill-considered fabric, or when disaster strikes or I just plain mess up the process. It’s kind of nice knowing that however I might screw a given thing up, I can usually fix it if I just give it time and consideration, and it often turns out nicer than my original plan.









This entry was posted on September 20, 2018.

Feel the Love, Not the Cold.

After taking a long break from my blog, I’m trying to get back on schedule with my writing. I’ve got an easier class schedule this semester, so maybe I will reach that goal! If nothing else, maybe my photography will improve with my digital photography basics course. (Smiles.)DSC_0555 (1 of 1)

It’s March now, and the forecast is for very cold temperatures this year.  Alas, I found myself this January without a heavy winter coat. It came to my attention last year that the one I’ve had since college was just a bit too small for me, particularly when I buttoned the top button under my throat. Ouch. Nobody likes their outerwear to strangle them. Yes, I’m turning 40 this year, and yes, that means I’ve had the coat for twenty years. In my defense, classic shapes never go out of style, and a good coat is hard to give up. This coat, however, is destined for the charity drive. I’m sorry to see it go, but perhaps it will warm somebody else for another twenty years.

Predictably, when I looked at the label, it was, in fact, a size small. I’ve been systematically eliminating all the smalls from my wardrobe as they fit a little too snugly these days, so it was a surprise to find one still hanging around. I thought I got all of the little pests…Anyway, I decided this meant that I needed to make my first winter coat.  I mean, why not? New challenges are fun, right? Right! (Points dramatically.) To the sewing machine!

I had made a coat once before, Colette Patterns’ Anise, and I was very pleased with it. However, since up by Lake Erie we can get winter temperatures in the negative teens, I elected to go with a coat that has a longer hemline and covers me to my knees. I also wanted a simpler construction than that pattern, because I wanted to add a thermal interlining and I was worried about it becoming too bulky at the seams.

lisettecoatI decided on Butterick’s Lisette #B6423 because I liked the drop shoulders, the shawl collar and the nice deep pockets. It features a kick pleat in the back, and one large, decorative button, which will make it easy to button up with chilled fingers. It has plenty of room to move in the shoulder areas also. If you factor in the likelihood that you’re going to wear a sweater under it, that extra room is a great convenience.  The overall design is rather simple, so I would say if you want to make your first coat, this is a good choice. It’s easier to sew with fewer pieces over one with a lot of seams, like a princess style or a trench. Even so, with the lining, facing and other pieces all cut in duplicates or quadruplets, I ended up with over 30 pieces of fabric to sew together. I was very relieved I had decided to go with a simpler pattern at that point, because it was quite the pile.


On the less practical side, I also liked this pattern because it had a style reminiscent of the 1920s coats, with their wide collars and straight lines. I do love dressing in a different century. An enterprising seamstress could make a more historical version with a faux fur collar and cuffs in a striped material or solid black.

I found some really lovely aubergine wool coating on sale at Fabric Mart’s website with a nice boucle texture.  I did a little research into coat construction and I discovered the existence of flannel backed satin. It’s a good lining for a winter coat because it’s warmer than other types of lining, and quite heavy.  It feels nice, too! It’s satin and flannel, which are two fabrics I love, so it’s certainly a winner in my book. I found some of this wonderful lining at Vogue Fabrics’ website, in a nice navy blue, along with a Thinsulate thermal lining by 3M. It has quilted side and a flat side, and the quilted side is meant to go against the outer layer while the flat side goes against the lining.  It’s made of olefin and polyester, which I found interesting. Olefin is usually found in area rugs, it’s a good alternative to wool rugs for those who are sensitive to it. The description also says you can use it in blankets, so presumably you could make a winter coverlet for your bed or a cold weather vest, etc.coat5 (1 of 1)

The idea is to sew it to the lining, but I didn’t actually do that, due to my pattern’s construction. The pattern has large collar and facing pieces that flow from the back of the neck all the way down to the hem, and they’re very deep inside of the coat.


coat7 (1 of 1)My pattern calls for fusible interfacing, which I didn’t use at all, instead putting my thinsulate in there. The thinsulate works there because those pieces will cover my torso and all the way down to my knees, which is ideal for blocking as much cold air as possible.  I also installed a piece on the upper back, which was not in the instructions but seemed like a good idea to me. It did make the pieces a little stiffer, but I didn’t experience any trouble sewing them or wearing the coat. Please note, I also tend to cut my coats in a size larger than I am, which allows me to layer up underneath them. It gives one some wiggle room when sewing, as well.

For construction, I used a heavier needle, a 110/. because of the thickness of my coating, thinsulate and flannel backed satin. I did all the hems by hand: the lining, the outer shell, as well as the sleeves. The sleeves ultimately proved too long for me so I removed about two inches of fabric from the ends and that solved my problem.  I did notice that when I put my lining in, it was slightly too long to fit neatly by just a couple of inches.  I’m not certain if that was my error or an error in the pattern. It was an easily solvable problem, though. I just put in a pleat and the center of the collar, and that took up the extra material just fine and ended up looking rather nice.

For my buttonhole, I used the bound buttonhole technique. I cut two strips of fabric from my leftovers. I folded them and sewed them into a pair of rectangles, which then get sewn shut at each end. Next, the scary part: a horizontal slit is cut in the coat with two little triangles at the end, and the rectangle piece are inserted. Then you fold your cut ends inside and stitch the whole thing together. I did mine entirely by hand due to the thickness and relatively small seams required. I had bought this really cool giant flower button at JoAnn’s some time ago and I felt this was the perfect use for it. It contrasts nicely with the aubergine wool and it adds a fancy detail. Flowers, of course, are my favorite thing to add to any garment, so it was the perfect addition.coat1 (1 of 1)

The day I completed this coat was 13 degrees Fahrenheit and with the windchill, a final tally of -1 degree. I wore the coat, and I was warm. Success!





This entry was posted on March 6, 2018.

(Re)Making History: ca. 1965

I haven’t done much sewing this summer (and fall) because the weather was so nice that I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could! I love it when it isn’t so hot that I want to melt. Plus, I’ve started taking some graphic design classes three times a week while still working a forty hour week, so as you can imagine, life has gotten complicated for me.  I’m just now getting around to posting summer projects in October, er, November (!) because of it. I’ve learned a lot and I even bought my first laptop, which I’m using to compose this post on right now. The photos in this post were taken on the last of the warm days in October, so technically, I’m only a month behind. (Covers face in embarrassment.)

Naturally this takes time away from sewing, pushing it to the bottom of the list of things I can reasonably accomplish in a day, since homework is now my priority.   Between assignments and housework and my job, I’ve still managed to do a  few projects, albeit veeeeery slowly!

I am really pleased with Simplicity #5891, a flirtatious little number from my vintage pattern collection. Dating from 1965, it still has the full skirt and close-fitting bodice from the first half of the decade, and an adorable scarf over the neckline that I just love. Speaking of love, isn’t that pattern art just adorable? Can I say that hand drawn pattern envelopes are still my favorite, even in the age of Photoshop and Illustrator?simplicity5891








I raided my stash and used an incredibly lightweight striped cotton shirting, purchased a few years ago from Vogue Fabrics. I love the thin stripes, because I didn’t have to worry too much about matching them up since they aren’t obviously mismatched. I considered having them run horizontally initially, but I didn’t have enough fabric for that. I’m pleased with the way it came out; I think the vertical stripes look nice. They’re small enough not to be distracting but large enough to provide some color; the best of both worlds!

1965dress5My fabric was so sheer I had to fully line the bodice instead of using the facings included in the pattern. I used most of the leftover fabric to make a mini skirt lining. I do mean mini, too! It barely comes to my thighs, but it provides some much-needed modesty under the thin skirt material, and I feel good about using up nearly all my fabric, too.


Love the stripe

Originally, this was a dress pattern my grandmother had made to wear herself, so instead of redrawing the pieces larger, I had to scale it down. The original was for a 38″ bust and that was way too big for me. I have learned something valuable from this experience, too. When you redraw a pattern to a smaller size, you need to reduce the interior volume, not just the exterior lines of the pattern. When I cut my pieces and did my early fittings, I discovered everything was still too big. I spent a lot of time fitting the bodice as a result. I had to make my darts much deeper to get it to fit and I still ended up trimming off the sides a bit. So, if I do this again, I’ve got to pay attention to my darts and reduce the volume when I redraw the bodice.

The skirt had three pleats on each of the four panels, plus I did a free hanging lining, so I ended up making twenty-four pleats total. It felt like forever while I was sewing them! I really love how they look, though. I feel the skirt has the right amount of fullness without being in the way. It floats a little in the breeze because the fabric is so lightweight!


Back view, with my scarf improvisation.

There was supposed to be a belt piece that has gone missing over the decades, but I feel the dress is pretty enough without it. Along with the belt piece, the second half of the instructions seems to have disappeared also. Perhaps they’re together somewhere in another pattern envelope…

As a result, I had to improvise a little when it was time to attach the scarf. I had no idea how it was supposed to go, so I guessed. I installed the invisible zipper first. Then I stitched the ends to each side next to the zipper, on the outside of the garment, on the side of the scarf that wouldn’t show. It took me a few tries to get it right, because I had to angle the pieces so they would lay correctly. My thinking was that the scarf would ten turn over, and come around the front to tie at the v-neck. It works pretty well, but I quickly discovered the scarf had other ideas about where it wanted to lay down.

I hand stitched each piece the shoulder seams to keep the scarf from moving around too much when I wear it. I think it looks good for having to improvise an installation.

I also shortened it quite a lot from the original. I made the hem fairly deep rather than cut off the extra fabric, because sometimes I get little too enthusiastic with the scissors…and this way looks very tidy with no panicking, which I like very much! I owe this tidy look in part to my dress form, which was invaluable for measuring and pinning the hem.

It’s a lovely dress and went together easily. It’s very comfortable, too! I may make 1965dress3another version with the narrow skirt later…after I redraw the bodice to make it less voluminous, that is.

I particularly like how the dress doesn’t look especially retro- the design is timeless. It’s really just a sleeveless v-neck bodice with bust and waist darts and a full skirt, and a little scarf that could be left off for variety, which lends itself to a variety of fabrics, color combinations and even fabric combinations.

Most importantly, it makes me feel pretty, which everything a dress should be and do for the wearer. Perfect!

This entry was posted on November 25, 2017.