The Dresstangle

It is four right angles and four seams sewn with an opening for my head.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waistNo, really. I know it looks like much more, but the fabric and the elasticated waist are doing all the work.

I’ve made this dress twice before (once in a peacock print and once in navy) during my half year of speed sewing for The Sew Weekly blog, but I never wrote about it here. Until now.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

This version has an upgrade: A circle of clear elastic sewn to a dropped waistline.

When life (in the shape of a lingering cold, surprise deadlines at work, and family travel plans) started creeping in on my intentions to make something wearable this month, I fought back by resurrecting the simplest, self-drafted shape and applying it to the rayon challis print I acquired during my past addiction to online fabric sales.

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This is happening. #nofilter

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My first two iterations of this dress were cut and sewn directly from yardage.

This time, re-realizing how many more dress and top variations this shape could yield, I made a pattern.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

I was grateful for the accuracy that one rectangular pattern piece gave me when trying to fit the front and back on the full width of the fabric.

I had to short the seam allowances a bit on one seam, but ended up with an almost zero-waste garment.

Boatneck dress with bloused elasticated waist

The dress in my head got sketched on my croquis to see how the sewn-on elastic would handle the volume and how much blousing I’d like.

I wanted the dress to be permanently bloused at the waist versus just having the extra fabric belted. The elastic would keep things in position and distribute the gathers evenly like it did in the men’s shirt I refashioned last year.

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However, a happy accident with the untested marking of my real vs. dropped waistline gave me more blousing than I’d planned.

But, I kinda like it!

Its 1980s material girl meets 1920s flapper.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

I constructed the dress over three days.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

On day 1, I ironed and cut the fabric.

On day 2, seams were sewn and overlocked.

On day 3, the elastic and hem went in.

Construction of boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

To create the blousing, I quarter-marked and zig-zag stitched clear elastic to a waistline marked 1.5 inches below my true waistline (which turned out not to be).

To keep the back hem even, I lowered the back waistline by half an inch at center back.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

I canNOT get over the basic beauty of this dress shape. The amount of pattern play to be had is endless. My next one might get kimono sleeves and a rounded hem. A proper neckline might even get drafted on future versions.

My satisfaction meter is off the charts with this make. Not to mention that I may have stumbled upon my fall/winter uniform.

Boatneck dress with cut on sleeves and elasticated waist

What’s your experience sewing boxy styles? Would you ever try a dresstangle? What other variations do you see are possible with this shape?

May the Pants be with you

When you make a personal pledge in a public forum to draft, design, and sew a pair of trousers in a month’s time and actually accomplish it, the sun shines a little brighter and your short legs look a little longer.

Najah Carroll's Self-Drafted Linen Trousers (front view)

A few days after writing about my custom denim pencil skirt, I found out that Brooks Ann Camper, my favorite long distance sewing teacher, had developed a pants drafting system with NO standard sizes or pre-defined measurements (unlike the ones in my pattern drafting textbooks filled with “lower by 1/4-inch “or “check the size chart” kind of guidance). The drafting method uses the skirt block I crafted in her original class and a new set of body measurements for bifurcation. She invited her Skirt Skills students to participate in the first run of her Smarty Pants e-Course and I jumped in with both feet.

In fact, the course is still going on now! We’re in the last week of things, learning the finishing steps for TWO pair of custom pants drafted from blocks: trousers and yes….jeans. Since the course can be both self-paced and real-time, I chose to make my trousers in pace with the 6-week lessons and will start on my jeans block and fitting afterward.

So, this story about making linen trousers from the ground up will be told with a little less word count and more hyperlinks than usual. Besides, you may already know the story if you’ve been following my “Me Made May” 31-day micro-blogging marathon on Instagram under the hashtag #wannabesewingpants.

#wannabesewing pants on Instagram

Every First Draft is Perfect

Drafting my way to a garment pattern has been surprisingly less stressful than dealing with the ambiguity of opening the envelope of a purchased pattern or assembling a downloadable one.

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In custom sewing class, we’re reminded of the inherent perfection of the first drafting work that happens with a block pattern. It’s job in pantsmaking is to represent a map of my lower body and legs. Once drafted into existence, it is a perfect resource of information for whatever pants style I want to design.

Knowing that my final garment will be based directly on information from MY BODY (not some “ideal” body I must compare mine to) is like getting a hug and a dozen roses from your best friend before going on stage. It’s the best kind of self-administered sewing support.

To understand how well my two-dimensional waist-to-ankle map corresponded to my three-dimensional body, I spent some time evaluating a muslin mockup up of my wide legged trouser block. The process put me in the role of Sewing Detective as I considered how to give a bit more room for my body at the crotch area. I sketched out a theory on my croquis so I could understand the impact the pattern correction would have on the fit of my trouser block, and spent a few days getting lost on the way to executing it. Ultimately I re-learned the value of slowing down during construction.

Design in the Trenches

I only had a rough idea of what kind of pants I’d make when I declared my intentions to all of the #Sewcialists. I wanted to see what specific inspiration would strike once my block was ready, so I pinned all the pins in a sartorial tribute to Katherine Hepburn’s iconic trousers-wearing and raided my fabric collection for options suitable for the wide-leg style I had in mind. The timeframe I had to work in, the warm season, my patience, and skill level (yep, still hovering somewhere on the spectrum between advanced beginner and intermediate seamstress) were also a part of the Committee for Real Life Sewing that influenced my design process.

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By day 20, I’d worked out a sketch of a simple design for a pair of linen trousers with familiar construction features to prevent first-timer fumbles (thinking back to the topstitching drama of my denim pencil skirt) that could trigger my inner Samuel L. Jackson and jeopardize my momentum:

  1. A straight/wide leg, drafted 3cm narrower then my trouser block pattern that sits at my natural waist
  2. A hip-length waistline facing for tummy control
  3. An invisible side zipper
  4. 3 patch pockets – 1 in front, 2 in back

I really enjoyed the pattern work that solidified my original sketch and was glad I didn’t design more features than I could handle. With jeans as my next mission, there would be plenty of patterning, construction work, and even more topstitching (Bring it on!) to feed my appetite for design play.

11th-Hour Finish

I highly recommend timing your major construction work over a three-day holiday weekend. I may have missed out on all the Memorial Day happenings around town, but I did take a break from sewing for a highly-anticipated face to face meetup with Brooks Ann where she answered my final construction question (hell yes to twill tape along the waistline stay stitching) and let me get all “fan girl” for a while and go on about sewing for way longer than my husband can tolerate at home.

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With the power of The Force still with me, I returned to my project and followed the custom sewing techniques I learned in class to semi-baste together my flax linen trousers (shout out to the lovely, UK fabric store that sent me 3 meters of Robert Kaufmann Essex Wide Flax cotton/linen in the hopes I’d make something fabulous with it one day that might reach my UK readers looking to support an independent business trying to branch out into garment-weight fabrics), try them on, adjust the fit and pass on the changes to my final garment pattern.

For this pattern in the heavy-bodied, almost bottom weight linen-cotton blend fabric I’d chosen, I took in the side seams by 4 cm, tapering from the waist to the thigh. I’m curious how a linen with more drape would respond to the design. When I’m done with the course, I may follow my curiosity to another pair of linen trousers.

When I returned to work after the holiday break, the big analytics project I’d kicked off earlier in the month had picked up steam and time-sucked me into a thousand meetings that made me get that hallway-stretching horror movie feeling that I was never gonna get out of here and back to my sewing room. I ultimately escaped. It was day 31 and I had only hours until midnight to finish my trousers in time to meet my self-imposed deadline.

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With only a handful of “monkey-fighting” moments —I do admit to banning my family from my presence long enough to install, remove, and re-install (with the right foot this time) an invisible zipper without interruption — I finished my trousers around midnight and proceeded to sleep like a baby. When Baby woke up the next day, she wore the cutest trousers and the biggest smile to the office.

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Thank you, to the #Sewcialists of Instagram who followed and encouraged me with likes and you-can-do-its along the way. Sharing my goal with such a big audience helped me see it through to the end. A month-long, public marathon of making was pretty intense, so I’ll probably keep my attempts to once a year.

With this latest dive into custom sewing, however, I learned so much (besides the ass-kicking skill of self-drafting pants) from the experience…like how to get the most of the small chunks of time available to me, how to create a garment plan to guide my approach, and how to trust my fitting and design instincts to make me enormously proud of what I can produce with my mind and hands.

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.