Monday, March 31, 2014

Sewing Like a Mad (Wo)Man

As you can see from my side bar, I tossed my hat into the Mad Men ring this year, along with Julia Bobbin and a raft of other sewers around the planet.
My inspiration

I took Megan as my inspiration, partly because I can't imagine being able to carry off a Joan or a Betty. I was looking for something not too full-skirted or narrow-waisted and with minimal design details. Something that resembled a 1960's pattern that just happened to be waiting in my pattern stash.

I ended up doing green, but the bow-belt of Miss Pink

The pattern was intended for a coltish young lass with a 32 1/2 inch bust and a 24 inch waist. Ha! My bust is more like a 36, and I didn't have a 24 inch waist even before birthing a baby. I adjusted the waist just by leaving out the gathers called for in the directions. The bust mysteriously wasn't too small even without making any changes. In fact, I could probably take it in some, though I think the wrinkles you'll notice are at least partly due to the fabric and my period-inspired hip thrust.

I found this pattern at our local antique flea market and had to get it because I liked the squared-off arm scythe. You can't see it too well on the pattern envelope. We tried to get a good arm pit shot but they're remarkable hard to stage elegantly. This is the best we could do:
See how the side bodice is cut flat at the top?

I used a cotton sateen that my friend Jessica kindly gifted to me. It's a green that's actually pretty close to the dress worn by the blond on the pattern envelope. The fabric is a little light-weight for this pattern, plus cotton sateen wrinkles like there's no tomorrow. I swear I ironed this dress mere moments before I finagled The Man into yet another photo shoot.

Whoever owned this pattern in it's previous life must have been very similar to the teen-aged me. The poor thing was hacked to death and the front and back skirt pieces were ragged and two different lengths. My knees are no longer designed for public viewing, so I added 5 inched to the skirt and still took up a super narrow hem.

The bow-belt is from Tilly's tutorial

I had to settle for indoor shots today. We're having a rare and much-needed rainy afternoon. We had to hunt to find a room where there was enough light, so we ended up in my sewing room (a.k.a. the guest bedroom) and the kitchen. Holy cow! I never noticed how much stuff we have on our kitchen counter! It's all shoved to the side in this photo, and I'm trying to use my body to block the dishes in the sink.

A little less wrinkly here. I'm trying to stand up straight.

I was rushing a bit to get this done before April 1. Between that and the not-so-great fabric choice, this dress is a maybe-wearable muslin. Though in a dimly-lighted bar with a cocktail in hand, it just might do.

I didn't have anything that resembled a cigarette to use as a prop, so I hauled out a martini glass. Might need to fill that bad boy up and relax in front of the fire this evening, listening to the storm outside.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gertie's Shirtwaist Dress

The Boy and his girlfriend were in town for a visit last weekend. I had a great time playing tourist with them. We went to the aquarium in Monterey on Friday and drove up to the Wine Country for the day on Saturday. Gorgeous weather both days.

Awww. Aren't they adorable?
I figured I'd ask The Boy to help take a few pictures while we were in such scenic locations. I actually finished this dress in the pre-blog days. I made it at a sewing retreat at Asilomar that was hosted by Heather Ross. If you ever have a chance to attend one of her retreats, do it! I had a fabulous time sewing for two days with a really fun and creative group of women. And one of the co-teachers was Gertie herself! What a kick to have the designer advise me on fitting one of her creations! I actually got to try on the shirtwaist dress that's photographed in her book, which saved me from having to make a muslin. My version is a little more Angela Lansbury that Paris in Spring, but I like it.

On the patio at Stirling Vinyards, with the Napa Valley behind me
I'm trying to train myself to wear dresses more often. I tend to think of dresses as appropriate for fancy functions, to be worn with stockings and high heels. Must be the influence of my jeans-and-workshirt youth. Really, dresses can be very comfortable to wear, and can look just fine with bare legs and flats. Heck, look at those farm women who fed the chickens and plowed the back 40 while wearing a dress. Plus, dresses are fun to sew and they make a change from my usual trousers and tee shirt. 

View from the side
This dress has a nice full skirt so it's easy to walk in. I kind of like it with a belt, but the waist is defined with some pleats at the side front and with shirring in the back so it feels wearable either with or without.

Pleats on the side in front to give me a waist
This was my first (and so far only) experience with shirring. It was pretty fun and easy to do, but my Babylock did not enjoy the elastic thread in the bobbin. My fellow workshop ladies recommended keeping an eye out for an older, mechanical machine that wouldn't be so picky about bobbin tension. They highly recommended I find myself a Featherweight, and, wouldn't you know, The Man hunted one down for me within the month.

Shirring in the back
I used a cotton fabric I got from one of my very favorite fabric stores that, sadly, is no more. It was called Findings and it was just off the main drag in Carmel. The woman who ran it (also named Nancy) was sweet as pie. She had a small but very nice collection of fabrics and a great selection of buttons, ribbons and lace. I have a couple of other lengths of fabric in stash that I got at her going out of business sale. I'll make them up with a bit of a tear in my eye.

Baby grapes, destined to be an expensive Cabernet some day.
My review is here on

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fabric Prospecting in the Gold Country

The Man and I took a quick trip up to the Gold Country last weekend. The ostensible reason was to attend a Western show, but we managed to squeeze in a few sewing-related stops along the way. 

For those of you not from California, the Gold Country is a slice of the foothills on the west side of the Sierra Nevada range. Over the eons gold eroded from those granite peaks and ran down streams and rivers to deposit itself at the base of the mountains, where it was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848. In 1849 half the country moved west to strike it rich. Highway 49 runs right through the heart of the gold rush area, where all the little towns play up the the wild west history, serving it up with fabulous food and great wine.

Santa Cruz is on the North end of the bay on the lower left.
The area is really gorgeous, especially on a perfect spring day with temps in the 70s, fruit trees blossoming and daffodils busting out like crazy.

Creek in Amador. They took $3,500,000 in gold out of the hillside right behind me.
Enough history, now for the sewing! On our way up we paid a visit to our friends, the Meekers, who run Antiques of a Mechanical Nature. Carole gave me a tour of her workroom, where she takes in homeless and neglected Singer Featherweights. She gives them a good cleaning, adjusts their innards and generally gets them humming again. She had a bunch of exotic attachments she let me play with, including the mythical zig-zag foot.
This is where the magic happens!
I got to see a white Featherweight, along with it's carrying case. And she told me about the tan Featherweight, which is the rarest of the rare.

I told The Man this machine is like the Great White Whale of sewing machines
The incoming Featherweights standing in line for Carole's attention.

Carole very sweetly gifted me a copy of the Singer Sewing Book, copyright 1949. I can hardly wait to play with this! There's a great chapter on Binding and Edge Finishes, and another on Cording, Tubing and Self-Trimming that's making my finger's itch.
 Here's a bit of one of my favorite parts from the introduction:

"Prepare yourself mentally for sewing...Approach the job with enthusiasm. You must want to make something lovely, to have the fun of putting pieces of fabric together, to make a garment, to handle the fabric with appreciation, to watch the beauty of the article grow as a result of your planning and effort. Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates. Never try to sew with the sink full of dishes or bed unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so that your mind is free to enjoy your sewing."

Boy, howdy!
Nevada City got it's name before there was a Nevada State.
We spent the night in Nevada City, where I had a chance to visit one of my favorite fabric stores ever, Backstitch. Deanna, the proprietress, is a designer and seamstress herself.

She sells some of her designs in the shop and also on Etsy. Her clothes are primarily knits and are super cute. When she has fabric she doesn't think she'll use, she sells it in the back of the shop. I always jump on a nice knit when I find one, especially at these great prices, so I stocked up good and proper.

The back wall of knit goodness. And check out the cute dress on the right!
Deanna also sells other handmade items produced in Nevada County. Her shop is light and pretty and a lot of fun to poke around in.

Me and Deanna
 The Man waited patiently while I fondled all the fabrics and picked my favorites. I drove home with the pile of loveliness you see below. And I was only $67 out of pocket. Well, actually, The Man was $67 out of pocket - is he a peach or what?
My tower of knits

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Fair Wind with Fehr Trade

When I was considering taking the RTW Pledge the garments I thought would give me the most challenge were running gear. I've made the odd pair of shorts, but I had no idea how to make a running top that was actually functional. Just as I was wavering, Melissa released this pattern. Problem solved!

I did the Y back for my first version
I finished my first make of the Fehr Trade XYT Runnning Top last Sunday. The designer, Melissa Fehr, is a runner herself. The kind who runs marathons. The kind who makes a 10k look like child's play. I figured if there was anyone who could produce a pattern for a running top that would be comfortable, supportive, and wouldn't rub you the wrong way, she would be that gal. Sure enough, she is.

Front view
I hate buying running tops. They're rediculously expensive and I have a hard time finding something that I like. I prefer a bra that's all one stretchy piece - just pull it on over my head and go. What I see in the stores lately is much more structured. They have a bunch of underwires and buckles and winches that someone of my size just doesn't need. I figure the more doodads they include, the more likely I am to have chafing.

The XYT is just my preferred style. The cut is simple and the built-in bra is all stretch and no hardware. Melissa has you use two layers of power mesh, each layer rotated 90 degrees to equalize the squeeze.

The directions are super-clear. I discovered I need to work on my stretch-and-sew skills, but practice will make perfect and even my first creation is totally wearable. I don't have one of those fancy-dancy sergers, but I could do everything I needed for this pattern on a sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch.

Lime green picot elastic
Due to my math-challenged brain, I bought the wrong width of elastic for the neck and armholes. Note to self: 3/8 of an inch is less then 1/4 of an inch, not almost 1/2 inch. I did some stash-diving and found some 3/8 inch elastic in lime green with a little ruffle on the edge. Melissa's directions have you turn the elastic as you finish the edges to it's totally encased and there's no chance of rubbing. I decided I liked the hint of lime enough to try leaving it exposed. So far, no problem.

I took the top out for it's maiden voyage the morning after I finished it and it worked great! I have to wriggle around a bit to get into it, but once I'm there it's comfortable and I feel like I have plenty of support. I gather from cruising the interwebs that even ladies with more cargo than I can use this top for running with no issues.

I love the cute style of my top, but I think the next one I make I'll try a small pattern hack. I like to limit my sun exposure because of the whole skin cancer thing. I think I'll try just shortening the outer layer to make a running bra that I can wear under a long-sleeve top even on a warm day. That way I can run myself silly and not worry about what's happening with my melanin.

Here's my review on