A place where a wee Scot can talk about the stuff she bores other folk with. Sewing, The Beatles, cats, and zumba may feature...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Girl, interrupted: or how I finished my first ever dress

Ta da! And Ringo looks on approvingly.
The difficult thing about taking a weekly dressmaking class is having to wait a whole seven days for the next sewing session, especially when you've got your sew-jo working! Before the dressmaking course had started at the beginning of October, I had bought the Green Bee patterns' Frances shirtdress kit for the Craftsy October sew-along. Well...I ended up starting and finishing the shirtdress last week, between weeks three and four of dressmaking class...and it became The First Dress I Ever Made!

I prefer it without the belt for that comfy, stop having to hold my stomach in look
My wee sis says it's better with the belt
Shouting at my boyfriend who was trying to get photos of my double-chin. He succeeded.
I'm not going to lie, the main reason I was drawn to the Craftsy kit was the allure of the fabric which came with the pattern upon purchase: a whole 3.2m of Cotton + Steel Tangrams from designer Rashida Coleman-Hale's Moonlit collection. Secondary to that was the thought that an easy, comfy shirtdress is something I would definitely like to wear. Whether it would suit me or not, I had no real idea or faith in. It was more about working with such pretty fabric (that I'd been coveting for quite a while) and seeing if I could actually make a finished item which looked like the one in the Craftsy picture.
I didn't even for a second think about what was involved in making a shirtdress, which is strange because I have been blog-browsing, book-reading and pinterest-surfing for long enough to get an idea of what is involved in producing a garment like this. But spurred on by reading Mary of the superb Idle Fancy blog and her Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses sewing challenge (running till 10th December), I thought bugger it, let's do this! I also was comforted by the fact there was complete sewalong support in the Craftsy class by none other than the designer of the pattern, Alexia Abegg, also a Cotton + Steel alumni.
Who needs weights when you have Bonnie and the Wee Man
Even though I washed the fabric, I chickened out of actually cutting into it and instead opted to make a toile first, using bargain cotton ($2 a metre!) I had got a few days before. I actually had two pieces of the fabric 1.5m and 1.35m but luckily it was quite wide at 52" (aye, I know I'm mixing my imperial and my metric, so sue me) so I managed to cut out most of the dress from the biggest piece and only had to use the smaller piece for the plackets and sleeves.
According to my measured sizing I matched up to the XL on the pattern, but when I measured the pattern pieces I was closer to an L. I am so glad I cut that size as the XL would have been tent-like. I was worried that the L might be too snug but it's perfect and still a tiny bit roomy up top. Measuring pattern pieces is one of the most useful lessons I've learned at the dressmaking class. Thanks again to my wonderful teacher Alexandra!
Double-ended dart
Two rows of gathers
Gathered back bodice attached to yoke
Collar taking shape
Plackets before (left) and after (right)
Woohoo, I have an almost dress!
I'd been working on the dress for around three full days (including tracing and cutting which I am super slow at!), and everything had been going swimmingly. Darts, gathers, plackets, and a collar tried to defeat me and failed, in fact I quite enjoyed doing them, especially the collar and plackets which were both firsts. (Again, I cannot emphasise how slow I work and how long each process took me). Then came the buttonholes.
How I'll always think of buttonholes now
My biggest worry was actually sewing on the buttons (the last step) as my hand-sewing is crap, but before that I had the whole frustration of trying to make a bloody buttonhole with my machine. I spent a good few hours trying to work out how to get my model of machine (which purports to be a One-Step...aye right) and buttonhole foot to do what I knew it could do. I watched videos, read tutorials and tried every combo of stitch setting known to man, woman, and cat trying to get the darn thing to work.
Check how smug that buttonhole foot looks in this stock photo. Yeah, well real life ain't always like stock photos!
The closest I could get was that the machine seemed to be doing the button hole stitch but only over and over in the same spot. So...back to the drawing board. I read that you can still use your machine to sew a buttonhole, without using the buttonhole foot. I also put a callout on facebook, a) to save me from my rapidly decreasing sanity and b) to get advice from experienced sewing pals.

Something else also helped, and that was the three special editions of the Great British Sewing Bee, this time with celebrities, for the sake of Children in Need (a national charity in Britain and a cause that the BBC has lovingly backed for decades).
Veering into Fawlty territory but he's still got it
Over the course of the three programmes last week some great garments were paraded before judges May and Patrick (looking suaver than ever with a 1940s-style moustache, farewell beard), as well as some hilarious efforts. This was my favourite and made by complete newbie to sewing, Hairy Biker TV cook, Dave Myers. Isn't it groovy?
Feeling re-pumped up with motivation and determination I tried again with the buttonholes. A good friend (thank you Ann) talked me through a step-by-step guide to stitching the buttonhole with my machine and I also used this tutorial I found online (I understand better when I can see pictures). And at last, it worked! My euphoria was short lived when I took seam ripper to dress and tried to open the button hole and this happened:
I had used mediumweight fusible interfacing and after the fabric and interfacing had been folded twice over to make the placket, it was really tough to get the seam ripper in and moving in any direction without a lot of force. Yarg. So my own fault really, as the pattern did call for lightweight interfacing. And...I should have done this too:
And yes I did pin each buttonhole thereafter
Fecking YAS
Nice wee sleeve tab if I may be so bold
So yes, I learned a lesson the hard way. I even got to practice my darning skills by repairing the ripped hole (thankfully I had at least had the savvy to attempt the first buttonhole at the bottom of the dress which won't be quite as visible as it would have been near the neck).

Love that gathered back
All in all, it probably took me 5 days to make. I left off the breast pocket, though I still have it and still mulling whether to add it on or not. And the arms were far too long, I've rolled them up to my elbows which is where I'd like them to sit, so I'll move the sleeve tab up a bit. Also would like to have the right side of the fabric showing when my sleeves are rolled up, and not the wrong side, and one of the fellow sewers on the Craftsy sewalong suggested a tip for that.
That daftie Bonnie climbed up inside the sleeve of my dress then got herself stuck when Baby started attacking her
After all that, I think I have a pattern that I can sew again and again. And of course I still have the untouched Cotton + Steel fabric to use.

There were a few techniques that were nearly the undoing of me, and some that went fairly smoothly despite any lack of skill on my part. Call it beginner's luck. If I had known what a challenge a dress with a collar and buttons would be, I may not have attempted this pattern for a good long while. But I was blissfully unaware and fortune favours the ignorant sometimes.

Having finished the dress last Friday night, I was able to wear it the next day to: a sale in my favourite local fabric shop; a vinyl record fair; and then the final dressmaking class of my 4-part course. My teacher and the sewing studio owner were so complimentary about my dress, I felt a million bucks. Even better than that, I actually felt quite nice in it. A turn up for the books these days!
Everly Brothers vinyl porn

Round up:
- approx 2.5m (52" width) of cotton at $2 a metre
- navy and red thread from stash
- half a yard of mediumweight fusible interfacing from stash
- 10 red buttons from local fabric shop, $5.60 in total (I've never bought buttons before, so no idea if this was expensive or not. I bought the cheapest they had though!)
- Craftsy sewalong class and dresskit including Frances pattern and 3.2m of Cotton+Steel Tangrams in Indigo USD$64.14 (including taxes and shipping to Canada)
- playlist: everything by The Everly Brothers

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dressmaking class: week three

My dressmaking class is now finished! So here's a recap of Week Three (last week) and I'll post up Week Four tomorrow.

The final two weeks of the dressmaking class have focussed on sewing techniques, specifically darts, seam finishings, hems (by hand and machine), and zippers. In the midst of this I somehow decided it would be a good idea to start and complete a shirtdress (which turned out to be my first ever completed dress!), and had me tackling a collar, placket, gathers, and the most dreaded of sewing processes: buttonholes! This garment merits a whole post of its own, so lets leave it for now. Especially as I am coming over all Chief Inspector Dreyfus again at the very mention of buttonholes...
"Every day and in every way, I am getting better, and better."

Alexandra kicked off week three's class by demonstrating tailor's tacks, which I had coincidentally read about in the article about marking tools I posted a link to previously (here it is again as it was so good). This was very interesting as it's one of those things you really need to see done in front of you (well I do, anyway) rather than just read about it.

Tailor's tacks are ideal for little marks like the end of darts, or other markings (usually donated by little circles on the pattern) which are in the body of the garment (as opposed to notches which are at the edge of the fabric). They are sewn very very loosely through the pattern paper and two layers of fabric. The tack is basically an X and once it is sewn the two pieces of fabric are pulled apart by about an inch (that's why you leave the tack so loose as you are going to pull the two layers apart) and the threads in between the layers snipped. This will leave you free to remove the pattern paper and will reveal tacks on both pieces of fabric which donate the marking.

If this makes no sense at all (that'll be a yes then), check these photos out! Even though my swatch is natural coloured and the same on both sides, let's imagine the two squares of fabric were placed right side to right side (ie the circle you can see drawn is on the wrong side of the fabric) when I did the tack. (also imagine that there is pattern paper on top of them! Here is a great tutorial showing how to use the tacks with your pattern paper)

The 'spider legs' or tailor tacks as they are known in the profession
Tailor tacks are excellent for fine fabrics such as silk or chiffon. I think they will come in really useful to me when I need to know that a marking on one layer of fabric has to be 100% accurate on the other layer of fabric (at the moment I don't feel my markings are 100% accurate! Mostly because my chalk is so thick right now it adds millimetres to my markings. I know, I'll get it sorted honest! Or else use tailor tacks...

Next up, and onto the machines for the first time during the 3 weeks of class so far (which just goes to show you how much there is to learn about measuring, marking, and cutting) as Alexandra explained a few different ways to finish seams. First off was getting to grips with the machine itself, by far an upgrade from my trusty steed at home (which incidentally I had purchased from The Makehouse when they were upgrading to the new machines. The best 40 bucks I ever spent, so grateful for that stroke of luck as I would never have been able to afford a sewing machine otherwise, thank you Makehouse!).

All the time I was using the machines in the Makehouse were probably the worst sewing I have ever done, not because there was anything wrong with the machines but they were so different to mine that I just couldn't get to grips with them. A very weird experience indeed!
The model we used in class

My baby, grubby stains and all! A Janome US2022

We got a chance to try out 3 seam finishes: clean finish seam; overlocked (or serged if you're reading in North America); and bias tape (which I have been wanting to learn as I know it can be used for skirt hems or for armholes in sleeveless dresses, to name but a few).
For a clean-finish seam: fold back 1/4 inch of seam allowance and stitch
Keep fabric right sides together and only leave folded seam allowance exposed for stitching
How the clean-finish seam looks when completed
My first time using an overlock (serger), come to me my pretty!
I was pathetically excited at my first overlocking experience
Overlocked seam finish

Double fold bias tape
Flatten it and then encase the edge of the seam allowance within the tape
Double fold bias tape seam finish
Before class ended, we had a practice at darts which feature in my Betty dress at the waist and bust. Although there is only one way to start sewing a dart (always from the fabric edge) there are several ways to to come to the end of a dart. The goal of each method is the same:  to keep any bulk or puckers to a minimum.

After sewing into the dart, Alexandra showed us that you can backstitch back onto your line of stitching, or her preference is to backstitch up the edge of the dart fold (as seen below).
Sew right down to the end of the dart and then backstitch up the edge of the dart fold
My backstitching is something I always seem to make a bit of a mess of, so I think I'll probably mostly use the method of simply stitching right off the end of the dart (no backstitching) and snip the threads leaving long tails which you then tie a knot in. This is also a great way to ensure the end of your dart doesn't accumulate too much bulk.
How the right side of the fabric looks for my practice darts
Darts are definitely something I want to learn more about as there are several different kinds. Tilly and the Buttons has an excellent round up here.

In the last half hour of class I started sewing work on Betty, and the first thing I'd to do were the darts on both front and back bodice pieces. Unfortunately, the chalk markings I'd made the week before had all but disappeared and knowing I didn't have long till class finished, I winged it. Oh foolish me! I of course ended up with several different lengths and angles of darts, instead of neatly matching pairs on the bust and waist, so I spent the rest of the remaining class time unpicking the buggers!

We were set homework of completing as much as we could on our dresses at home, leaving zips and hems (or anything else that stumped us) for the following week, which would be our last of the course.

The day after class when I had intended to get to work on Betty, I decided to measure out the pattern for the Frances shirtdress from Green Bee patterns instead. More on that soon!

I couldn't witter on about darts for so long without posting this gem. I had to explain the significance of this to my Canadian boyfriend, so for others who also need to know why us Brits of a certain age find this so funny, go read the small print at the end of this post. The rest of you, sit back and remember where you were when you saw this!   

**When Dexy's Midnight Runners appeared on Top of The Pops, the UK's number one music programme, in October 1982 performing their latest single "Jackie Wilson Said" a cover of the Van Morrison song about famed soul singer Jackie Wilson. Either as a deliberate joke or due to the incompetence of the production team, a huge portrait of Scottish darts player, Jocky Wilson, was projected to the left of the band. Cue nationwide simultaneous laughter (in the days when we all had to watch telly at the same time). I like to think it was not deliberate but lead singer Kevin Rowland apparently claims different.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dressmaking class: week two

Air drying 4.5m of fabric gave the cats a wee den to play in. The buggers wouldn't let me join in though.
Armed with my new fabric choice for the Betty dress, it was time for the second week of the dressmaking class I'm taking at The Makehouse in Victoria, BC.

Whereas last week all three of us students started off at the same point, albeit with differing patterns, and sat together while Alexandra, our fab instructor, introduced us to how to interpret patterns, today we were heads down and intent on our own work at our own tables, and chat (and choccy biscuit eating) was to a minimum.
Adding 3/8 inch to the back skirt pattern piece at waist and seams.

Alexandra had spent a lot of time with me in the first week, perfecting and transferring the fit of my upper body measurements to the paper pattern, and the first thing she helped me tackle this week was the waist measurements of the circle skirt part of the pattern.

Using the waist adjustments I had made to the bodice pattern pieces last week, it was a case of a few more mathletics to ensure the waist on the skirt pieces would line up with the bodice. Sounds easy, but this took me at least half an hour. I definitely believe it's worth it though as I would rather make adjustments onto paper, than find I have excess or not enough fabric to cover my bod once it's sewn up!
If only Babs had properly transferred the measurements of her bristols to the paper pattern before sewing!
While I have access to Alexandra's amazing knowledge and experience I want to make the most of picking her brain. One thing I have been struggling to understand is how to tell if fabric has good drape. Patterns sometimes specify using drapey material, and then list the types of fabric which might be suitable. Alexandra showed me a brilliant but simple technique which I can use next time I'm in a fabric shop. Unravel a metre or so from a bolt of fabric and hang it over the edge of a table, or over a chair. Fabric with good drape will fall naturally into folds as it hangs. Stiffer fabric will stick out more and will have little or no folds.
My mediumweight quilting cotton is showing a pretty nice drape

Fabric with good drape will also look kind of heavy. I was struggling to understand what 'heavy' fabric looks like so Alexandra showed me some sample blouses that she had in the studio, one of which had a pussy bow, which did indeed look 'heavy' as it hung there. That, my friends, is what good drape is! I wish I had taken a pic of the blouses that Alexandra showed me, as they are her own designs from her company In House Patterns. So here (and here) they are on her website.

I'm not the only one who doesn't get what heavy means.
Next, Alexandra demonstrated several techniques for tracing key marks (such as darts) from the traced pattern piece onto my fabric. I had heard of carbon tracing paper before, but not seen it or had a chance to use it. The carbon paper is placed on either side of the fabric (ensuring any marks are made onto the wrong side of the fabric, which therefore won't show once the dress is finished), and special attention must be made if your fabric is being cut on the fold.

Then using a tracing wheel (like this one - I forgot to take a photie!), you run the wheel along the dart lines on the pattern pinned to your fabric, which will then leave marks underneath (on the wrong side of the fabric remember!).
Carbon tracing paper - blue sheets are good for showing up on lighter coloured fabrics, sheets come in other colours too

As the blue carbon sheets which I used didn't show up great on my mostly black fabric, Alexandra introduced me to another nifty little tool, which I want so badly now! It's a chalk wheel which leaves a small deposit of chalk on your fabric in the most delicate and perfect line. I currently use normal tailor's chalk at home but my pieces are all broken, blunt, and the blue chalk is so bad for getting on my fingers I have to wash my hands in between every single use of it (so as to avoid staining anything else I touch).
Is this chalk wheel completely sexy or what?
While looking online for where I could buy chalk wheels I found this great article about the many ways to mark fabric, who knew? I love that there are lots of free alternatives to investing in a myriad of sewing notions (even though I still want that chalk wheel, I want it baaaad), such as using slivers of soap, or tacking stitches (a common technique used by tailors). Just in this tiny facet of the sewing process, which takes up about 0.1% of the total time it takes to make a dress, there is so much to learn! I think an oooft is well in order here.
I only managed to pin and cut (yikes, the dreaded C word) a couple of my pattern pieces and fabric, so my homework is to finish cutting out all my pieces in time for next week so we can start sewing. Another great tip from Alexandra is that while we may want to make the most of our fabric, sometimes you just have no choice but to lay out your pieces in a certain way. For example, if possible it's best to always lay your pieces out so that they are facing the same direction (eg in my pic below all the shoulders are facing west).
My bodice pieces and facings - even though there are big spaces, this is the most economical layout we could achieve
Sometimes you can get away with placing a pattern piece reversed, but you always have to bear in mind the pattern of the fabric underneath and how it will be affected.

Class finished in time for me to pop next door to Satin Moon who sell a great range of quilting cottons and notions, and who had on a special remnant sale with proceeds going to Our Place in Victoria. I managed to pick up two remnants of a dark navy cotton with wee white flowers, and a metre of a very drapey (and yes I performed the drape test on it) cotton, also with white flowers, which might be voile, I'm not sure. But they will be good for practicing more garment-making on, and were only $2 a metre.
Bonnie, gatekeeper of the fabrics
As well as taking the dressmaking class at the Makehouse, I also have an online sewalong class which starts today, so will be blogging about the progress of this shirtdress, here's hoping it turns out as cool as it looks here!