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?

Baste the Waves

I finished my drafting experiment in curved darts. But only after letting my mind marinate on the construction steps for several nights.

Muslin mockup of asymmetrical curved darts mini skirt

The aha! moment was TINY SEAM ALLOWANCES. To sew the curves accurately, I couldn’t treat them like typical waist or bodice darts by folding in the intake. I had to treat them like seams.

And since there wouldn’t be enough room for my usual 1-inch (2.5 cm) seam allowance, I marked the allowance that fit each dart – in some places it was as small as 1 cm.

Muslin mockup of asymmetrical curved darts mini skirt

In my original draft, I slashed and spread the skirt back so it could be gathered into an elastic waistband. When I got ready to cut it out of muslin, there was too much volume in the pattern piece. I realized I meant to add the volume to a full front piece, so I re-drafted the back and cut it out.

To complete my basted fitting sans waistband (which will be straight and cut-on, with interfacing in the front and elastic in the back), I gathered the back with 3 rows of stitches in the seam allowance that met in the center.

Muslin mockup of asymmetrical curved darts mini skirt

I tried on the skirt mockup in a hurry before work. I put it on backwards, pulling the six bobbin threads to cinch in the gathers, then turned the skirt around properly to check the fit at the side seams and evaluate the short hemline.

All were just right.

Muslin mockup of asymmetrical curved darts mini skirt

To contain my excitement for the success of this drafting experiment, I have decided to procrastinate on fabric selection. I think this skirt is asking for a solid woven with some body, but nothing too drapey. In my collection are a few solid linens, a black silk dupioni, a couple of gabardines, and a silk/cotton blend.

I will try to choose one of those to start, but I’d love to get recommendations from you.

 

Paisley Park

 

Handmade knit tank top and dirndl skirt / Wanna Be Sewing Something Blog

One afro, two elbows, and a UFO walk into a park…

The start of a curious joke? Or the list of accessories for the paisley knit tank top I made?

It’s the latter, of course. Though a suitable punchline for my setup is still a goal.

With help from a quirky, patchwork paisley printed stretch knit, I executed the binding technique I wrote about in July to sew a companion for a chambray dirndl skirt that waited a year to be hemmed.

Handmade knit tank top

Even though I still have to draft new sleeves for it, my beloved fitted t-shirt pattern (debuted here last winter) is officially operating as a block now that I’ve got the shoulders and armholes fitting just right. I traced it to create a tank top pattern with a lower neckline.

Unfamiliar with drafting for knits, I referenced my Helen Joseph Armstrong book. The section on patterning kids clothes made with knit fabric covers how to measure and plot a lowered neckline.

Had I attempted it on my own, I wouldn’t have accounted for the bit of contouring that seems to build in just the right amount of negative ease at the chest.

Handmade knit tank top and denim dirndl skirt separates

The position of the neckline on this tank top is EXACTLY where I want it. Plenty of skin showing to give the eyes a place — other than the obvious one — to land. With a shape that isn’t too scooped…but soft and rounded. Like my hair. Which I styled carefully for a look in the middle of the spectrum between Angela Davis and Pam Grier.

Examining the symbiotic link between neckline and hair shape… is for another blog post.

Let’s enjoy a photo collage tribute to binding construction instead.

Knit binding with mitered seams

From left to right: (a) When I sew wovens, I cut patterns from a single layer of fabric. For this pattern, I folded in the selvedges to the middle and used my rotary cutter. (b) The 45 degree line on the grid of my cutting mat and chalk-marked stitchlines kept the mitered seams of my binding looking sharp. (c) I know it’s overkill, but a steamy iron and my tailor board got in on the action. (d) I always get a little nervous before attaching freshly cut bindings. Did I get the ratios right? I can usually tell if I’m off by laying the seams next to each other.

knit tank top, chambray dirndl skirt

About the skirt. My usual dirndl. It’s origin story is ancient.

95% of it was sewn over a year ago!

I even lined the skirt and the pocket and Instagrammed my results to the world before noticing there wasn’t enough fabric for the waistband.

A small tear was shed before I hung it up in a corner to display it as an unfinished object (UFO) in distress.

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Lined denim pocket or smiling muppet mouth.

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I picked it up a few months later after I learned a machine sewn technique for interfacing a waistband with petersham in my Skirt Skills class.

I tried it out on a straight waistband cut from bottom weight denim that happened to match my chambray.

 

Handmade knit tank top and denim dirndl skirt separates

After admiring the results, I abandoned the dirndl AGAIN so I could use the denim to sew that game-changing pencil skirt.

By the time I returned to finally hem and fasten the chambray dirndl (last week), it was three seasons later and I was ten pounds lighter.

If its muppet mouth could speak, it would’ve cursed me out.

Handmade denim dirndl skirt: waistband, lining

Even though the waistband was a bit thicker than I’m used to, and the hook placement had to be sewn an inch deeper, the peterhsam interfacing performed like a champ.

My waistline did not grow like it did in the un-stabilized, chocolate linen maxi version of this skirt.

After a day of wearing and eating, and through the weight of keys and phones in pockets, my waistband was a solider.

Handmade knit tank top and denim dirndl skirt separates

These separates are a uniform silhouette for me that leave me feeling comfortable and confident. I may not be able to craft a swift punchline for a joke, but I can certainly craft a slow, wonderfully wearable outfit for my body.

Moving the Needle, Vol. 03

Muslin mockup of asymmetrical pleated skirt

This week

My husband does all the laundry and is pretty strict about what gets done first. The bolt of muslin I put in the queue did not get VIP priority. So, with less than a yard to work with, I cut out only the front and basted in the pleats of the self-drafted skirt pattern I shared earlier. The process revealed that I’d forgotten to fold and true the pleats in paper, leaving no room for turn of cloth. The laundry delay was either serendipity or clairvoyance, because I’ve got another patterning playdate before I’m ready to lay down my iron upon a mile of clean muslin.

Speaking of playdates, I just registered my three-year old for preschool. All of the feelings and paperwork involved remind me of sewing.

Sew Inspired

I was glad to rediscover Christine’s thorough instructions for drafting and sewing a knit peter pan collar. Portia’s jeans refashioning challenge has me mapping out thrift stores to stalk. The hilarious review of Fendi’s 2017 resort collection on the Pretty Grievances blog features a pair of wider than wide culottes that I should’ve laughed at but actually enjoyed. My neighborhood pool closes in a week, so I missed my chance to make a new swimsuit —but next year…Amanda’s legendary Wonder Woman bathing suit (with drafting instructions) will be my guide.

Quotes to Sew By

Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself? ~ Lao Tzu

A garment may begin with design or fabric, but its ultimate success depends upon the compatibility of the two. ~ Susan Khalje, Linen and Cotton

P.S.

I recently updated my about page. If you’re a new follower, the short recap of the key turning points in my sewing life should be a nice Wanna Be Sewing Something primer.

Moving the Needle, Vol. 02

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This week

There’s a new ritual in my sewing life. I make a date with my skirt block every time my favorite sewing teacher opens up registration for her Skirt Skills e-course. Sometimes I even re-take the course (alumni get a discount) to inject some organized sewing motivation around a new custom skirt project. Sharing with other students in the forum and the chance for one-on-one support from a couturier is almost irresistible every time.

When Brooks Ann announced another course starts on September 5th, I got ready to sew-along by pulling out my skirt inspiration sketches (like this one), poster board skirt block (which gave birth to my bifurcated trouser block), and self-drafted denim pencil skirt pattern (with original construction samples) to help me plan and design a second denim skirt (the first one I made is the highlight of my wardrobe right now). This one will have plenty of features to warm me up for jeansmaking.

Sew Inspired

Skirting the issue further, there’s Ebi’s purple animal print pencil skirt released into the wild just before her birthday (too damn cute). 1 out of the 18 sewing meet-up activities Kate shared on her blog includes draping and drafting a bodice using cling wrap! The difference between flounces and ruffles, as explained by The Cutting Class, has unruffled the subject in my mind. That time Eliza rotated the back darts of a pencil skirt to the side seams, I vowed to do the same one day. On her blog, Brooks Ann explains how she learned to sew without ever using commercial sewing patterns (its how I knew she was the right teacher for me). The 5-minute video interview with a Levi’s Master Tailor about making bespoke jeans that re-fueled my fire for the process.

Quotes to Sew By

The quest to create something from nothing is a wholly irrational act, do it anyway. ~Jonathan Fields

I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match. ~ Mia Hamm, double Olympic soccer champion

P.S.

I shared a simple hack on Instagram for assembling a set of 1 lb. pattern weights with hardware store washers and plain white glue. Let me know if you try it!

Moving the Needle, Vol. 01

Version 2

Today, I bring you my first, semi-weekly anchor post, Moving the Needle. It will serve as an in-blog newsletter of sorts to share what I’ve been working on and what’s been inspiring me.


This week

My needle has been moving in and out of mockups while I worked through a belated adjustment to my original trouser block. Drafting only to the knee saved fabric and time and helped me focus on solving a crotch length mystery that only showed up while walking. I love all of the anatomy lessons I’m getting from pattern drafting. Speaking of anatomy, I used the only scale in my house (the balance board of my Nintendo Wii) to confirm I’d lost 8 lbs since January. Now I know why I had to remove an extra 4cm from my skirt block in May! The discovery has me re-thinking some of the garments I’ve been planning. Elastic waists, wrap closures, and alteration-friendly seaming might be the best way to cloth my changing body.

Sew Inspired

The t-shirt dresses Carolyn made to keep cool this summer have given me ideas for adding breezy-ease to a lengthened version of my fitted t-shirt pattern. The drape and floral print of the gorgeous charmeuse dress on the Clothing Engineer blog put silk back on my fabric shopping list. A mix of vintage and modern methods (and an eye-catching African cotton print) went into this 13-step tutorial for sewing a button fly on trousers. Krista of Man Repeller’s series on styling for fuller bosoms woke me up to the layered, ruffled skirt as a real option for me; and this simple how-to stopped me from overthinking how to sew one.  Star Trek the Next Generation meets the 1940s in the best group costuming project my Halloween sewing plans have ever seen.

Quotes to Sew By

Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill.

Playing dress-up begins at age five and never truly ends. ~Kate Spade

P.S.

After watching this movie on Netflix about how our bodies handle over-consumption of sugar, I stopped drinking soda. My healthier, shrinking body is the excuse I didn’t need to sew more clothes.

Bound for the Sun

With a fool-proof strategy for binding the neckline and armholes of a sleeveless knit top, my relationship with the summer heat finally caught a cool breeze.

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I found myself unprepared for the nuclear levels of heat that are happening. My selection of warm weather tops is grossly inadequate for the global baking of the earth. Any project that does not directly involve the prevention of melting has been put on hold.

Tank tops have topped my priorities.

The mission: Make my favorite t-shirt pattern sleeveless and perfect my knit wrap-around binding construction.

Fresh out of “the lab”, this stretch jersey tank is my mostly successful but still very wearable mockup to test my pattern adjustments and the execution of the knit binding technique I adapted from Marcy Tilton’s book. It produces a smooth edge that hugs the neckline.

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Before I binge-sew a hundred more (yeah-yeah, I know…it will be more like, three), I wrote a little construction guide to help me repeat (and improve) my binding results on the next tops – which might have different neckline depths or shapes. For those of you with wardrobes as vulnerable to heatwaves as mine, this could come in handy.

Formula for Calculating Knit Binding Length

  1. Measure. Measure seam allowance-free neckline and armholes, front and back. Record totals. Divide neckline circumference by 4 to get the length of the test strip for finding the fabric’s optimal neck-to-binding ratio.
  2. Stretch. Cut a 5 cm (2-inch) wide by test strip length piece on the crossgrain. Stretch it along measuring tape in a 1 to 1 ratio to see how far it can stretch before the fabric gets distorted.
  3. Calculate. Multiply the stretch distance (e.g., 1cm) by 4, subtract it from the neckline circumference, and add the total seam allowance for the binding’s join to get the final length of neckline binding. Repeat the calculation with the armhole circumference for its binding length.
  4. Miter. Cut binding lengths by preferred width —3 times finished width plus 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) for turn of cloth and underlap — and cut short ends on a 45 degree angle. Sew the ends with a 1cm seam, press seam open, then trim allowance to reduce bulk.
  5. Quarter. With seamed and finished shoulder seams, divide the neckline and binding into quarters (without using the binding’s seam as a marker), and snip tiny notches. Keep the binding’s seam off-center at the back, match and pin it to the neckline at the snipped markers, right sides together with binding on top so feed dogs can ease in the longer neckline to the smaller binding.
  6. Sew. Set machine to a slight zig zag stitch, stretch the binding strip slightly while sewing between each pin.
  7. Wrap. Wrap it to the wrong side, smoothing the binding over an even seam allowance. Press over a ham from the front side, pinning along the way. Turn underlap edge under, overlock it, leave it as-is, or pink it (my favorite option so far).
  8. Secure. Sew the binding in place by stitching in the ditch from the front side with an edgestitch foot (or by hand for extra invisibility).
  9. Repeat. Carry out steps 5 through 8 for the left and right armhole bindings.

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The status of this mockup as a wearable muslin was sealed when I forgot to check the placement of the binding’s joining seam. Ideally, one would place it inconspicuously. For the neckline: in the back, off-center. For the armhole: in line with the side seam. On my right armhole, it landed aimlessly near the shoulder seam.

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If you walk around from that point to the front and squint your eyes, you can see the neckline binding’s mitered seam loitering about near the top of the shoulder.

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Hardly noticeable unless you find yourself close enough to my neck to kiss or bite it. My potential critics are: my husband or Dracula. Luckily, neither will care given their business in that area.

I rewarded my triple binding work with a simple, lazy zig-zagged hem.

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If it’s possible to have a crush on a sewing technique, I certainly have one on this wrap-around binding. It elevates the status of a tank top to more than just a color peeking out from under a cardigan….it becomes a hand-wrapped license to bare arms.


Are you sewing yourself cool this summer? How do you finish the holes of your sleeveless garments? Do you turn, bind, or band?