Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Perfect Sundress

The perfect sundress

This is all Oona’s fault (yes, it’s an old post, but she linked it to me recently). Or maybe Patty’s. I haven’t decided. The Sew Weekly challenge this week is “The Perfect Sundress,” too, which isn’t helping. I haven’t done any of their challenges thus far, but it seems like a nice little community (though the site layout is still a bit puzzling to me), and since this week’s challenge coincided with something I’ve been wanting to sew anyway, I figure I’ll give it a bash.

So here it is. This fabric was part of my Easter thrift store haul. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it—that strong, woven stripe is a bit limiting—but when maxi-dresses started being dangled provocatively in my face (see above links), I knew.

Maxi dress option 1

Maxi dress option 1

Now, it’s not as if I have a shortage of maxi-dress pattern options.

Maxi-dress option 2

But, I may be stuck on this sketch I doodled out the other night. The neckline is like Oona’s, the sleeves more like Patty’s. It could be as simple as a rectangle cinched by an under-bust sash, but I’m thinking a bit more shaping would probably be flattering.

Maxi-dress option 3

I guess if I’m going to make this up this week, I’d better decide, though.

Maxi-dress option 4

So many maxi dresses, so little time…



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The Bell-bottoms

Vintage wranglers (with accessories)

In about 1997, I stumbled upon two pairs of bell-bottom Wranglers, presumably vintage but more or less pristine, at a garage sale. They were a little big, but at least that meant they sat a bit low on my hips. In those days, stretch denim and low-rise pants had not yet penetrated to my little backwater… I was still wearing my Levi 501s and trying to figure out why anything that fit at the waist had huge flaps at the hips.  At seventeen you don’t really have a clear sense of your body… all I knew was that the look I was seeing wasn’t quite right. I was also still wrestling with my 80s-bred distaste for any pants that flared at all. The wranglers hung off my hips at the perfect level, though, and if they didn’t hug or skim anything, well, as long as I could show off my tummy, at that point I didn’t much care. I wore them with boho shirts and a metal-link belt that had belonged to my mother in the 70s, if not the 60s. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would be wearing bell-bottoms more-or-less exclusively for the next decade.

Ellen Bellbottom Jeans

Although I was never a serious devotee of the flare (I don’t have the hips for wide ones), I was a late adopter of the skinny jean, as well—I got my first only a little over a year ago.  But I haven’t had non-stretch, old-school flares since I ousted those Wranglers, round about the birth of my first child.

Then, Joy’s Bellbottom Challenge cropped up and, coincidentally, I wound up with two metres of absolutely gorgeous dark-indigo non-stretch denim. Obviously the two would have to combine into some seriously retro bellbottoms.

Not, however, as huge and sloppy as my old wranglers, however. So, I went to my handy-dandy Ellen pants pattern, which is my only non-stretch pants pattern (that I know fits, anyway…), traced it off, made the adaptations for jeans (back yoke, front pockets), brainstormed a couple of different ideas for the closure and the pockets, and got to work. Ellen is a great pattern for mods like this because it’s completely free of style details if you leave off the pockets.

I opted to have the legs flare from about mid-thigh. I probably could’ve gone a bit lower, but I wanted, for whatever reason, more of a wide-legged look than a hip-hugger look. I added what seemed like it would be a modest, but definite, flare.

Front lace-up fly

I decided, for no particular reason, to make a corset-closing front rather than a traditional fly… I had a pair like this shortly after Tyo was born, and I always loved the feature (I have a bit of a weakness for things that lace up.). I haven’t decided whether to add grommets to the waistband itself, or buttons with a tab stretching between them. We’ll see. Although inserting grommets is always a little nerve-wracking, this was still simpler than a fly, for those of you who are chicken of flies and not afraid to look a little out there ;).

Bound waistband interior and flat-felled seams

Bound waistband interior and flat-felled seams

I did my new favourite waistband-finishing technique, binding the inside with bias tape (this time the blue satin left over from my springy coat facing), and, since the Ellen has 1.5 cm seam allowances rather than the 1cm of the Jalie pattern, I decided to try my hand at (ulp) felled seams.

They were… ok. Definitely not perfect. In particular, although my yoke seams lined up at the seam-line, the way the seam-allowances interact in a flat-felled seam means that after they were folded over, the yokes look offset. Boo. On the up-side each seam is only stitched twice, instead of three times, and there’s less swapping back and forth of threads. The trimming and pressing takes a lot longer, though, and I think I get more even topstitching with the “cheater” method. Hmm. We’ll see. A big part of me is still convinced I’m not making proper jeans if they don’t have felled seams. Hmm.


Bell-bottoms: back

I hemmed them LONG. If they don’t shrink up in length, I may have to shorten them. That’s ok. I’ve been traumatized by too many too-short pants over the years to mind a bit of extra length. And it’s fun to put on heels and still have only my toes peek out.

So... much... leg...

Click through to the full-size rear photo to get a better view of my back pockets… I made them shield-shaped to echo the corset-fly.
My hubby, a diehard child of the 80s, has already expressed his dislike of them. I explained that I think I’m allowed to own one pair of jeans that he doesn’t like. He countered that he doesn’t own any jeans that I don’t like. I pointed out that’s only because he won’t go shopping without me. I think this means I win, don’t you?

It really doesn’t show in the pictures, but I also did one vintage thing that I’ve never before attempted on jeans.

I pressed creases front and back in them. I think they look very smart.

Now all I need is a 70s blouse to go with them… 😀

(I think I’ll have to do a 70s week in Me-Made June, what do you think?)


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Capri-cious Camo

The Capri Girl

Tyo’s camo capris are finished. It’s been rainy so I’ve been carless* and hence unable to make it to the fabric store for the finishing touches (buttonhole elastic for the waistband and twill-tape for the leg drawstrings), so I had to improvise. I found the missing black thread under the couch, bought shoelaces at the grocery store for the drawstrings, and liberated the buttonhole elastic from the fishtank, where it has been holding down our improvised fish-tank-cover** for the last several months.

I must say, these were really fun to make. The fabric was cooperative, and just the right weight—heavy enough to feel sturdy, without being so bulky as to give my machine fits.

The pattern, as I mentioned before, is from a 2009 Patrones children’s issue. It features five pocket styling (I made six by putting a change pocket on each side… oops!), funky-shaped rear pockets with nifty-shaped flaps, and a waistband designed for buttonhole elastic.

Elastic back waistband

Now, adding buttonhole elastic to a kids’ waistband is easy as pie, but it’s kinda nice to have it marked on the pieces so I don’t forget, since you have to work the buttonholes and ideally attach the buttons before putting the waistband on.

Look, ma! Rivets!

I used my triple-stitch (aka straight stretch stitch) for the topstitching. This is nice because it doesn’t upset my machine the way topstitching thread often does, but it can be a little feisty and you have to pay attention to where you are in the three-stitch cycle when turning corners. It worked quite well on this fabric, though. If you click through to the full size photo, you will also see that in addition to double-topstitching the inseam, I did a single row of topstitching along the outseam! This is much trickier, as you have to do it once the pantlegs are already tubes, and involves sewing down the inside of the inside-out leg, bunching the fabric up around the needle as you go. Slow and fiddly, but I figured these were short and loose enough that I had better try it here, as I might not ever try it again. 😉

Interior waistband finish

Another touch I tried is a bit of a cheater finish—I used some of the bias left over from my 70s jacket to bind the inside of the waistband. I feel justified in this finish because I recently got a pair of (thrifted) RTW jeans that have the same finish. It makes for a super-easy waistband; you just topstitch from the right side, not worrying about catching the underside at all because there’s plenty to catch. Also this is the same fabric I used for the pocket-lining and the underside of the flaps.

Of course, it's all about the shoes.

I cut a Patrones size 10, the smallest the pattern came in. According to her measurements Tyo is a Patrones size 8 on the bottom and six on the top, but with the wonders of  buttonhole elastic, they fit fine. The pattern is cut very wide and flat on the backside, relying on the elastic for any fitting. I took it in a couple of cm at the CB seam, to give Tyo a bit of extra shaping in this area.  My only complaint is that the rise is quite low. Really low, for a kids’ pattern. Especially considering Tyo, ah, needs a bit more coverage in the rear. If I make this again, I’ll add a generous wedge to the CB.

Back pocket with patch

Although I made buttonholes in the rear pocket flaps, I haven’t cut them or attached buttons. We’ll see if I bother or not. I did decorate one rear pocket with an embroidered patch Tyo had purchased at a street fair last summer. It was originally intended for her jean-jacket, but since that’s still sporting its punk/zombie patches from last Hallowe’en, we decided to use it here. I like contrast of camo fabric with hippie/Buddhist patch.

Have I ever mentioned my daughter is way cooler than I ever was?

I can’t wait until these have been washed about a dozen times and get that worn-in-faded-camo look. In fact, I like them so much I might have to think about making myself some. I haven’t worn camo regularly since my feminazi/survivalist-lookalike phase back in Uni.

Tyo's Toque

Also you may have noticed one other hand-made item in these photos. The blue tasseled toque Tyo is wearing was knitted by my mother, for me, when I was about kneehigh to a grasshopper. Isn’t it cute? It has a matching sweater somewhere, too, although that was only finished in time for my little brother to wear it.

All righty, I think that’s more than enough sewing for the house apes (thanks, Katie, for that one!). Time for something for me!

*Our second vehicle is a motorcycle. This is not nearly as practical as a second car (especially in our climate) but is definitely WAY more fun. Except when it rains.

** Instituted after the tragic leap of the much lamented One-Eyed Jack. (scroll down)


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50s Shrug—Now Multisize!

A snugger shrug

Hmm, need I say more?

I have, by dint of more fiddling than I quite want to admit, graded the 50s Shrug Pattern into three sizes, Small, the original Medium, and Large. I have also, for my enjoyment and your edification, stitched up a second version for myself, in the small. Stitching up the shrug itself took only the minutest fraction of the time grading the pattern took. This really is fast to stitch up.

Note: I did not follow any particular grading procedure in this case. I knew roughly how much smaller I wanted the Small to be than the Medium, and made the Large larger by a similar amount. This is highly unscientific, but seems to have worked at least in the case of the small. Anyone who tries the Large, please let me know how it works!

Extraneous shrug pic

This pattern is VERY forgiving of fit, since there’s no shoulder seam and it doesn’t entirely cover the bust, so I made quite a large gap between the sizes. I’d venture to suggest the following size-range:

    • Small: bust 30-33″; 76-84 cm
    • Medium: bust 34-37″; 87-94 cm
    • Large for busts 38-41″; 97-105 cm

It’s entirely possible that both larger and smaller sizes could fit, depending on your fabric and the look you’re going for.

Shrug, size Small: back

I made this up in the same fabric as my swingy cardigan. It’s not quite as soft, stretchy, or drapy as the fabric of my first shrug, resulting in a fairly snug garment. I like the length of this size much better, though, both in the arms and the back—the medium reached to my (admittedly high) waist, which is not a particularly flattering length on me. It looked much better on Amy.

The neck is extremely prone to stretching out. Although I haven’t tried to stabilize it with clear elastic, you might want to; otherwise, just be sure that the neck band is a good length for you and then be prepared to do plenty of easing when you stitch band to neckline. I had trouble stitching the buttonhole in this knit, too, but it worked much better when I put a piece of tissue paper underneath the fabric.

Look! A line drawing!

I have even come up with a (somewhat crude) line drawing for your entertainment.

The multisize pattern is located HERE.  There is also a link from the Patterns page. The instructions are found in the original shrug post. I attempted to tile it in such a way that it can be printed on both US Letter and A4-size paper without losing bits; this does mean that you will probably want to trim at least some of the white edges. I still haven’t developed a method for making a nice border around the pattern that doesn’t drive me nuts, so I do apologize for that. When printing, make absolutely sure that you are printing out actual size/no scaling/100% etc. There is a 10 cm/4″ sizing square for your convenience :).

Left: original vintage shrug; middle: size Medium; right: size Small.

Have fun! And if you do stitch it up, please let me know. 😀


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Unintended stitching

I didn’t plan on spending this weekend sewing for my children. But no sooner had I finished Syo’s stretchy outfit (yes, there’s a shirt to go with the bike shorts, but frankly it didn’t work out so well and I haven’t even bothered hemming it. Which isn’t stopping her from wearing it, but anyway.) then Tyo had to assert her requirements.


You see, the other week Tyo and I found ourselves on the far side of town, in proximity to Fabric Depot, a large independent fabric store I hadn’t yet had the occasion to check out. So we did. Their website boasts that they are one of the largest single fabric stores in North America. Which may be true. I had high hopes of finding some good-quality stretch denim, having largely given up on my local Fabricland for this.

Initial impressions were quite promising. A whole room of zippers. Another of lace and elastics. Beaded and sequined panels and appliques to outfit a thousand bellydancers.  An entire upstairs devoted to home-dec fabrics—not what I was looking for, of course, but impressive and some very attractive.

Downstairs again, a series of crowded warehouse-type rooms, fabric bolts stacked on shelves all the way to the fifteen-foot ceilings, often wrapped in plastic to protect them from dust. And there were truly gorgeous fabrics in there, too. The problem was finding them.

There seemed to be, again, a lot of home-dec. A fair selection of swimwear/dancewear lycra knits. I don’t even kinow what else, really. Not only was the seleciton overwhelming, the layout wasn’t condusive to finding anything. Eventually I had to ask to be directed to the denim section.

It was a single shelf on a single unit. The denim range, though small, was gorgeous—a lot of lovely finishes and weights—but none of it was stretch. Not one bolt.

Tyo's pants---centre

My fantasies of sturdy denim in an interesting wash (or even RED!) with just the right amount of lycra came crashing down around my ears. However, the price was right, and we were on the far end of town, so I selected a lovely indigo wash with great texture (and a soft enough weave that there’s a hint of stretch) and Tyo picked out a metre of camo print.

Of course, Tyo could think of nothing for her camo but the centre pants from this pattern—draw-string-bottom capris. She was terribly excited until she realized that the pattern lacks the other attributes necessary of camo pants—waistband, belt-flaps, POCKETS.

So, we went back to our mainstay of kids’ patterns, that gorgeous Patrones Niños I got from Her Selfishnesslong and long ago. It has any number of jeans patterns, including a varietyof capris, including drawstring capris. However, the ones Tyo

Tyo's eventual pattern selection

eventually settled on (perhaps without too much thought, but anyway) were this pair. Which you can see almost nothing of except that they  have a loose, below-the-knee leg. The line drawing reveals slightly more (although it’s not actually accurate about the change pocket, if you look closely at the photograph…), including some nifty back pockets.

Line drawing

With terrifying, tightly-curved flaps.


Camo pockets

Anyway, we spent yesterday evening tracing the pattern (I remembered to add seam allowances this time!) and cutting it out. I even managed to track down a zipper of the kind I use for jeans—I thought I was out. We debated the merits of topstitching and settled on black. And this morning, I started merrily stitching away.

And now I’m out of black thread.

Back pockets, with flap

Somewhere in this house, I’m quite certain, is a massive jumbo spool of black thread. But can I find it? There’s plenty of serger thread, but I’ve been suffering catastrophic failure on the jeans I made last summer that I used it on, so I am reluctant to use it for regular stitching. And, of course, it’s May Long (aka Victoria Day) so nothing is open, plus it’s pouring. Which may not deter those of you from soggier climates, but I don’t even own an umbrella, much less a rain-coat.

So instead I’m blogging half-done kids’ jeans, and debating what I should do with my gorgeous non-stretch denim.

I’m thinking bell-bottoms.


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‘Tis the season…

Bike shorts!

To make bike shorts, apparently.

For once, I was not planning on jumping on the bandwagon. Beangirl made them for her kids. Joy made them for hers. But I was strong! I had no particular desire at ALL to make such a simple, prosaic item. Besides, my kids have lots of shorts and leggings.

But this weekend it was Syo’s turn to get a garment, and Syo wanted, of all things, bike shorts.

This is a piece of fabric that she picked out, herself, several months back, and has been patiently waiting for me to make up. “How about a nice dress?” I suggested.

“Bike shorts,” she said.

“A twirly skirt?”

“Bike shorts, mom.”

“It would make a really nice T-shirt.”


Bike shorts it was…

First problem, of course, is that I don’t have anything resembling a children’s leggings pattern. Obviously I could’ve gone and found/bought/downloaded a kids’ leggings pattern, or just traced off an existing pair, but what fun would that be?

Enter Metric Pattern Cutting, a copy of which I tracked down in my panic after the disappearance of Modern Pattern Design. Although it doesn’t have quite as many nifty vintage details as Pepin’s, this book is amazing in its own way. All the usual dart-manipulation stuff. More blocks than you can shake a stick at. Information on standard sizing and grading, as well as drafting custom blocks. And it has directions for drafting knit blocks, including leggings.  Now all I need are the menswear and childrenswear versions, but anyway.

I managed to wrangle Syo into letting me take a ridiculous number of measurements, and then trotted off to attempt to draft up the shorts. The MPC draft is, of course, intended for an adult. Using it for a kid-size pattern is  not the smartest course, but I figured for something as simple and forgiving as leggings I would risk it. It wasn’t too hard to figure out where I needed to reduce the suggested measurements.

Leggings block and shorts pattern

Anyway, it took perhaps half an hour to draft up the pattern (including time to hunt down my yardstick, which had vanished behind the livingroom bookshelf). For once my square and French Curve were where I left them, which is a minor miracle. And, in comparatively short order, we had a pair of bike shorts. I did have to lower the waistband by a good inch/inch and a half, as the draft makes it at the natural waist, and my children will have none of that.

Of course, the evil monkey had to dash off to a sleepover before they were quite finished, so I don’t have pictures of them actually on her yet… Grrr… But from the in-progress fittings, I promise they fit very, very well.

In other news, I’ve been messing around with computer pattern drafting, too, (there is THIS free program by a Burdastyle member, which is all right but a bit fiddly, but you can do a fair amount just with Inkscape or Illustrator) and have been thinking of sharing some of the patterns I’ve come up with that way, as it’s a lot less work than trying to scan and trace patterns I’ve drafted on paper. Would anybody be interested in some of that? My big weakness, of course, remains grading, but I’m hopeful that Metric Pattern Cutting will help with that…


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More 70s love

Simplicity 5803

I got another package in the mail the other day from my 70s pattern crack dealer, Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch(the seamstress formerly known as the Cupcake Goddess).

Simplicity 5803 is another 1973 pattern (a banner year for Simplicity, I have to agree with Carlotta). Let’s see, cute puffed and fluttery sleeves, fitted and empire waist options, sweetheart neckline… yes, please! The only downsides are the lack of a back seam (helpful for swayback fitting) and my intense fear of double-ended darts.

I will probably pass on the heart-shaped pockets. I know, you’re crushed.

McCall's 3838

McCall’s  3838 is a superficially similar pattern, but it had enough different details that I went for it: a full sleeve option; a collar option, and a couple of different takes on the empire-waist detail. This pattern does have a back seam—actually with a zipper in the button-front views. Apparently the button-front is supposed to be just decorative. I would probably skip the zipper and make functional buttons, thanks. I think my favourite view is the black one on the left, which happens to be the only cut view. Interestingly, it was cut with pinking shears, which I gather saves time (no seam finishing required) at the expense of precision.

Also, how can you beat “extra carefree”?

Simplicity 7836

And, finally, one last maxi-dress. This is perhaps my least favourite of the three, but it’s still cute, and sized for stretch knits! (Complete with stretch gauge on the back on the envelope). There’s an interesting front yoke detail, and more cute fluttery sleeves. Though there’s also the distinct possibility I will look like a linebacker. We shall just have to wait and see…


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