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.

View this post on Instagram

Lined denim pocket or smiling muppet mouth.

A post shared by Najah (@wannabesewingsomething) on

 

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.

Pattern Play: Asymmetrical Darts

I drafted a pattern during my lunch break. No food. No phone. Just my supplies and the sketch of a mini skirt that my mind wouldn’t shetup about until my hands got to work.

Asymmetrical_Darts_Mini_Skirt_Custom_Sewing_Pattern_Drafting_Inspiration_Personal_Croquis_Sketch_02

 

The skirt I wanna-be-sewing has four, topstitched darts that radiate from the waist toward the side seam. To get there, a little slashing, a little spreading, and maybe later….a muslin mockup of the final pattern to play with dart length and spacing.

I started with with my skirt block. This version is only 3 months old and already full of pin holes.

A custom drafted skirt block used to draft a sewing pattern. In the article, "Pattern Play: Asymmetrical Darts,” on the Wanna Be Sewing Something blog, Najah shares the slash and spread pattern drafting techniques she used to create a custom skirt design from her skirt block.

I traced a full copy of the front and drew in the new hemline. I got cold feet about the mid-thigh length and found myself hesitating to cut off the excess right away.

The back will have a dirndl look with elastic inserted into the back waistband to make it a pull-on skirt. To create this, I evenly spaced and cut four vertical lines, numbering the remaining pieces to keep track of them before spreading them apart to 1.5 times the width of the original hemline.

A custom drafted sewing pattern for a mini sirt with asymmetrical, topstitched darts. In the article, "Pattern Play: Asymmetrical Darts” on the Wanna Be Sewing Something blog, Najah shares the slash and spread pattern drafting techniques she used to create a custom skirt design from her skirt block.

Using a bendable ruler and french curve, I plotted four, parallel curves across the skirt front. Then, I held my breath…and slashed through each line.

Washi tape holds the closed darts together.

A custom drafted sewing pattern for a mini sirt with asymmetrical, topstitched darts. In the article, "Pattern Play: Asymmetrical Darts” on the Wanna Be Sewing Something blog, Najah shares the slash and spread pattern drafting techniques she used to create a custom skirt design from her skirt block.

After drawing in the curves for the darts, I realized they could easily be sewn as pleats. Which means I could have TWO styles for this pattern if I squared off the dart legs. I did this and they became match points for four asymmetrical pleats.

A custom drafted sewing pattern for a mini sirt with asymmetrical, topstitched darts. In the article, "Pattern Play: Asymmetrical Darts” on the Wanna Be Sewing Something blog, Najah shares the slash and spread pattern drafting techniques she used to create a custom skirt design from her skirt block.

During my next pattern playdate, I will finish labeling all of the pattern pieces. Then, I’ll trace a copy of the pleat-ready front pattern, draw in the stitchlines of the four darts I originally planned, and cut out the dart intake.

In my Skirt Skills class (aka couture for beginners), I learned to sew from stitchlines vs. cutlines. So my pattern will remain seam allowance-free, allowing me to mark the stitchlines directly onto the fabric.

A custom drafted sewing pattern for a mini sirt with asymmetrical, topstitched darts. In the article, "Pattern Play: Asymmetrical Darts” on the Wanna Be Sewing Something blog, Najah shares the slash and spread pattern drafting techniques she used to create a custom skirt design from her skirt block.

A straight front waistband (that will double as a separate facing) was drafted to accompany the elasticated back waistband.


Before I test out the pleated and darted versions of this pattern in fabric, let me know what you think. Have you ever sewn or designed a garment with asymmetric seams? This will be my first!

 

Moving the Needle, Vol. 02

IMG_5340

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!

The Holistic Seamstress: Part 2

In part 2 of The Holistic Seamstress, I return to the series —after a rejuvenating break and reality check on my original writing schedule — to consider the most fundamental element of wardrobe sewing, the body. Mine to be exact. I will reflect on the impact wearing ill-fitting clothes has had on my body perception, how I learned to use numbers to tell the truth about my body, and how that awareness is transforming the way I make clothes.

Wardrobe Sewing Element: Body

Body Beautiful

Through the years, I worked against the grain to accept and eventually love the realities of my brown skin, full lips, kinky hair, and short, thick, curvy frame that will never fit a standard height/weight chart. The world would have me believe my body is awkward, alien, and in need of improvement, but I boycott those lies like I did that California Denny’s restaurant that refused to serve my friends because they were black. I look in the mirror at all of the features that Maya Angelou tells us are “phenomenal” and I don’t doubt for a minute it’s true.

Even if I wanted to believe I was less than a goddess, when I moved to Washington DC in my twenties, the gentlemen of Chocolate City wouldn’t let me. From the moment, I stepped off the plane, you could almost hear Carl Carlton’s “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” playing as my personal soundtrack. Strangers whistled at me from across the street, cabs would show up without me hailing them, all manner of compliments from all manner of fellas who expressed an appreciation for parts of my physiology that my young, media-influenced brain tried to Photoshop away. Becoming date-able just by moving across the country gave me a chance to identify with the “eye of the beholder”, and recognize my own beauty as it is. Eating delicious, free meals at restaurants all over the city was a nostalgic bonus.

Personal Croquis All_Sides

However, there is one place on the planet that has the power to completely annihilate my body-positive attitude.

A dressing room.

It doesn’t matter which store. I have probably shed tears in all of their booths of shame.

You see, even though I am only five feet tall, in my mind, I’m an NBA point guard. I only started referring to myself as petite when I started to sew and learned about body measurements. Folks around me indulged my vertical delusions by sparing me too many short jokes, letting me boss them around, and every now and then looking over at me in an elevator, as if waking up from years under a spell, and saying “Damn, I didn’t realize you were so short”.

Under this delusion of grandeur, I shopped for clothes.

It went something like this….

I grab a size 12 for the bottom and a size 14 for the top and enter a dressing room with enough faith to fill a church. The one pair of jeans I own that fit decently hit the floor with abandon and I immediately start to imagine all of the hugging and skimming my chosen outfit will perform on my hips. The one of two well-worn tops I own that doesn’t make my boobs look like a buffet is yanked off in anticipation of its superior successor. I am standing in my underwear in a mirrored box filled with promise. I have even given myself a five-garment buffer from pessimism so I don’t give up on the process too quickly. If the clothes on the hanger knew the pressure they were under to please me, they would’ve animated like a Disney movie and slithered under the door to escape.

The clothes I picked out to try on would mostly fit my circumferences, but would neglect the depth of my curves and ignore the length of my proportions. I was doomed before the zipper zipped.

Clothes that almost fit, but didn’t in the worst way possible — sleeves that are not only too long, but hang off the shoulder like drunken loiterers, gaping necklines that expose my bra, waistlines that sit nowhere near mine, pools of fabric at the hips, bunching up at the crotch and knees and dragging on the floor — stared back at me and for the 120 seconds I could bear my reflection, I felt like I had the unluckiest body in the world.

How was I supposed to be the badass I was born to be if I looked like a frumpy, hot mess every time I got dressed?

Before I knew how to stitch a seam, crying on the floor of a department store dressing room was a regular thing for me.

While bumbling my way through sewing books and websites trying to learn the skills that would help me avoid dressing rooms for the rest of my life, I ultimately found a few petite-friendly places to shop with off the rack styles that respected my proportions and required no therapy sessions. There’s still a significant disregard for the unique needs of my curves in ready-to-wear clothes sized for petites, but those designers have never met me. Nor are they trying to. They are designing for someone else’s petite body. In fact, they are hoping their clothes will fit EVERY woman under 5 foot 4 inches. My expectation that they fit THIS woman is unreasonable.

No matter what number is printed on the tag or what section of a store I buy my clothes, none will ever be sized for Me. Making my own clothes with my body in mind would become my scenic route to badassdom.

Body Map

During the last two months of my life, I learned to speak another language.

I used to tell people that I am bilingual because I can communicate in both English and Ebonics. As true and entertaining at parties as that is, my dopest experience learning a new language involved NUMBERS not linguistics. Instead of a set of headphones and a date with Rosetta Stone, I used my measuring tape like a United Nations interpreter to understand the things my body has been trying to tell me about its architecture.

Starting with the southern hemisphere of my five foot landscape, I learned how to measure, draft, and fit a custom skirt block pattern from my new, Personal Wizard and Couture De-mystifier, Brooks Ann Camper. Her 5-week Skirt Skills course was the tallest, coolest, most refreshing drink of sewing education I have ever tasted. I have found my Jedi Master. Now that I have levitated through the Forest of Righteous Circumference, solved the Mystery of Back Dart Intake, and prevailed during the Battle of Waistline Positioning, the force within me is stronger than ever. I still carry my self-taught seamstress badge with pride, but I am now living with the epic level of satisfaction that comes from investing time (my most elusive commodity) and money (saved ferociously) to learn a skill that has systematically blown my mind into a million tiny pieces of creative possibility.

Personal Croquis All Sides with Annotated Measurements

When I saw a combination square with level on the supplies list for my couture skirtmaking course, I asked my husband what the hell it was and if he had one. I was a little intimidated by the tool’s sorcery and my general air-headedness about measuring things with regular tools (I learned how to read the 1/8″ tick marks on a standard ruler as recently as 3 years ago!), so Matt and his vintage combo square was recruited to assist me in yet another muslin-covered sewing adventure. Assigned to the task of accurately measuring his wife during the blessed two hours our toddler napped, my husband’s devoted contribution was the lynchpin to my pattern drafting success. With me standing in one place for more than five minutes, following his directions in my underwear, the measuring experience also gave two distracted parents an unexpected moment to flirt and be vulnerable together.

Armed with a solid set of bottom-half measurements, affectionately recorded by my better half, I followed Brooks Ann’s buttery smooth methods for drafting a 2-D map of my silhouette in the shape of a darted, waist-to-knee cylinder. The whole process gave me a crafty high I’ve never known before.

Using a blend of numbers and pencil strokes, my unique verticals, arcs, angles, and curves began to take on a voice I had been waiting to hear my whole life. It’s as if my body has been trying to introduce itself to me through all of my years of fiddling about trying to fit commercial patterns and I couldn’t hear it. It waited patiently for the time in my life I would finally choose a teacher, admit I prefer centimeters over inches, and dare to discover what it has to say. I like to imagine it singing to me in the voice of a young, John Mayer, seducing me to design for it with “Your body is a wonderland” lyrics on repeat.

Made to measure clothes give my body a voice to speak its true shape or reshape its truth. When I wear ill-fitting clothes, my body’s voice is drowned out with noise, going tragically unheard or at worst being mis-represented. Exhibit A: The collective DNA of my tears on the floors of dressing rooms across America.

After two days and two nail-biting muslin mock-ups later, I celebrated the completion of my custom skirt block pattern with some you-go-girls from my classmates, a Big Gulp-sized glass of wine, and an obscene amount of domestic high-fiving with my man. For the first time in weeks, our husband and wife couture-crime fighting team finally had something besides “Pee-Pee on the Potty!” to yell across the house to each other.

When my sisters flew in town to visit for Thanksgiving last week, the story of our collaborative accomplishment was retold with the same sentence-finishing enthusiasm as our honeymoon story. The afterglow from that trip to Amsterdam was just as bright. Forget couples yoga or cooking classes, pattern drafting is the new date night.

Custom Skirt Block on Wall

When I was pulling my hair out trying to get Vogue 1019 to fit my hips, I knew I’d eventually figure out how to fit the pattern — maybe after a seventh or eighth muslin. I could never have predicted that in less time than it took me to do that, I could learn how to draw a one-of-a-kind skirt that also gives me the capacity to create ANY skirt.

Body of Work

Given that I’d never worn a well-fitting skirt before, the promise of getting one at the end of class was the chocolate-covered carrot that teased me through each week of the Skirt Skills course. I practiced the basic drafting skills I needed to design flared and straight skirt styles with my custom block and obsessively began sketching ideas and gathering inspiration images. But, before inviting Tim Gunn over for tea and a design critique of my new one-woman collection, I wanted to make a simple straight skirt using my block — because, after all, I’d never had one that fit my body properly.  Based on the results of my couture-infused mockups, I knew this one did.

Straight Basic Skirt Sketch

With some African wax print cotton, hand-marked and hand-basted stitchlines, some double-fold bias binding, and an invisible zipper, I crafted the best-fitting skirt I have ever worn in my life.

African Straight Skirt Custom_Block - 1

When I wore the skirt, it didn’t shift on my hips, ride up, wrinkle up, or look anything but awesome on my body all day.

African Straight Skirt Custom Block , back view

I didn’t know how to behave! I kept smoothing my hips and checking my reflection expecting to see something wrong. All I saw was ME in a badass, well-fitting skirt!!!

African Straight Skirt Custom Block, side view

I have more in the works!

That denim pencil skirt I dreamed out loud about is underway, as well as a khaki skirt with a secret-weapon pleat. All patterns custom designed by me – for my body.

I am eternally grateful to Brooks Ann for her wizardly, thimble-wielding techniques. She has mountains of patience for cocky advanced beginners like me who try to hurry through lessons before settling into the steady rhythm of slow, deliberate making.

This is the sweet spot of handmade wardrobe building I have fantasized about. Knowing how to design and sew for my unique body means having the power to speak its beautiful, native language through mindfully-created garments that live to echo or enhance my silhouette.

I’m going to call this the sacred art of being a bad mama jama!

I’d love to hear your body-awareness story. How has your perception of your body’s shape or size evolved? Does your history with fitting or buying clothes include any tears or triumphs? If you’ve discovered the accessible magic of pattern drafting, do you feel as heroic as I do?

Thanks for hanging with the series. I’ll see you in the comments.