Thursday, September 18, 2014

Peekaboo Midriff 40th Birthday Dress


Peekaboo_Midriff_Dress_Thumbnail

I have been a little obsessed with cutouts lately, I'm not sure why.  I put together a Pinterest board and the one that really struck my fancy was this (at right).  And of *course* it had to be just a hosted image, with no link, information, back view, or front view without her hair covering the shoulders.  But I got the gist.

I decided to make my birthday dress out of some gorgeous green silk I picked up at Paron in New York in August.  The color is that of the famous Atonement dress, but having neither Keira Knightley's willowy body type nor the Gatsby existence calling for full-length green silk gowns (nor enough fabric either--I just barely eked this out with nothing to spare once I made my self bias tape), this dress it was.

Pattern Concept Drawing
The first step was drafting the bodice.  I drew up what the pattern should look like (sadly, I do not have a future career in fashion illustration!) and went from there.

I considered starting with McCall 5880, which has the right shape at the armscye as well as the look I wanted for the back.  But it has an empire line, which I didn't want and I decided it would be more work than starting from scratch.

Then I remembered that I had turned my woven tee into a raglan version using the same method as for my knit tee.  Perfect place to start!

Pattern Drafting


I first created a full width front pattern (rather than cut-on-fold).  I narrowed the front neckline 1/2 inch on each side.  I marked 2 1/2 inches on each side of center front at the lower edge for my cutout.  Then I made a diagonal marking from the corner of the neckline to my 2 1/2" mark.

I mocked up a quick muslin of the bodice front, using hair clips and pins to attach it to my raglan blouse and tried it on.  Whoa.  The opening was a bit much.  You can't really tell from the top laying flat, but we were definitely in bra-flaunting territory.

So for muslin #2, I narrowed the width from center front to about 2 inches on each side, and rather than cut a straight diagonal line I curved it a bit to give more coverage.  This muslin was what I was looking for, so I moved on to the drapey part.

Adding Volume to Front Bodice
To get volume in the front, I first folded out three large pleats in my tissue paper to build in volume, then traced my pattern (the original pattern became the lining).  I didn't have any particular measurement of volume in mind, so I wasn't too scientific about my pleats.  Each pleat was probably about two inches wide (so, encompassing four inches of tissue because of the folds).  I also rotated the bust dart to the neckline.

For the back, I made a diagonal cut from the neckline to the hem and added a wedge of tissue paper, as I didn't want additional volume at the back waist.

Second/Final Muslin


I cut out muslins of the front and back overlays and made a quick mockup of the full bodice--pretty much exactly what I wanted!  The pattern drafting process ended up being much simpler than I expected.

Final Bodice and Lining Pattern






I cut the bodice and bodice lining from the fashion fabric because I didn't want the lining to roll over and show anywhere.  Here you can see what the final pattern pieces looked like for the bodice.

I used the skirt from Simplicity 1796 and I cut the skirt lining from Butterick 5315.  For the skirt lining, I made a facing for the center front at the opening, so there wouldn't be any lining show through.



Sew Bodice and Lining at Armscye, Center Front, and Upper Center Back

Construction was pretty simple.  I started by sewing the side seams of the outer and lining pieces.

Next, I sewed the outer pieces and lining together at the armscye, diagonal center front, and upper center back, and turned and pressed.

Gather Bodice and Baste to Lining






Then I put in the basting stitches for gathering on the outer pieces and pulled the gathering threads to match the outer piece with the bodice lining, basting the outer fabric to the lining fabric at the neckline and the lower edge.  I left the lower edges separate about 2 inches from center back.

Match Centers Front








Once basted, I matched up the centers front at the neckline and pinned the left and right halves of the bodice together.

Bias Binding to Wrong Side



To finish the neckline, I used self bias tape.  Because the entire weight of the dress hangs from the bias tape at the shoulders, I reinforced the shoulder areas with interfacing.

I first sewed the bias tape to the wrong side of the bodice.  At the corners of the front neckline, you need to sew the bias tape to the very lower edge of the corner so that the raw edge will be fully enclosed.

Turn Bias Binding Over to Right Side



I then turned the bias strip to the right side and used the hair clips to hold the bias tape in place so I wouldn't leave pinholes in my gorgeous silk.



The skirt and lining were constructed separately with french seams at the side seams. The center back seams were left open in order to sew in the zipper.

Sandwich Bodice between Skirt and Lining

I gathered the outer skirt at the waist. The skirt lining is an A line fitted at the waist to reduce bulk.

To join the bodice and skirt, I sandwiched the bodice between the skirt and the lining and sewed together at the waistline, leaving the last two inches before center back open--this was for later doing a neat finish at the zipper.

I separately sewed the outer skirt to the bodice all the way to center back, leaving the lining free.  Then I sewed the skirt lining to the bodice lining all the way to the center back.

After reinforcing my fabric with strips of interfacing, I installed an invisible zipper below my finished center back neckline opening.

Stitch Bodice Lining and Skirt Lining



I had not been quite sure how I was going to finish the lining at the center back, but luckily it all worked out well!  Remember that I had left the lining and the outer pieces free for the last two inches before center back.

Hand Stitch Lining to Zipper






folded the edges of the lining in and then hand stitched with tiny stitches to the zipper tape.

Invisible Hand Stitch Lining to Zipper




The finish is very neat on the inside, and the hand stitching is only barely visible.

Blogger Pose

I was thinking this style was a departure for me, but then I remembered I made a knockoff very similar to this in 2007 (though apparently never blogged or PR reviewed).  The seven years later version shows less skin, though.  Still, I guess that shows my taste is pretty consistent!

Side

I love the way the dress came out.  It is not perfect--it is a little loose at the armscye (which I really don't understand, because the top with sleeves is more on the too-snug side than the too-loose side); the front drapes slightly askew/agape; and I'm honestly not sure what's going on with the back waist--the pattern I started from had a swayback adjustment built in yet somehow it needs another 2 inches taken out.  A full muslin and another round of pattern adjustment probably would have fixed those things.  But I've always considered it paradoxical to put so much careful effort into special occasion dresses that will be lucky to see five wears rather than wardrobe workhorses that will be worn a couple times a month in season for five years.   Not perfect is fine with me.

It was fun to do a drafting project that worked out and actually matched my inspiration!  Alas, I haven't actually had the chance to wear the dress.  It was pouring on my birthday and I didn't want to ruin it!  I just need to plan fancy cocktails soon...

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: The End of Fashion by Teri Agins

I read "The End of Fashion" so you don't have to.  If you have it on your to-read you should probably take it off.  I found it mildly interesting as a piece of fashion history, but it was hard to get through.  Agins covers, among other things, Paris as the center of the fashion universe, the story of designer/movie star synergy, and the (temporary) reprieve Marshall Field's bought itself as a strictly high-end merchandiser.


I had to google "Hilfiger Vintage" to find this.
Writing in 1998 or so (the book was published in 1999), Agins argues that fashion is dead.  Forever.  When you read the book you remember why this would be easy to believe:  this was the height of Tommy Hilfiger Hegemony, as covered in a chapter of the book.  Those hideous oversized color-blocked sweatshirts were all over the damn place.  Less facetiously, there was also the perpetual issue of couture being a huge money-loser, and fashion people making very bad business people (the chapter on Donna Karan is a great illustration of this principle).

However, the title has more to do with timing than absolute truth.  This quote encapsulates the era Agins recounts:  "Glamorous as they are, fashion shows are fairly low-voltage to the general public, who will probably never see a tape of an Armani runway show." (p 152).  Thank you for that prediction, Professor Trelawney.


Ad Copy:  Gives Even Svelte Teen Sensations Tummy Pooches!
Agins was writing in the dead zone between the easing of American economic protectionism that began to allow cheap clothes from Asia to flood the market (the Multi-Fiber Arrangement was phased out by 2005) and the rise of the fashion blogger.  In those dead zone years, fashion was pretty grim.  Think of those heinous jeans the 90210 crowd wore(and don't miss this horrendous pair on Shannen Doherty).
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With the rise of the Internet, the top-down model Agins writes about no longer became the only paradigm.  Designers, department stores, and fashion magazines have by no means lost their influence on fashion (as evidenced by the awesome "cerulean" monologue in The Devil Wears Prada).  But what used to be "street fashion," which certainly had some influence in the past--though mainly as it was coopted by movie costume designers and the fashion industry--became fashion blogging, and far surpassed the IRL version in terms of influence.

As fashion became democratized, couture became no longer the stuffy province of the ultra-rich old money and ordinary people could get excited about and participate in fashion in a way that has not been possible at any other time in history.  Someone with a strong point of view could go from being a random teenager in the midwest to seated in the front row at a runway show (or so we like to imagine).



In addition, business people started to take over the business end of fashion.  Whether LVMH's ownership of a huge swathe of the luxury fashion brands is a good or a bad thing, it has meant that fashion houses have managed to stay afloat and continue to offer couture eye candy.

Of course, nothing is static.  The new fashion hegemony seems to be that fashion bloggers are sponsored and branded and all strive to be sponsored by (and feature) the same clothes, so there is less of a richness of fashion point-of-view and the designers/marketers are back on top in deciding the Next Big Thing.  However, I'm not going to go as far as Teri Agins and predict the end of fashion.  Humans will always have a keen interest in adorning themselves, regardless of how low the trough seems to have dipped.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Burda 08-2014-116, Open-Back High-Low Dress

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I have been enjoying the cutout trend and so when I saw Burda 08-2014-116 I instantly fell in love and had to make it.

I just happened to have a trip to New York planned, so finding the perfect fabric for it was on my list.  This lightweight rayon was exactly what I was looking for--I love all the colors in the print, I like that it's a dot and not a floral (I love floral, but have a LOT of it), and it has the perfect floaty factor.

Back Alterations-BBA and Neckline
For the back bodice, I did a Broad Back Adjustment and also took a HUGE tuck out of the back neckline, which was really, really wide.

The bust dart on the front bodice is actually pretty small as drafted so I did not do any alteration for SBA.  I think if you are larger than an A cup, you'll want to do a FBA even if you don't normally need to.  The front neckline is a wee bit wide; I wish I had taken a little bit of width out of it at the pattern alteration stage.

The pattern is drafted as a boatneck, which is difficult for me to wear given that I am short.  I lowered the front neckline 2 1/2 inches (!) from where it was drafted, and it is still reasonably high.  So keep that in mind if you are at all chokey from high necks as I am.

Shorten Skirt



For once, I didn't need to do a swayback adjustment to the pattern because the cutout is basically at the swayback.

The skirt was too long as drafted, so I folded out 1 1/2 inches on each piece before cutting.

The pattern as drafted is lined in the bodice, but not in the skirt.  This fabric was too sheer not to line the skirt.  I'm *not* into the trend of having a short lining under a long sheer skirt (the 20somethings in DC are ALL OVER this look--like 50% of them on a Saturday night will be wearing this), so I thought a contrast lining was the way to go.  I immediately thought of the gorgeous green silk/cotton I got during Martha Pullen's epic silk/cotton sale, but didn't want to waste the vast expanse of it needed to fully line the skirt.  After agonizing over it way too much, I finally realized that duh, I could use cheap ordinary lining for most of the skirt and then add the silk/cotton at the bottom where it would show.

Lining Contrast Hem Extension

I lined up the center front and back skirt patterns and marked where the center front hit the center back.  I later realized that the back skirt dips down below the front skirt at the waist, but luckily I gave myself a good 2 1/2 inch cushion and only the decorative lining shows.  I then drew in the line for the decorative lining, making it about 2 1/2" wide in the front.

Contrast Lining

Lining Extension





It all worked according to plan.  I got my pretty contrast lining without "wasting" an acreage of lovely fabric.




Because there is no front or back center seam I couldn't do my usual all-machine clean finish.  I would normally use this method in that instance, but I was intrigued in reading Burda's instructions for finishing; yes, the Wooden Spoon Method.




I have seen the Wooden Spoon illustration many times.  I imagine that every month someone walks into Dagmar Bily's office and is like, "Disaster!  There is too much white space on the instruction sheet!"  and she pulls her best Miranda Priestly and is like, "Have you used the Wooden Spoon yet?  Seriously, do I have to think of everything myself?"  and they're like, "Of course!  The Wooden Spoon!  The Wooden Spoon will save us!"  Seriously, I think it's in every issue.  But the illustration has always made zero sense to me.  Until now.

The Wooden Spoon Method:

As with my normal clean finish technique, I started by trimming 1/8" inch off the neckline and armscye edges of the lining.

Front Right Side Out, Back Inside Out

Sew the bodice pieces together with their respective linings along the neckline and armscyes to within about an inch of the shoulder.  Finish/trim the seam allowances (I do it in one with the serger).  Finish the unsewn shoulder edges by serging, zigzagging, or your choice.

Turn the front bodice right side out.  (I actually turned both bodices right side out and did the required pressing, since I figured it would be easier to do with the pieces separate than together.  Then I turned the back bodice inside out again.)

Front Pulled Inside Back


Slide the front bodice inside the back bodice/lining, with the fashion fabric right sides together and the lining right sides together.  Match up the shoulders of the fashion and lining fabrics, and then pin.  You now have four shoulder seams to sew: fashion fabric right, lining right, fashion fabric left, and lining left.

Sew the shoulder seams.

Insert Wooden Spoon

Now for the famous Wooden Spoon:  Pull the front, which is inside the back, further through the back more toward the outside so the shoulder seams are no longer at the edge.  Slide the wooden spoon into the holes where you did not sew all the way up to the shoulder at the armscye and neckline.

The Infamous Wooden Spoon

Position the shoulder seam over the wooden spoon, and use it as a "ham" to press open the seam.  Frankly, I was pretty disappointed in the wooden spoon, which did not really make it easy to press open the seam.  I should have grabbed my wooden spoon that has a flat handle, but now that I live in a two story house such frivolous trips back and forth to the kitchen are more carefully considered.

Pull Front Through To Complete Seam

Once your shoulder seams are pressed, keep the front pulled through, match up shoulder seams of the fashion fabric and lining (which are right sides together), and pin the little hole you left through which the wooden spoon was threaded.  Again, you have four shoulder edges to do. Sew. 

Pull the front out the bottom to turn right side out.

I have to say, I am impressed with this method.  My alternate method requires a few inches of hand sewing, but this method is all machine.  Well done, Burda and your Wooden Spoon.

Interface Drawstring Opening

I sewed the side seams of the fashion fabric and lining of the skirt separately so they would hang free, and then basted them together at the waistline to be treated as one.  I interfaced both pieces where the buttonholes for the drawstring would go, and then did the buttonholes through both layers as one.



Stitch Skirt to Bodice at Front




The dress is pretty straightforward to put together.  Once the bodice is completely lined, the bodice and lining are treated as one at the waist.  I basted the two layers together to avoid shifting.  Sew the bodice to the skirt up to where the back skirt dips into its hole.

Thread Elastic in Front Casing





Use the seam allowance to make a casing and thread elastic in.  Burda has a misprint in the instructions, which tell you to "sew the ends together."  Unless you have a 17" waist and are looking for a figure 8 in the back, you want to sew the ends into each end of the casing.  The join of the skirt/bodice/casing is a little ugly, but it gets covered up by your finishing--I used bias tape as described below.

Turn Under Bias Tape for Casing

Burda has you make a facing for the back cutout.  I really don't know why you'd use a big unwieldy fabric-hoggy facing instead of bias tape.  I used self bias tape, stitching it right sides together all the way around the hole then turning it to the inside to form a casing.  Make your ties and join them with elastic in the middle, then thread through the casing.

Front




Love this dress!  It was also pretty simple--it might be a fun 3rd or 4th project for a dedicated beginner.  I may someday straighten out the hem, but the high-low thing is still going on and my other iteration, last year's birthday dress, was totally disappointing due to the poorly drafted pattern.

Back

The cutout is just perfect, and I like the cut of the bodice with the wider shoulders.  I'm considering drafting the cutout right out of it for a simple summer dress pattern--I feel like I'm seeing a lot of the simple dress with elastic waist (like this and this) this year and this one has well-balanced building blocks.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.  I'm still working on a photo location.  Standing at the top of the stairs has more even lighting from the skylight--directly overhead instead of over one shoulder--than standing along the side wall, but then you get the gaping maw of the downstairs look, which is a little weird.  Also, I'm afraid of accidentally getting too close to the stairs and falling backward down them.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Butterick 5780, Fold Neck Dress

B5780 Thumbnail

I sewed!  Pattern Review is having its stash contest this month.  I am not a contender, but it did help me focus in deciding what to make now that I can finally sew.  I decided on Butterick 5780, a pattern that surprisingly has not taken the blogosphere by storm.  It's a flattering, interesting sheath dress with nice design lines.  It's a copy of the Reiss Taruca Sculptured Dress, which was $340 according to this blog post.  I think the issue with the pattern that has held it back is its suggested fabric:  ponte.

Let's talk about ponte. I think I have fallen out of love.  One the one hand, it is a miracle fabric.  A knit with all the easy-to-sew, easy-to-fit, easy-to-wear qualities we love, but that skims over all the lumps and bumps and is universally flattering.  What's not to love?

One word: pilling.  For the love of all that is holy, the pilling.  While I've found a few gems of quality ponte, almost everything I make out of it is garbage after the second wear.  Ugh!  What a waste.

The other issue is that ponte is a rather thick fabric.  This dress is necessarily constructed with a side front bodice stay/lining, and the pattern (and original dress) call for it to be fully lined.  With the fold in the side front piece and all the seam intersections, every review on PR complains about the bulk.

I never had any intention of making this dress in ponte--it begs to be more structured--so I used a very stretchy cotton twill I got from Fabric Mart last July for $7.99/yd (they called it sateen, but I would call it twill).

Given the Ease of Doom characteristic of all Big 4 patterns (yes, even Vogue), I figured it wouldn't be a big deal to make it in a very stretchy woven rather than a ponte, especially as several reviewers mentioned that it ran large.  They also mentioned, as I found to my chagrin, that there are no finished garment measurements anywhere--not on the envelope or the tissue.  Seriously, Butterick.

Bodice Side Front and Full Stay/Lining

Luckily, my awesome brother and sister-in-law gave me an Etsy gift certificate for the holidays, which I used to buy 5/8" SA Curve rulers.  I traced off the pieces, and used the rulers to mark the 5/8" seam allowances and was able to get my own finished pattern measurements.  Which, as expected, were pretty close to right for a woven.  I added to the waist--but ended up taking all that and more off when the actual dress was constructed.

The other thing reviewers complained about was the grody half-lining for the bodice.  As drafted, the bodice lining only goes to about halfway down, right at boob level.  The reviewers said you could see the line of the bottom of the facing/lining.  Again I say:  Seriously, Butterick.  The center front bodice and back bodice were easy--just use the same piece for the fashion fabric and lining.  The side front stay/lining just required lining up the armscye with the side front bodice, and completing the stay/lining from the boobs down.

I did a slight SBA by shaving a little bit off the curve of the center front bodice at the bust.  The fit on the bust is not enormous, and the fold does a little bit of subtle bust-building for a flattering finished result.

Swayback and Broad Back

I also did a broad back adjustment on the bodice back, and split the swayback adjustment between the bodice and skirt.  In addition to folding out length for the swayback, I also made the flat back seam into a curve over my swayback.

The instructions for construction are good but not great.  There's a little bit of origami involved and there are some things that aren't covered, like which direction the strap flaps are to be sewn on the underside of the side front (I did one right and one wrong--and I still can't tell you what's right.  I think you fold the strap toward the center--here's a look inside the fold).

You start by sewing the center front and its lining together at the neckline to finish it.  I raised the neckline by 1/2", I don't really know why.  It's neither too high nor too low at the raised level, but I'll probably cut it as drafted next time.  As I sewed it, I realized that unless your fabric needs lining, only the side front stay/lining is necessary.  You can finish the center front neck and bodice back armscye with bias tape.  Oh well, it looks nice on the inside.

Next, you pin the bodice side front to the bodice center front at the princess seam.  Easy enough.

Bodice Side Front Stay/Lining

Now it's time to attach the bodice to the side front stay/lining.  Start by pinning the side fronts together at the armscye to get a clean finish on the armscye.




Burrito Fold for Bodice Side Front

Then you burrito roll the side front and the center front together, and encase them in the stay pinned over the already-sewn princess seam.  You can only do one side at a time, obviously, but once you do one side the other side is not any more complicated (you don't have to do any finagling with the already sewn side).

This is the part where the reviewers seemed to have trouble.  I actually had more difficulty puzzling out how to attach the front to the back.  It's not difficult and I've done plenty of projects with the same design of having a back "collar" extend from the front to the CB neck (including a self-drafted one), but somehow this one took me a minute to find all the match points.  Maybe because it had been so long since I'd sewn.  It was only a few months, but I felt so rusty on this project!

Pin Skirt to Bodice, Not Catching Lining

Because the bodice center front and lining were sewn as one to the bodice side front, the lining could not hang entirely free at the waist (with fashion skirt sewn to fashion bodice and skirt lining sewn to bodice lining).  I prefer to have the lining separate from the fashion fabric to avoid weird bunching and twisting, so I sewed the skirt and lining to the bodice separately everywhere except at the bodice center front.

Lining Hangs Free at Waist to CF



You can see my hand in there illustrating that the lining is hanging free past the bodice center front.

I never know what to line stretch wovens with.  Here I used a stretch mesh purchased as swimwear lining, which is fine for this dress.  It didn't need much opacity added to the fabric, and I don't anticipate wearing tights with it.  If anyone has suggestions for a good stretch woven lining, I am all ears!

Zipper Starts Below Back Collar

As drafted, the entire center back seam is open and the zipper installed.  I don't have great success getting super-square corners at the top of a zipper, and I really didn't want a weird zipper at the top of the collar.  So I sewed the collar and one inch below closed, and then installed the zipper below that.

Burrito to Machine Stitch Lining to Zipper

Because of that, it was a little tricky machine-sewing the lining to the zipper tape (using this method). The first time I tried to pin the lining to the zip I ended up with a water weenie that couldn't be unfolded.  Good thing I tried before actually sewing it!

I realized I was going to have to burrito it again, folding the entire dress to the inside and wrapping the lining around.  It worked!  And sewing the second side was no harder than the first.

Zipper Inside





I ended up with a nice clean finish on the inside, no hand sewing involved.







Double Fold Hem



I did a double-fold machine blind hem.  At the back slit, turned the slit allowance toward the right side and then accidentally stitched along the first fold, rather than the second.  Fortuitously, this resulted in a nicer looking hem than if I had sewn the second fold, as I intended.  I will have to remember that for the future.

Front



Along with the new sewing room (which is totally makeshift at this point, just barely unpacked enough to sew) I have to figure out a new photo location!  I thought the spot at the top of the stairs would be good because there's a skylight, but the skylight is over the stairs, not the landing, and the lighting is uneven--a little too artsy shadowy.  The photo from the thumbnail was taken without flash and you can see that all the light is coming from the (viewer's) right.  With post-production, though, maybe that's ok.  Using the fill flash (this photo) results in harsh colors and a flat photo.  I'll figure it out!



And to make this post even longer and whinier, I lost all of my photos.  Again.  My hard drive died and my iPhoto library had never backed up in Time Machine.  Again.  (Everything else was backed up.)  Tears were shed, and unblogged projects were lost (having learned from bitter experience, I usually don't delete from my camera until the photos have been uploaded to flickr, but wading through thousands of pictures will take many, many hours I don't have).  And because Apple cannot currently generate codes for iPhoto credit in the App store (really?), I am having to learn new software.  It's only $14.99, but on principle I absolutely will not buy iPhoto myself.  (I'm told the issue is that in the old version I have the iPhoto library won't back up if iPhoto is open.  Which it always is.  So I need the new version.)  Blogging will continue to be slow!


And then there's the photographic challenge of shared space: the self-timer photobomber!

Front Closeup-Full


















Meanwhile, however, whining aside, I am thrilled with this dress!  It is super flattering, fits well, and was untraumatic to sew.  An excellent entree back into the field.


It's well-drafted, and the fit alterations are almost there.  I should have rounded out the center back skirt seam as I have a teensy bit of shark fin at the CB hem, and the shoulders are a smidge too tall.

The pleats on the skirt feel like they stick out weird when I look down at them, and maybe they do, but it's a weird I can live with (I prefer it to a tummy pooch).

I will definitely be making this again for winter with sleeves, though I will trim the armscye to a shorter/normal length, as a dropped sleeve isn't flattering to me.

All photos are here and the pattern review is here.