Pencil Me In…Denim

153 days ago, I told you about my jones for a custom, pencil skirt made of denim.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so deadly serious about sewing something into existence. I learned how to draft a skirt block, rebooted my whole sewing process, and survived my first battle with topstitching thread to self-grant my wish.

And. It. Was. ALL. WORTH IT!

Custom-Drafted Denim Pencil Skirt

Draft Pick

Every bit of this road trip was worth the wait.

I even risked sitting wrinkles while waiting out the rain that tried to cancel my photoshoot. When your lipstick is like BOOM and you’re heels are like BAM and your skirt is like…BONJOUR!! there’s no weather forecast that can withstand that kind of readiness.

I’m not saying that my denim pencil skirt has the power to stop the rain or anything…

Denim pencil skirt, front view

…but I did bring it to life wielding a pencil and thimble. That’s all the proof I need that there may be a little magic in these hands.

The custom sewing e-course I took in October that rocked my bobbin-winding world, also infected me with a hearty passion for flat patterning. Before earning my Skirt Skills badge, I enjoyed hacking the style of a commercial pattern every now and then. I’d get a small thrill of vandalism and even a little pride out of being a silent co-designer when I drafted new lines on something ready-to-sew. Doing it from scratch though… is a whole other, lovely beast.

Crafting a garment pattern from top to bottom, deciding all the features, figuring out how to construct them, truing up all the lines, meticulously labeling all the pieces…all of this BEFORE I cut into any fabric. That. Is. WORK, y’all. Not sweat-generating work, but solid concentration of the lip-biting kind.

Denim Pencil Skirt Pattern Pieces

I had grand ideas for this skirt right out of the gate. I wanted to try out all kinds of drafting techniques, I wanted all the fancy seams and WOW factors I could get. I sketched and pinned like a fiend. Then, I remembered I was a student. A fresh and delicate newbie with all of the success-sensitive emotions that go along with it. And, newbies gotta slow their roll.

So, the second skirt made from my block would have three, simple design changes: a shaped waistband, a tapered hem, and a slit for walking ease. I’d never sewn or worn a well-fitting contoured waistband before. I’d never worn or sewn a tapered skirt, nor had I ever sewn a slit (or even a vent) into anything before. The whole experience was so new to me, I wondered if I should be designing diapers!

Denim Pencil Skirt, front view

I took my time through everything. The skirt drafting process had my right and left brain on fire. I loved it. Sorting out how to communicate to myself on my pattern pieces so I’d know what to do with them when it was time to cut was one of the most interesting parts of the experience. There are no seam allowances on my final pattern pieces so that I can mark stitchlines and cutlines directly onto my unfolded fabric. This means I have to remember to flip my pattern pieces over at the center front and center back “fold”. Instead of remembering to do it (which I didn’t a few times), I just noted it is as a flip instead of a fold. Clipping notches, drawing grainlines, including landmarks for the seamstress who’d be lost without them (me!) ….this is the work of pattern drafters I took for granted all these years.

And, now I’m doing it.

If they weren’t basted by hand before stitching…if the waistband facing wasn’t understitched with surgical accuracy…if my zipper wasn’t topstitched with ferocity…

…my seams would be bursting with pride.

Denim Pencil Skirt, side view

All About That Baste

The pre-construction phase was the most illuminating for me. I learned about hand-basted fittings in Brooks Ann’s course and used the method to try on my skirt for the first time after cutting it out.

When my pattern, my body, my fabric, and my preferences were introduced to each other during my basted-fitting, I was surprised to learn I needed 4 cm less circumference to get the snug fit I was after.

This meant my final pattern was tested and fitted for a bottom-weight twill fabric and if I wanted to sew it up in something different in the future -say, a wool suiting- I’d be better off drafting a new pencil skirt from my block and baste-fitting the suiting fabric skirt to see how it cooperated.

Hand-basted denim pencil skirt

A 4 cm reduction at the side seams was all I had to do to tweak the fit of my denim skirt and correct the paper pattern. Even though that tiny tweak surprised me (I wrongly assumed the stability of denim was similar to that of the muslin fabric I used to fit my skirt block), I am beyond ecstatic at a sewing future with little to no pattern alterations.

Fabulous Finish

When I was finally ready to sew permanent seams, I gave myself several more days of room to contemplate, sample sew, and finalize my construction methods and sequence. If I’d bought this skirt pattern, it would’ve come with all of those decisions made and illustrated for me. This custom skirt didn’t come with a manual.

I considered how to stabilize my waistband by examining the ready-to-wear jeans in my closet and by sewing samples. I figured out that my shaped waistband would be stable enough leveraging the untrimmed bottom seam allowance of the facing and the topstitching. I spent considerable time deciding whether or not to topstitch at all, ultimately choosing to go with topstitching, and then losing (and later finding) my mind over the act of topstitching. In hindsight…all good times I wouldn’t trade for a $500 skirt off the rack.

Back view, denim pencil skirt

On the subject of my backside (my daughter has named that part of anatomy the booty butt)…NEVER has it looked this good in a skirt before. The four darts shaping my hips are WERKING IT back there!

When I doubted for a moment whether or not I could get used to the small limitation in my walking range, my husband (who was a fan since the basted-fitting), instructed me to go look in the mirror again and said, “So WHAT you can’t take giant strides in it…Have you SEEN yourself in this skirt!!?” I spent some more time looking and loving my silhouette. After all, it had never been introduced to the world in its true form. I didn’t even know that walking in a tapered pencil skirt is SUPPOSED to involve some wiggle.

I am on board with my foxy ladyness now. Move over little black dress. The denim pencil skirt is here to challenge you to an LBD vs. DPS deathmatch for the Foxy Lady championship!

I am also a certified fan of simple seam finishes.

Insides. Denim Pencil Skirt

Not only did I keep the selvedge so I wouldn’t have to finish the center back seam, but I talked myself out of a hong kong finish and simply stitched and pinked the side seam allowances. The double fold, topstitched hem was a sweet finale to THE MOST satisfying make of my sewing career.

Maxi Mom Fun

Maxi skirts are the new mom jeans. That’s an observation AND a declaration for the summer, my friends. And, I plan to thoroughly live up to it. The summer sale racks are overflowing with maxi styles and my weekend afternoons could be spent playing I Spy a Maxi (on the playground, at the market, crossing the street, etc.). But, the best view of a summer maxi I’ve had so far is the twirl-generating, floor-skimming linen skirt I made a few weeks ago and have already worn a million times since.

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Over the last month, my sewing mojo has been at its peak. I went head first into my wardrobe sewing plan and started plowing through muslins and 1-hour t-shirts like a one-woman factory. For a brief moment though, I was nearly defeated by a streak of wadders and unintentional wearable muslins – garments made with good intentions that lose cool points because of stupid construction mistakes on my part. I channeled that epic fail feeling into a new, scaled back sewing plan (more on that later) that functioned like Ritalin on my haphazard making.

This outfit was the first high-five I earned in weeks. It inspired an impromptu photoshoot at the end of an awesomely productive day at the office that I am certain was influenced by how good I felt in my clothes. I’ll give you the top-down tour.

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The t-shirt marathon that produced this blue rayon jersey top began with a short lesson in twin needle stitching. Where had it been all my life? Constructing the four seams of the fantastically free, Maria Denmark Kimono Tee (get it now if you don’t have it yet) with my serger and then swiveling to my sewing machine for twin needle hemming was the best way to breeze through an already quick sew even faster. Taking the time to hand wind my bobbin with bulky nylon thread slowed my groove a tad, but it was worth it for a functional set of stretchy hem stitches that won’t pop while pulling the shirt on and off.

I lengthened the sleeves of this version of the Kimono Tee using Maria’s tutorial and added a narrow wraparound neck binding, my new favorite way to finish a knit neckline. Everything came together so easily and so fast, I looked around the room half expecting someone to tell me I broke the law.

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Back to this linen maxi skirt with its gorgeous wrinkles and flirty swishyness. I lengthened my go-to dirndl pattern 15 inches and added pockets and a self-drafted waistband. The simplest of simple. I think it’s the light, billowy nature of the linen that gives the skirt life. It catches the air when I walk in such a regal way. During a business trip last week, it was the perfect traveling skirt. I hurried through Dulles and Atlanta airports in my DIY maxi and Keds, letting its soft, rhythmic rustling sound give my strut added purpose.

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Styling it with a wide belt for this outfit was my second high five moment. With so much fabric on my lower half, I didn’t want to overdo the accessories – the right belt was all I needed to tie the two pieces together. Boom. And, I’m dressed.

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The most notable fun factor for this skirt is its universal swish appeal. My daughter instinctively grabs the sides when she’s standing next to me and starts swinging the fabric. And when it’s story time, she cuddles up on my lap like it is the coziest toddler hammock in the world. Because it is.

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What’s your favorite way to wear a maxi skirt? And, why do they always make you feel majestic even when there’s crayons in your pockets and dirt on the hem?

Winter Blooms (on Me!)

Floral T-Shirt Collage

My sewing time has been sporadic and unfocused lately, so those grandiose plans I had to fill the gaps in my freshly purged closet kind of froze up with the ridiculous layers of snow on the ground. In these last weeks of winter, my impatience for spring has my mind trapped in fantasies of picnics, twirly frocks, and other reasons for shaved legs.

Much of that daydreaming happened in my Polyvore app (which posted a few inspiration sets here inadvertently last week, doh!), but by the 5th winter weather advisory, my creativity was on the couch watching Netflix.

My mojo has recently been rejuvenated, however, by one simple little sewing pattern: Butterick 5215. A basic, knit t-shirt that fit me straight out of the pattern thanks to its Jedi designer, Connie Crawford. She claims its made “especially to fit the needs of today’s woman.”B5125 in Black Floral

Indeed, I am a woman on this earth today with needs. Among them is the need for a well-fitting t-shirt. A near impossibility for the short and curvy woman who buys off the earthly rack. Armholes are too long, there’s either too much or not enough room for the girls, sleeves never sit at my shoulder point, and the length between the waist and the hem is never right for my proportions. I have NEVER owned a knit t-shirt I loved.

That is until Ms. Crawford’s envelope of wrinkled tissue came into my life.

The pattern comes already adjusted for a narrow shoulder and fuller bust. There’s a petite adjustment line below the bust. I used it and made no other changes to the fit. I did lengthen the sleeves though. I made view A, the fitted tee with cap sleeves. The other two styles were semi-fitted and relaxed with short sleeves, so I borrowed the long sleeve of another pattern for the shaping and used my shoulder to wrist measurement to draft the right length.

B5215 in Black Floral

I don’t have any experience with success out of the pattern envelope (my peacock print woven tee was close, but even that required clever size blending). So, I stood in the mirror for several minutes trying to fathom the awesome fit I was witnessing on my original test garment. This rayon floral stretch jersey had been begging me to be a t-shirt, but allowing my torso to be engulfed in a vortex of bright floral meant the fit had to be spot on. And, dear, dear Connie hooked a seamstress up!

B5215 in Black Floral

My favorite thing about this pattern is how the side seams curve at the bustline. It’s the best drafting I’ve ever seen on a knit pattern. It’s like a built-in FBA. And, the way it curves at the waist is just art. With the petite adjustment, the waistline and hip curve ends up sitting in just the right spot for me. I’ve already started using it as a fit sloper to improve the fit of other knit patterns.

Cutting out B5215

The speed with which I can make this t-shirt is somewhere between quick as hell and lightning fast. This one took a week because I was fooling around, but with focus, I think I could cut, coverstitch, and serge another one in a few hours – maybe less if I’m making it while my daughter’s napping and get that added boost of beat-the-clock adrenaline.

Speaking of construction, I need to mention that I did all of my hemming with the garment flat vs. after sewing the side or sleeve seams. This is mostly because I have a convertible serger/coverstitch machine and try to streamline things to avoid more than one conversion. It’s also because I’m too lazy to perfect my coverstitching in the round (the overlap stitching hardly ever matches and I don’t quite have that pull-the-threads-to-the back trick down yet.)

I also used this genius method for neckline binding on YouTube that doesn’t require any measuring. Because, really…who has time for that?

B5215 in Black Floral

So, let’s see. We have the best fitting t-shirt pattern EVER, construction shortcuts, and my torso dipped in flowers. I think that’s everything I need to warm up my mojo for spring sewing. Now if some of that warmth would just reach the Eastern United States.

Does the weather ever affect your creativity?

Dress of My Year

There were only two things left on my list for 2014:

  1. Make a dress out of Liberty of London fabric.
  2. Properly line a dress.

2014 is ending and I did those things. I did them so well, I am having trouble caring about anything else I made this year. Or ever.

Number 001

That anxious feeling most makers have before actualizing the thing in their head? I’m beginning to get used to that. What I was calling my “birthday dress” became a daily source of welcomed anxiety while I planned its making. So, once I dropped the idea that I needed to wear it on my December birthday and simply set out to MAKE it on my birthday, the dress in my head was free to come out.

My go-to pattern combo (made previously here, here, and here) of Simplicity 2217 (bodice) and McCall’s 6503 (skirt) has become a signature silhouette of mine. I wanted this version made with the best fabric I could afford and no shortcuts. The dress in my head would be the anchor of my wardrobe, setting the tone for all makes after it. No pressure.

Design Notes, No. 001

Since there was no fitting to contend with, I could really focus on fabric choice. And, for me, for this dress, that meant Liberty of London. At about $30 a yard, I always felt Liberty was out of my league. Like I needed to become a better sewer to earn the right to cut into it. I wouldn’t be caught cutting into the loveliest cotton in the world with half-ass sewing and fitting skills. And mine are finally where they need to be. With help from a vote on Instagram, I made my choice, and bought 3 yards of Liberty Tana Lawn in the “Wiltshire” print from Fabric.com. It exceeded my expectations when it arrived. Gorgeous in every way.

Liberty of London Tana Lawn "Wiltshire"

With all of my meticulous planning, the dress in my head couldn’t do much about the lack of available time in my life. Spending my birthday sewing was a noble idea, but a fully-lined dress (my first attempt) was more than an 8-hour work day’s worth of making. I learned this at the end of Day 1, when cutting was all I’d accomplished. This is where an amazing gift from my husband was presented.

Number 001

He’d already agreed to Daddying solo, so I could spend my first day of winter vacation sewing obsessively. I was not prepared for him to offer that arrangement for the rest of the week! He told me to think of it as “a sewing retreat at a local B&B.” No diapering, cleaning, or cooking. More like a well-balanced eat, sew, play, eat, sew, play, sleep, repeat kind of pattern. That was my life for 4 days straight. And, it was bliss.

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I spent my birthday week exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do, with my favorite two people only yelling distance away.

Number 001

When it was all sewn and done, it took 32 hours to make (about 8 hours a day). An interesting fact for planning another ‘no shortcuts’ dress. But, if I’m honest with myself, only 70% of that time was spent on making. The other 30% was spent:

  • Fretting over cutting into the Liberty. It was like one of those professionally decorated cakes that’s too splendidly crafted to slice.
  • Figuring out the construction sequence for attaching the lining of a mock-wrap bodice with midriff. The original dress pattern had only facings (which I left out) and no lining – so, without instructions, there was much staring and noodling.
  • Troubleshooting my machine until I realized my tension problems had to do with a bobbin holder I replaced crookedly.
  • Basking in the moment. Oohing, aaahing, and fondling the Liberty.

 

Number 001

If I make a dress under these circumstances again, I will plan for a full 32 hours of making (70%), fretting (10%), fawning (5%), and solving (15%). The spell of Liberty has worn off a bit by now though and my fear of linings is behind me, so my next version of this dress would take about 25 hours. A whole day with no sleep or responsibilities. Three, 8-hour working days. Or, in my case, one full week.
Number 001

I know it’s cliché to say, but this dress has changed my life. For real, y’all. I can’t stop looking at it or thinking about it. Just as I had hoped, it turned out to be THE dress. The one that represents my style and skills. It’s been hanging on the outside of my closet door ever since I hand stitched the lining to the zipper (a dressmaking milestone for me). Everything about it makes my soul smile.

Number 001

In 2014, I returned to sewing. Before the year ended, I made the dress of my dreams.

Four Wrongs Make a Nice

I got one thing SO right while making this dress that the FOUR things I screwed up don’t even matter anymore.

Four Wrongs Make a Nice Dress

The dart rotation dry run from my last post worked out well enough to make something longer than a crop top. So, I drafted a skirt onto my modified Simplicity top to make a simple shift dress with a gathered neckline.

Four Wrongs Make a Nice Dress

This rayon challis from my stash has just the right amount of drape without being flimsy, making the neckline gathers drape all lovely-like. And, even though the abstract floral print looks like drunk fireworks, I’ve grown to love it now that it’s sewn up.

Four Wrongs Make a Nice Dress

Alas, here is why I nearly set fire to the dress:

  1. A malevolent force distorted the back shoulder seamline at some point, forcing me to improvise with a shoulder dart.
  2. I sewed the bias binding I was so proud of cutting to the wrong side of my gorgeous neckline and had to finagle it in place with a lot of unplanned handstitching.
  3. I didn’t test fit the pattern’s original sleeves (hope and denial are unreliable sewing tools) and discovered a mile of ease in the sleeve cap that I reluctantly gathered to fit. The sleeve ended up poofing out a bit too much, so I sewed a tiny pleat in the sleeve hem to tame things.
  4. Just when I thought it was over, I tried on the dress and the pockets were like two inches too low on the side seams. What? Really!?

I finished the hem with a frown and tried it on one last time to confirm the dress was indeed a wadder. But, wait a minute….Hey, girl, what’s your name?….it didn’t look so bad. Kinda cute, actually. The neckline gathers are so pretty, they just draw the eye up and away from my shitty construction secrets.

Four Wrongs Make a Nice Dress

Rescuing this dress from arson was a confidence boost. My sewing skills are horribly rusty after such a long hiatus and projects like this remind me to take the “L” off my forehead and keep sewing.

The Four Wrongs Make a Nice Dress. My kind of math.

Four Wrongs Make a Nice Dress

 

Introducing….The “Pinkadot Power” Frock

I made this dress for last week’s Tickled in Pink challenge.

The "Pinkadot Power" Frock

The "Pinkadot Power" Frock

The "Pinkadot Power" Frock
The dressmaking (and loving) story is told here.

This is my third time making this dress style (pleated wrap bodice with midriff + dirndl skirt) and it certainly won’t be my last as I think I’m finally done fussing with the fit.

Hope you dig it half as much as I do.

A Mostly Me-Made May

After wearing a Najah-made garment each day for the last 7 days (a fun personal experiment), I realized that I could probably pull off the Me-Made 2012 challenge going on this month. Since I have only sewn 14 garments so far this year (one of which is a kimono robe meant for lounging about the house with a cuppa tea or a giant glass of wine), my May will be MOSTLY me-made. This challenge will put me face to face with my as-is wardrobe, forcing to me to creatively assemble outfits that feature made-by-mes coordinated with RTW pieces already in my closet.

Here’s my pledge:

I, Najah of Wanna Be Sewing Something sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’12. I endeavour to wear at least one handmade item most days for the duration of May 2012.

So, jumping into this thing…here’s what I’m wearing today. The Look on the Bright Side dress plus cardigan and grosgrain belt.

This will be a crazy-bizzy month for me (Mom coming to town in a couple weeks, work project deadlines dropping, etc.), so I’m hoping to leverage the zen I’ve built up during Operation Sew Balanced and take myself a bit less seriously…at least until May 31st, the date I am scheduled to collapse ;-).

Look out for more What I Wore photos this month. In the meantime, this outfit’s gotta head to the office. I’ll be back later with some show n’ tell from last week’s dress made for the Tickled in Pink challenge.