Friday, 19 July 2013

you can't win them all

This week it's been incredibly hot and humid, and I realised while staring at my closet trying to pick clothes that I don't have many good "every-day" summer dresses.  I needed to fix that!  So I dug through my fabric shelf and pulled out this blue and white gingham, which was actually a queen-size sheet from the thrift store.  It's sturdy and fairly crisp but very soft, and I thought it would make a nice dress. 

It was not entirely a success.  Do not be fooled by look of extreme happiness in most of these photos.  It was HOT and the sun was in my eyes and we kept having to stop so I could wipe sweat off my face and neck, and as you will read I was less than content with the fit of the dress.  But I like some of the images we got even if I don't love the dress!  I think I'll keep my sister as my official photographer - she does a geat job. 

The pattern I chose is Butterick 5209, one of their "Retro" series from '47.  I really don't recommend it!  I'm not at all sure how it's supposed to fit a normal human being.  My first version of the bodice didn't even begin to fit - it was huge, and gapped unpleasantly through the bust, and looked nothing like the illustration.  The sizing seems to be way off on this pattern - according to my body measurements, I should have made the size 20.  I cut the 18 instead, since when I compared the supposed finished garment measurements to my own, the 18 seemed closer.  But it was still way too big.  I think this pattern is a victim of the pattern companies' insistance on adding lots of ease even to designs which shouldn't have it... but whatever the reason, it didn't work out.

Darts which shouldn't have to be there.  I do sort of like the effect, but it's the principle of the thing!
I almost just scrapped it and started over... then I decided to make it work.  I ended up taking a huge dart in the bodice on each side going from the armhole edge towards the point of the bust.  Then I had to add another smaller one next to these darts to tighten up the edge a little further.  I took in the centre seam of the midriff panel by about an inch, and re-gathered the bust to fit the narrower panel.  Then I took darts in the midriff panel since it was still too loose.  I took in the centre back seam a little bit near the top.  I stitched in some elastic on the side front edges to try to tighten them up yet a litlle more.  I shortened the halter straps by about an inch.  The neckline was particularly plunging and, especially with the completely open back, I wasn't comfortable with that, so I made a little crocheted rose to fill it in a little.

And the dress still doesn't fit completely the way I'd like.  I think I need to take in almost another inch from the back midriff panel so that it really sits snugly and doesn't sag with wearing.  The halter straps could probably be even a little shorter and tighter.  I don't love the way it sits under the bust, but I haven't figured out how to fix that yet.  I think if I made this style of dress again, I'd put interfacing in the midriff panels and maybe even some boning on the side and centre back seams, to counteract the wrinkling and scrunching.  I love the way the dress looks when I first put it on, but after even just a few minutes of wearing it shifts out of place.  I spent a lot of time on Wednesday readjusting the bodice, and I'd rather not have to pay that much attention to my clothes.

We found a snapping turtle in the side yard whilst taking photos...
 I also realised after looking at the photos just how flabby and un-toned my upper back is.  Hmmm.  Well, it's something to work on! 

I'm really much more satisfied with the way my hair turned out than with the dress itself!
I am proud of how I finished this dress.  There are no raw edges showing!  Most of the main seams are French seams, and the midriff panel has a self-lining whip-stitched on to hide all those seams.  I put the zipper in by machine and it actually worked out.  The hem came out well.  I had fun doing up my hair and makeup and taking pictures - I felt like a cross between a 1940s pinup girl and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, which is no bad thing ;)  But I don't love the dress yet.  I'll do a little more tweaking, and I'm sure I'll wear it, but I wish I'd started with a pattern that worked better to begin with.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A suit that suits me

Three summers ago I made myself a bathing suit, and this summer I finally got around to blogging about it!  I can make all sorts of excuses - I was living in Tennessee and didn't have my family photographer (i.e. my sister) close to hand... I was busy... I didn't go swimming much... but really the main reason is I kept telling myself I'd take pictures and blog the suit when I'd lost that weight I've been planning to lose.

Well, three years later and some of it is gone, but I decided to stop making excuses and being self-conscious and just take the pictures already.  And you know what?  I won't be getting calls from Victoria's Secret begging me to come model for them.  But I made a suit that fits me and flatters my figure, and I think it looks good.  And I had a blast with the pictures -- broke out the curly hair and the red nail polish and the really big hat and pretended I was Katherine Hepburn or someone!

This was me saying "Oh look! A fish!"
I used a pattern from Fashionably Modest Patterns, which seems not to exist anymore.  I was aprehensive about sewing with Lycra/stretch fabric and dealing with all the elastic but really it wasn't too hard.  This pattern has a built-in bra, using stretch mesh fabric and the pre-made bra cups you can get at JoAnns or any fabric shop, so it supports pretty well.  The original pattern has a high scoop neck, wide straps, and an option for sleeves, and the shorts and skirt are longer and made as one piece.  I decided I wanted to be a little less covered up and make something a little more flattering to my face and body (high scoop necks are NEVER a good idea for my short neck and round face) so I drew up some sketches and improvised, using the base pattern as a guide.

I also decided I didn't want to make the skirt and shorts as one piece, because in my experience skirts make swimming slower and then they collect water and drip unpleasantly all down your legs when you get out!  So I made them separate; I mostly wear the skirt when I'm just hanging out pool-side, but remove it to actually swim, and it works much better.

I cut the front bodice straight across and then stitched a short piece of elastic to the centre to add some ruching and a bit of a "sweetheart" neckline.  The straps go around to the back as a halter (and hook with the hook off my old suit) and then I have straps going down from the halter to the main back.  It's very secure, and I like the way it looks!

The bodice front also has some ruching, which I think was more effective in my design sketches than in actual practise.  The back is just a little too wide and so the side seams drag to the front a little and pull the ruching out of place, causing it to be a little less flattering than I hoped.  But the basic idea is sound!

So, I have a sturdy, attractive suit which fits me and makes me happy, and should last for many years to come... and whenever it wears out, I know how to make a new one!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Combinations, completed

The last month or so I've been working on assembling a set (a pair? I don't know what the proper term is!) of late-Victorian combinations and now they are finally done and my sister came home from vacation so I could make her take photos and then it FINALLY stopped raining so we had some decent light, so here they are!  (Phew.)

I'm playing Mabel in our community theatre's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" and we're costuming it to roughly 1890, including for me proper corsetry!  So I decided I needed some new underthings to go with it.  (My corset cover and drawers are made of very fine lawn and are therefore too delicate for stage work, plus they're about a decade or so later in style, which doesn't work so well.)

I scaled the pattern up from the one given in Patterns for Theatrical Costumes.  We've had the book for a while but I've never made anything from it before.  It was surprisingly easy - I don't have a projector, but I just photo-copied the pattern page overtop of graph paper at the appropriate scale, and then laid out muslin over my mum's dressmaker's cutting board which has a 1-inch grid on it, and drew directly onto the fabric.  I cut out half the combinations - one front, one back - with enormous seam allowances, and basted them together to check the fit, then made a few alterations, marked the darts, and used those pieces as the pattern to cut out the actual fabric.  The pattern actually fit me very well with just a few alterations.  I took in the sides a tad, added two darts to each side of the back (which was unfitted in the book), and cut the neckline down and squared it off, figuring that would be more versatile than the high neckline of the base pattern.  I also shortened the legs considerably and added flounces to the cuffs.

Impossible to take photos in a corset and flouncy underclothes and *not* pretend to be a girl from one of those naughty picture postcards ;-P
This book is just designed to give very basic templates, so you have to do all the construction and finishing yourself.  I used mostly flat-felled seams to hide all the raw edges and make the garment more sturdy.  The neckline and armholes have bias-cut facings, and I made facings and a button-hole band for the front opening.  I experimented with the crotch seams and will have to go back and change them... I wanted to make them open, for wearing ease, but since I'll be wearing them on stage I didn't want any possibility of immodesty... so I tried to make them close with snaps.  After wearing them for photos though, the snaps are definitely not going to hold it, so I think I'll just sew up the seams.  I may insert a gusset also as they'd be more comfortable with a little more room in the seat, but they're wearable as-is.

I knitted all the lace to trim the armholes, neckline, and leg flounces.  Just fairly thick crochet cotton and a couple simple patterns from Barbara Abbey's Knitting Lace.  I wanted something sturdy, but plain cotton underthings are so much more fun if you make them a little frilly!

The best of the inside photos.  (Protip: put on stockings BEFORE the corset next time.)
We tried really hard to get photos of these inside, since I didn't necessarily want to prance around the front yard in my underclothes, even such full-coverage underclothes as these!  But our house doesn't get enough of the right kind of light and they mostly turned out blurry, so Kate and I took it outside.  Much better :)

I also crocheted some lace to trim my petticoat, which I made about 6 years ago and have been wearing ever since, but never properly finished!  There were still some raw edges and loose threads, and one of the flounces had gotten caught up in the seam so it hung oddly.  I fixed that, finished the edges, tidied it up, and gave it some lace.  It's much more fun after its makeover!

So there you go!  Nice new frilly undies for stage and any other excuse I can come up with to wear them :-)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

red white and blue

In the process of tidying the house, I piled all my current needlework together and then noticed something.

(Crocheted lace for a petticoat, another Amy Pond scarf, and the blue is some test-knitting that I can't tell you about yet!)
Red white and blue.  Apparently I was subconsciously patriotic when I chose my knitting!

I hope you all had a happy Fourth of July!  I spent the week in a house full of cats who are terrified of loud noises, in the middle of a neighbourhood which LOVES fireworks and cannon and explosions of all sorts.  So it was an interesting weekend.  However everyone goes back to work tomorrow so maybe the evenings will be quieter now!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Laundry Day, Victorian Style

Well, mostly Victorian, anyway.  All my "historical" underthings had a wash today, with bluing to make them extra white.  Lots of soft cotton and knitted lace.

Here's also a sneak peek at my new combinations, which will be officially introduced once my photographer gets back from vacation!