Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Can you take more knit dresses? :)

I managed to buy some really nice pieces of jersey from ebay, both from individual sellers and shops. I'm a big fan of jersey, especially cotton/lycra and viscose/lycra (especially since I don't always like the colors or designs of store-bought tops) and it's almost impossible to find here. Ebay proved to be a great option, I found some great fabric (beautiful colors and good quality) at good prices too (2 pounds per meter?? I would pay at least double in a shop here!)

The first dress is made out of cotton jersey, no lycra and the fabric was bought from ebay seller sophie162223. I adored the mix of colors the moment I saw them. I chose Burda WOF 04/2008 dress 116 for this fabric.

I liked the way Burda has you sew double strips at armhole and back neckline, than turn them back and topstitch (see below) but I think I'd rather have simple strips. Double strips look more finished but they add bulk. I pounded the seam allowances with a rubber hammer to reduce the bulk but I would still prefer simple strips for next time.

I once again refer you to the Burda workshop about jersey - very useful, especially the part about stabilizing necklines and armholes with bias fusible tape, staystitched with a chainstitch, but I would like to add a few things about sewing with knits (I read all of them some place or another):

  • It is very important to cut your knits on grain (well, it is very important to cut all your fabric on grain). See the Burda workshop where they explain very well how to find the grain on a knit. Have you ever had one of those store-bought t-shirts that you really like but after a couple of washes your side seams are totally crooked? They become diagonal and you have one seam showing in front and another one showing in the back? That's because the knit was not on grain.
  • A walking foot helps with knits (that is my experience). It avoids stretching of seams (although you can also avoid that by reducing your foot pressure, if your machine has that option) and it crosses easier bulky seams (for some of them you don't even need to use a jig to level your foot with the fabric), thus keeping stitches equal (you know how your stitch length shortens when you sew on a bulky part and don't use a jig to help your foot?)
  • I always use a stretch 75 needle or Microtex needles (70 or 80) for difficult to sew fabrics (slinky comes to mind)
  • Since I discovered the stabilizing bias fusible tape (Vilene Bias Tape), I use it to stabilize the shoulders also and thus I don't need to catch a strip of fabric, nylon tape or other stuff in the seam. Love this tape, just ordered 50 m of it from SewEssential.
  • I really love the look of deeper hems and try to have 4-4.5 cm (1 3/5 - 1 4/5") hems if the amount of fabric available allows it.
  • For hemming, I always use a twin needle (I covet a coverstitch machine!), I prefer the needles with 2.5 distance between the needles but a 4 distance needle works just fine too (it gives a sportier look in my opinion). I have a separate bobbin shuttle dedicated to hemming knits and bobbin work. It has the tension reduced to 0 (unscrew the bobbin screw as much as you can without it falling). You can play with your tension on your bobbin shuttle if you have just one but I remember reading that if you do that too often you risk ruining your shuttle for good. I always use woolly nylon in the bobbin (I have black, white and beige and these go for almost everything; I would love to have coordinated colours, but that's what I could find). Wind the bobbin by hand or, if you're lazy and easily bored like me, wind it by machine, bypassing all the tension guides and setting your sewing speed to the lowest setting possible. Otherwise, the woolly nylon gets too stretched during winding and looses its stretchability. And you do want it in your hem for its stretchability! Since I hem like this, I never got popped stitches in my hem and believe me, I can get pretty brutal to my clothes when undressing, especially if I'm very tired or in a big rush.
  • also for hemming knits, I've been using this tip by Sewing Diva Gigi for quite some time now. Great tip, it definitely improved the appearance of my hems. Her tip is for a coverstitch machine, but it works equally well when you sew your knit hems with a twin needle, on your regular machine, like I do.
  • I used to cut 0.6 cm (1/4") seam allowances on all knits and sew them directly. I'm good with a serger (at least that's what I like to think) but still, this method is not the best for more complicated models, with draping details and so on. Now I cut 1.6 cm (5/8") allowances, sew them with a stretch stitch on my regular machine (I don't really like the specialised stretch stitch on my machine, the one that looks like a lightning; I prefer a zigzag stitch, 2.5 long and 0.5 wide) or with a basting stitch (make sure you take the stitching out after finishing your seams in this case) and then serge it away in total confidence.
  • For more difficult hems, I use Steam a Seam to fuse them in place. By the way, I don't know about you, but the European versions of Steam a Seam I found are the kind that you iron on the fabric, fold the hem in place and iron again. They do come apart most of the time in washing and you have to press them back. Well, my dear friend Marji sent me some genuine Steam a Seam and wow! It adheres to fabric without ironing. You only iron it in place to make the bond permanent. And it is permanent - it doesn't come apart in the wash! One remark however, whether you use Steam a Seam or other similar stuff for knits, make you sure you get the light version (Steam a Seam Lite), otherwise it makes your knit stiff. The light stuff is totally unnoticeable.
OK. Sorry for this long digression. Now for the second dress:



Back view

This is the vintage swimsuit from Burdastyle, mixed with the bottom of the green Burda dress (without the back darts). There are several problems with this pattern, Cidell highlighted them in this post. There were (there are now, they updated the pattern) no notches for the gathering, so I did it "by eye" as we say here. The back straps should be cut on fold and if you want to tie them with a bow like in the Burdastyle photo, you should also lengthen them (you see that I can only tie mine with a knot). I also had to shorten the long strap by 9 cm (4 3/4") and the front strap that brings together the gathering in the bust insert by 5 cm (2").

The dress is made out of a gorgeous jet black viscose lycra bought from ebay shop fabric-fabric. I bought several viscose lycra knits from them and I absolutely love them.

I inserted bra cups (this pattern is so adequate for bra straps because you have that back tie strap that really helps, it give the effect of a bra: cups+back strap), again by using this very useful tutorial by Diva Gigi on the Sewing Divas blog. I only attached the cups at the underbust part and left the upper part unattached (because the insert is gathered at sides and center).

Wrong side

Right side

The viscose lycra is a heavy stretchy fabric and even if stretched the long band as much as I could, I still felt it would need to hug my body better therefore I added clear elastic on the entire length.

Remember to stretch the clear elastic a few times before inserting it, otherwise it would stretch in the garment and you end up with a wavy edge insert of a body-hugging one. Clear elastic is very good because it tends to adhere to naked skin (like those silicon strips on bra elastic, for strapless bras).

A deep hem again...

And because I will use this dress a lot for salsa dancing, I'm wearing it with my new dancing shoes in the picture. Here's a close-up from the manufacturer's website:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two more knit dresses

First dress is more of a wearable muslin. I had this cotton knit in red, a warm red with a tiny touch of orange. I normally prefer cotton/lycra to cotton jersey, so I decided to make a wearable muslin - I will make this dress again in black, for salsa dancing and going out.

It is Burda World of Fashion 05/2008, dress 104.

I don't have many things to say about this dress, it is easy to make, you can see more close-ups than I managed to take on my friend Tany's blog - the post about the saffron dress. A few words about changes made and changes that will be made:
  • I didn't insert a zipper - why does Burda plans for a zipper in a very elastic dress, it's a total mystery to me. You simply don't need it.
  • I once again refer you to the Burda workshop about jersey - very useful, especially the part about stabilising necklines and armholes with bias fusible tape, staystitched with a chainstitch (you buy it in notion stores - see a photo on Tany's blog, in this post) - they say how you should fuse this tape - the chainstitch must be placed on the stitching line. I didn't know that and have wondered how I should do it.
  • I made a mistake and cut a different pattern piece for the belt. The dress has a symmetrical belt, the asymmetrical belt that I cut was meant for the top using the same pattern - this top. I actually prefer asymmetry to symmetry in many cases, but in this particular case, I do think the dress would look better with the symmetrical belt.

  • I used a metal buckle (the only one I had in my stash) but a plastic one would be better. The metal is heavier and pulls a bit the belt.
  • Next time I make this dress I will make the neckline wider, shortening the shoulders at neck by about 2 cm (approx 0.8") on each side. A wider neckline would look better on me. I might draw a deeper neckline as well, since this dress will be for going out. As it is, this is a very non-Burda cleavage, meaning very decent as compared to their regular plunging necklines :)
  • For the next dress, I will lengthen the self-lining part of the bodice to reach under my bust. I plan to insert bra cups in the lining and finish the end of the lining with elastic.
Even if I'm not totally happy with this dress, it got me plenty of compliments at work (probably because of the colour too).

And now, my absolute favourite dress so far:

This is Burda WOF 02/2008, dress 103.

Once more, go to Tany's blog - this post - to see more close-ups and explanations concerning the construction of the front knotted/draped detail. I read the Burda instructions a couple of times to understand how I'm supposed to do this. It is not that difficult actually, pretty straightforward once you get it.

I made the short-sleeved version but I'm totally in love with this dress - it was such a success that a woman stopped me in the street to ask me where I bought this gorgeous dress - so I'll definitely make the 3/4 sleeve version too, probably for fall and that one will be underlined.

I made a petite alteration to the pattern and that's all. The fabric is cotton/lycra, a lovely shade of green. Even after the petite alteration, the dress was quite long, therefore I made a wider hem and I love this look. I think I'll only use wide hems from now on on knits (about 5 cm = approx 2"), they give such an elegant appearance, especially when used in a dress.

This dress is the perfect example of instant gratification. Three hours for making it (including cutting the pattern, as it was traced, but not cut) and maximum impact because of the very interesting design. I could see this dress made again with the top part changed to a cami style - the raglan construction would be so easy to turn into a strap-design.

And for hemming knits, I've been using this tip by Sewing Diva Gigi for quite some time now. Great tip, it definitely improved the appearance of my hems. Her tip is for a coverstitch machine, but it works equally well when you sew your knit hems with a twin needle, on your regular machine, like I do.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What I've been sewing lately

First of all, let me thank you for welcoming me back in such a nice and warm way. Believe me, I missed you and missed blogging a lot. I especially want to thank all the new-comers and delurkers. I'm glad that you are here and hope you'll visit and "speak" often. So a hearty welcome to Dei, Catherine, Rose, Gwen, Lelah, Ingrid, Chris, Christy, another Rose, Tracey.

And now let me show you what I made lately, only the skirt was made during my silence period, the rest was done after that. I wanted to sew dresses because I love dresses and I have few. It's more versatile to have blouses and skirts for the office. But I decided to remedy that, with the help of my beloved Burda - I love this magazine, the patterns are so well drafted and I rarely need to do any changes at all besides a petite alteration.

This skirt that I made (please forgive the very poor quality of the picture, I tried to lighten it in Photoshop so you can see the topstitching better, but with very bad results; you'll see the close-up which is a lot better; as I've told you before, my camera takes strange pictures when on self-timer and in artificial light) was the beginning of a capsule that I wanted to make. A summer capsule inspired by this mix of colours in a Burda magazine:

I love these strong colours mixed together and I am going to sew that capsule at some point (not now, because the capsule will be rather for office and everyday life and right now I want to sew for my holiday at the seaside!). The colours are going to be burnt orange, purple, green and turquoise blue. I have fabric for 6 tops and 6 bottoms, plus a viscose chiffon in a print with all the colours mentioned above.

Without further ado, here's the skirt - Burda WOF 02/2008, skirt 111:

This skirt being an important piece in my colourful capsule, I decided to topstitch the bands with the colours of my wardrobe - green, orange, purple and turquoise. I used topstitching thread for that. Unhappily when I graded down from 36 to 34 it seems I didn't grade the front band very well (see it in the close-up below) and the last lines of topstitching don't go all the way around but stop somewhere in the middle (the band was a bit wider at the center than at the end, arghh, why didn't I think of checking that after grading down??).

The photo includes one of my favorite bags, that will go nicely with the entire capsule. And here's a beautiful necklace that will also go with everything.

The fabric is a stretch cotton sateen. A word of caution if you think of making this skirt: you need quite a bit of stretch in your fabric because it is a pencil skirt with no back slit or pleat and it is quite tight around your knees. I like the skirt as it is and it is not uncomfortable, but the next one will have a center back seam and a slit or kick pleat of some sort.

The next dress is a very easy dress from Burda WOF 07/2008, dress 120.

It is made of silk jersey, a beautiful panel bought of UK ebay. This was my first time working with silk jersey and I strongly recommend reading this factsheet on emmaonesock. Very useful tips. If only I read that before pre-washing the fabric! In my ignorance I line-dried the fabric instead of drying it flat and I managed to distort it. It took a very careful steaming and pressing to get it back in shape. See, I told you practice makes perfect! After so many weeks without sewing, I made a mistake at almost every garment that I've sewn.

The front is cut on fold, but the back has a center seam. I wanted to match the motifs on the remaining pieces as well as possible.

And here's a close-up of the not perfect but alright match in the back, as well as the teardrop beads that I used to embellish the end of the string that ties the dress around the neck.

The upper front is self-lined and I also inserted bra cups. I cannot imagine wearing such a dress without a bra and I don't like strapless bras so much. I always feel they are not exactly secure on me (maybe because I'm a B cup). Normally I would have lined or underlined the entire dress but this is a dress for dancing and for hot summers (summer is really hot in Bucharest) therefore I didn't want a tricot lining or underlining and I didn't have silk jersey to line it. So the dress is left unlined.

I also inserted clear elastic in the back. I did remember to stretch the elastic a few times before inserting it (to eliminate some of the stretch) but I still would have liked it to hug my body better especially after some hours of wearing. So next time I will insert regular elastic, or clear elastic, but sewn to the already hemmed back - this way, the clear elastic is in direct contact with the skin and it tends to adhere to it (I know because there's clear elastic sewn to the top of the cups, with this purpose in mind).

To insert the bra cups, I used this very useful tutorial by Diva Gigi on the Sewing Divas blog. I attached the cups only partially (the black lines in the photo below show you where the zigzag stitching stops) because I needed to check if the cups won't prevent me from sewing the ring. I had indeed to cut a bit from the front part in order to accommodate the ring.

Despite the need to match the motifs and the insertion of bra cups, it still was a quick dress. I love knit projects, they are so rewarding! Tomorrow I'll show you two other dresses, both knit. You can easily whip one in one evening.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Alive... but not exactly kicking

I can't believe it's been already two months since I last posted. But if you thought I fell off the face of the planet, well, I'm still here. I didn't go away on a holiday, I didn't suffer from SWAP hangover (as Marji put it so well). These past two months have been incredibly busy, it is the first time in my life when I felt constantly that I'm struggling to keep the pace with all the things that I had to do and I'm behind most of the times.

You don't know me (in person I mean), but I can tell you that I'm a highly energetic person. My level of energy, including physical, is naturally very high. I don't take any credit for that, it's just the way I've been since I was a kid - plenty of energy to spend and normally, positive energy. This helps me a lot when under pressure. Usually pressure (well, short and medium-term) stimulates me and makes me faster and most of the times better. So it is very unusual for me to feel that I can't manage all the things that I must do.

So what happened? Think lots and lots of work to do, a very important conference with high officials and important people from the artistic world to organize, a 2-weeks visit from my mother in law and her husband (they live in Dallas, TX) which brought plenty of supplementary household chores, trips to make all over the country to visit relatives and so on. A 5-days teambuilding that was mostly work - my organisation is preparing for the first excellence star (read more about the committed to excellence concept on the EFQM site) and I was leader of one of the groups doing self-assessment and improvement projects. Serious conflicts in my department at work, serious personal problems in my department... As head of this department, many of these problems have a direct impact on me, both professionally (as conflict mediator) and personally (things that happen to people in my team affect me) as you can imagine. On one hand I can't believe it's been two months since I last posted, on the other hand it feels like one year and not just two months.

I've tried to keep up with your blogs as much as I could, even if I rarely (very rarely) had the time to comment or drop a line and I know I have been quite an absent friend... But I'm back, even if quite tired and hopefully the month of July will be a bit easier (there's plenty to do anyway, more than "normally", but compared to how it's been, it does seem a breeze!). I managed to sew a skirt almost a month ago and two easy knit dresses this past week but couldn't bring myself to take photos or blog about it. I guess I just needed to take it easy and come back to the sewing world step by step :)

But it felt so good to have a sign or a small line from some of you, thank you for writing me, thank you for worrying about me! Thank you, Melissa, Designdreamer, Val, Isabelle, Dinah, another Melissa (who doesn't have a blog), Robin Denning, Carolyn, Winnifred from PR. Please forgive me for not having the time to give a reply, however your messages meant a lot to me. Hope I didn't forget anyone who wrote me... Which reminds me, it has come to my attention that during the last 6 or 7 months, there's been lots of problems with our email server (changing the server, changing software etc) and friends tell me that they sent me messages I never got or I know I sent them messages but they didn't get them. So, if you sent me an email and never got a reply, please forward it to me again, because I never got it!

I'll come back with photos. Promise :) It feels good to be back already.