Utility Sewing - Long-Sleeve Undershirts

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Imagine four more like this one.

For the last year or so, David has been wanting long-sleeve undershirts. Remember how I mentioned that we do a lot of layering here in Vancouver? Right. Well, David is no exception. His office is half-underground (not really a basement, as there is an actual, underground basement, but still) and his small window is north-facing, which means it is cool most of the time - even when the heat is on.

So, long ago, I tested out the t-shirt from Jalie 2212 using the long sleeve from 2919 using some left-over jersey (I'm thinking it was an organic cotton/lycra). It turned out well, but the neck band was wider than his regular undershirts and the fabric wasn't quite right - too clingy. It took a while, but I did find some white jersey in a similar weight and stretch as his short-sleeve undershirts. I tested out the pattern again, because the fabric had significantly less stretch than the pattern called for. Good thing, too! I had to widen the sleeves and make the armscye larger. Then I set about making as many shirts as I could from the rest of the fabric. Five shirts (and one too-small muslin that I will cut up and turn into a shirt for a kid) from six meters of fabric. Not bad!


Here you can se that even though I do not have a serger or a coverstitch machine, I can get good quality results with knits. I sew the main seam first with a plain zigzag - about 1.5 - 2 mm wide and 2mm long. Then I go back over the seam allowance with a triple-stitch zigzag (like you would find on bra elastic). I prefer this stitch to a regular zigzag, because it holds the seam allowance very flat and stretches very well. I am even becoming more fond of zigzag topstitching rather than twin-needle topstitching. Again, it just performs better in my experience.

This is a close up of one cuff and the hem (flipped up so as to fit on my table). The cuff is made of ribbing and is not top-stitched like the neckband. The hem is a simple zigzag.

And with that finished, I feel like maybe I can get back into the sewing room. Sometimes one project can just drag me down, and then the growing stack of projects to complete glares at me and keeps me away. Next up: some comissioned skirts (another example of many items all alike - except for colour). But I will be sewing with a new-to-me fabric: acetate slinky. Woo!

In parting, I leave you with photos of our Halloween costumes. I did very little for the kids' costumes this year. Value Village all the way!

Clara the cat, Lucy as Cherry Jam (from the world of Strawberry Shortcake)
and Peter as Calvin (with Hobbes)



 David as Mr. Rogers and me as Cruella DeVil


Flannel Pull-over Shirt

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HUZZAH! This was one of those projects that had been in my mind for months before I was able to complete it. It all began with the shirt I made for Peter's Han Solo Costume last year. Within a month or so of making tat shirt and posting it on my blog, I received four different requests for shirts all based on the that one. David, in particular, wanted one made of flannel.

There's not much out there in the way of men's shirt patterns, let me tell you. You can get a big boxy pattern or a narrow fitted pattern. There are few stops in between - nowhere near as many options as for, say, a woman's dress pattern. Anyway, given that all of the men who approached me about shirts are all slim and that slim-fitting shirts are the sartorial norm here in Vancouver, I purchased Vogue 8759 (linked above). I made one of the shirts with very few alterations for a friend of mine just to test the fit and practice my skills.

At some point, I was in a fabric store and looked at the plaid flannels. I knew I wanted something of good quality (nothing like those printed flannels that are so stiff and thin) and somehow the plaid had to look like something my husband would wear. Well, this yarn-dyed plaid about lept off the shelf at me! That David of mine, he likes to keep things subtle. And he can wear earth tones wothout looking ill, so this was a good choice.



I started with a muslin, checking to see how much ease I needed to add in the back and how long the neck opening needed to be to have it pull over easily. I had already blended the panels into one back piece, and then I needed to add more for elbow room. Then it was on to cutting out (and matching) the plaid. I did a bit of sewing and a bit of pinning and head him try it on again.


It wasn't easy to decide what to do with all that extra fabric. There was just too much for one box pleat. and I even felt that there was too much for two shoulder blade pleats. I took a couple of days to notice the shirts the men around me were wearing (one Sunday in particular I approached every man at church who was wearing a woven shirt and asked if I could look at the construction on the back). In the end, I decided to go with two pleats over each shoulder blade. This way I could try to line up the plaid at the center back of the collar and the back with the center of the bias-cut yoke.



Once that was decided, it was just a matter of plugging away and finishing the job. Again, I used plackets from David Page Coffin's Shirtmaking. I think if I were to do this again, I would make all of the plackets (sleeves and neck) narrower and make the ends of the plackets shorter.



Hey, speaking of plackets, Can you see what I did wrong with the sleeve plackets? I decided that no one but I would notice the error. It was a good learning experience! Ha!

All in all, it looks pretty good on him. He has worn it once every week since the weather turned cold. That's a winner in any book! He could also wear this shirt untucked. It has vents on the side seams (the construction of which I just made up as I went along).


Looking pretty pleased with his new shirt, eh? Pardon the indoor photos. It was a dark and dreary day, but he was wearing the shirt, so the photos had to be taken!

More Stretch French Terry!

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When I bought the second pile of Stretch French Terry for my daughters' leggings, I bought more black because I wanted to use some to make a simple t-shirt dress for myself.



Two summers ago, I bought a simple t-shirt dress at Zellers just before going on a trip to visit family in Georgia. The dress is a very pinky magenta and I receive compliments every single time I wear it. It's made of a cottony-looking polyester knit with very little stretch, but it is a little hot to wear.

People who know that I sew always think that I made that dress and finally, at the beginning of last summer, I took the hint and traced a pattern from it. With the kids home all day every day, I don't get much sewing and even less fabric shopping done, so the pattern sat patiently in its envelope. Until I found that Stretch French Terry!

Here I am showing you the patch pockets!

I whipped up the dress in next to no time. The sleeves are cut on, so there's really just a front, a back, and two patch pockets. And, because I am short, it only took about a meter, so I still have another meter of this lovely black fabric sitting in my stash! Can I just tell you? This is the most comfortable thing to wear. I feel good in it and I am not restricted by it. I'm thinking I'll be making some more of these!

Leggings Galore!

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You know those cool fall days, where you want to cozy up in a sweater, scarf, jeans, and boots, eat soup, and drink tea? Well, that's pretty much what the weather is like here in Vancouver for maybe 8 months out of the year. It's rarely COLD, but it is often cool and damp. Because of this, most everyone I know wears a lot of layers - including my girls.

In order to make their dresses and skirts more wearable, they need leggings. Now leggings take a lot of abuse on the playground, but they hold up much better than tights. (I have just about given up on tights for little girls.) Last year I made them some leggings for the spring/summer out of lightweight jersey (maybe a bamboo-lycra mix). To do this, I copied a pair of store-bought leggings that fit both girls, but had a hole in the knee. This worked, but as the summer went on, I realized that the lighter fabric just wasn't holding up as well as I would like and  it was obvious that both girls were getting taller.

Around this time I found a link to directions to draft your own leggings on Pinterest and I considered that, but then I realized that for growing children, it might be easier to start from an already established pattern. Enter Kwik Sew 3476. Say what you will about Kwik Sew's less-than-inspiring pattern illustrations, but my experience has only been good. They make nicely drafted, highly wearable patterns.

I purchased one meter each of black and teal Stretch French Terry from Fabricana and gave it a go. This fabric is such a dream to work with! It has a lot of stretch and great recovery. It's cozy to wear and behaves well in the machine. And, since my girls are still quite small, I can get two pair of leggings on each meter of fabric! Score!

After figuring out how to alter the pattern for each of my girls, I went back and bought a meter of red, a meter of purple, and three more meters of black. Here is a sampling of the end result:

The red pair was pulled out of the dirty clothes for this photo, so you can see a little bagging and wrinkling, but they still look pretty sharp for being worn all day!

Each girl ended up with two pair of black leggings, and one pair each in red, teal, and purple. That makes a total of ten pairs of leggings sewin in September. The fabric cost alone comes to about $5 each, but then you ought to add a bit for thread and elastic, and then some for my time, but since I did them production-style, I was able to finish them all in just a couple of days' worth of free time. All in all, a good value!

Another Burda 03-2009-105!

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Earlier this summer I made another of these skirts. They are excellent: comfortable, breezy, have ample pockets, enough room for cycling, etc. I also have a thing for patchwork plaid fabric. Well, really, it's just a thing for plaid fabric. And stripes. Anyway, I bought the fabric for a skirt for me, and ended up using the remnants for shorts for Lucy (which you have already seen).


This skirt differs from my two previous iterations in one significant way and one minor way. Funny that the minor difference kept me from wearing it all summer, but I digress. The major difference is that I added a lining. I used ivory Bemberg rayon. For this lining, I cut the pieces the same size as the skirt, but just took two larger pleats on the front and two on the back - off set from the skirt pleats to avoid added bulk. I also took a heftier hem. I like a heavy hem on a full skirt.

The lining was the only difference until the second or third wearing of the skirt when I found that the tape on my invisible zipper had begun to disintegrate! The zipper wouldn't pull past the problem area. Well, guess how much I like to replace zippers? Yep. Not at all. I tend toward being a creator rather than a mender. So the skirt sat in my sewing room all summer. Ridiculous!

Finally, on Labour Day weekend, I removed the old zipper and gave the skirt some thought. I decided that the invisible zip didn't like all the seams in the patchwork fabric, so I put in a lapped zip. Scruffy Badger's tutorial* helped inspire me.This worked pretty well, though, since the seam allowances were pretty small, I added a bit of bias binding to the raw edge of the lap side to make it work. I have long since run out of matching thread for the blue yoke pocket inset, I used a combination of machine stitching the zipper in over the patchwork and hand stitching over the blue.


It really didn't take THAT long to fix the skirt and I am glad I did. I wore it all day today. (Thankfully, it is still a bit warm this week here in Vancouver.) The bonus is that the skirt goes so well with this blouse I thrifted a couple of weeks ago to wear to a job interview. Sweet!

Oh my goodness! I am wearing my old Crocs for my blog!

*I have a number of sewing reference books with goodness knows how many instructions for inserting a lapped zipper. But something about Scruffy's text and photos really clicked with me this time.

Sample-Making: Why do I do it?

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Last week a local friend of mine who used to sew regularly asked me why I make samples for so many of my projects. She isn't the only person locally who has questioned me on this. One friend, in fact, told me he thought making a sample was silly since I spent double the amount of time for a single garment!

 Muslin of Peter's R2-D2 hat.

These comments always catch me off guard, immersed as I am in the sewing blogger world. Many of the bloggers I read make a muslin (or a sample) for any project that has a new and possibly unknown variable. Trying a new style of garment? Working with an unfamiliar fabric? Trying a new sewing technique? Making something for someone else? All good reasons to make a quick sample. It doesn't have to be pretty and it doesn't have to take long.





Muslin of that waterfall cardigan everyone was making a couple of years ago.

The main reason that I make muslins is because my body only vaguely resembles the model that pattern designers use. Some garments that just don't look right on my body, even when they fit properly. While I am mastering the sewing techniques, being able to envision how a garment might look is a different skill set altogether. Making a sample helps there.

Muslin of my Cruella DeVil coat.

Another thing that is important to me is scale. I am considerably smaller than the model used by pattern designers. Not only am I short, but I am technically petite, proportionally smaller torso, legs, arms, etc. (of course, my hands, feet, and head are all large, but you can't win at everything!). Even with kids' clothes, proportion is important. I make a fair number of kids' clothes and I don't want my kids to be swallowed up in fabric.




Muslins of a nightgown and my non-standard body.


Muslin of the cocktail dress I wore to a good friend's wedding.

There are some folks that say you should make a muslin out of the cheapest fabric you can find that shares the same qualities as the fabric you plan to use to make your final garment. There are other folks that say this is a wasteful use of fabric. They feel that you should do a fair bit of tissue-fitting and make wearable muslins. I think I fall somewhere between.

Muslin of a vintage princess seamed dress with a neckline electronically drawn in.

I have discovered that faded old sheets from a thrift store make excellent muslin material for most anything woven. Inexpensive and plentiful. At one point, during a great sale, I purchased several meters of a cheap jersey to use as muslin for knitwear. I have used it up here and there, but have yet to replace it. To decrease the cost further, I reuse pieces from old muslins. I have occasionally used the muslin itself in the finished garment. The muslin of the R2-D2 hat became the base upon which the rest of the hat was constructed. I made a dress for one of my daughters and used the muslin as an underlining to give added warmth.

 Muslin of a pull-over woven shirt.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of muslins I've made primarily to test out a pattern and find out its quirks. But this is a worthy use of sample-making as well. I made a lined vest/waistcoat for a friend and timed myself. Imagine my surprise to find out that the construction of the vest took me two hours, but easily half of that time was spent on the two welt pockets! Thankfully everything went a bit quicker for the final garment.




Muslin of shorts with front fly and yoke pockets.

Making a sample does take time, but it can be a real confidence booster! Above you see my very first efforts at making a fly. It went so much more easily than I could ever have imagined. I would have been incredibly nervous to make my first go at it with the final fabric. The other great advantage is that if the garment ends up being well-loved, then it should be no trouble at all to make another given all that you learned previously! (Well, at least for those recipients who have the decency to not grow between makes.)

High-waist Full Skirt

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Two posts in two days! Crazy!

Long, long ago, during the summer of our house renovations, I started a dress. The Monique Dress by Serendipity Studios. I added a lining, altered the neckline, made my own piping, blogged about my excitement here and my problem-solving success here. Then I tried it on to mark the zipper placement. Oh, woe. So it sat in a drawer. For two years.

Two years.

Finally, this year I took it apart. I decided that I really liked the skirt portion. And that's what it became. A high-waisted full skirt: Pardon the headless shot - couldn't get decent-looking hair and a nice expression working with the self-timer feature.


And it's pretty good! The waist band is a little snug and gets pretty hot on a warm day, but overall, it's a good, useful skirt. I installed the zipper so that it was exposed, but I am thinking that this feature is kind-of lost on the full skirt - not to mention that a zipper shield would have been nice! The other problem is that the zipper comes undone a bit while wearing. I added a tab and button to the inside to keep it together, but this only prevents it from falling off - the zipper keeps sinking anyway.



I'm glad to have the UFO out of my drawer and something useful hanging in my closet instead!

Kid Shorts! Burda 04-2009-137

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I am super excited about this, folks. In fact I was so excited that I forgot that I hadn't blogged it. Ha!

Those of you who know me in real life know that my middle child is incredibly slender. She is about average height for a seven-year-old, but about as big around as your average three- or four-year-old. This makes buying pants tricky for her. Even that buttonhole elastic thing doesn't help, there's always too much fabric ballooning in the other places.

Also, one of my goals is to learn to make my own jeans, but I've never made anything with a fly front before. Somehow all of this added up to making Lucy a pair of shorts using Burda 04-2009-137.



OK, so I know that this isn't the best photo for details, but there's more! I traced the pattern in a size 98 for width and size 122 for length. I did make a muslin out of old sheets:


Here's the muslin without a zipper in the fly. The back fit pretty smoothly over her bum (I do think I had to make those back darts a bit snugger). The waist fits, but there is too much fabric right below. There is a front pleat, so what I tried was taking all of the pleat fabric out entirely:


Here's the muslin with a test fly and one leg cuffed. The red lines show where I removed the excess fabric. It worked! look how much better the shorts look in the front!

Encouraged by this, I dived into making the shorts out of the patchwork madras. Inspired by my new David Coffin Page Trousers book, I extended the side yoke with pocket to make a fly shield and, as I was short on patchwork, I made that piece out of a solid coordinating fabric. I left off the rear pockets.



The pattern wasn't without it's confusions, however. I recall sending off an email to Cidell, Trena, and Steph asking for help interpreting Burda's directions for cutting the waistband. I always second-guess myself when it comes to those rectagular pieces that they give measurements for. So confusing! The other problem came when attaching the waistband - somehow I stretched the shorts and ended up with a waistband that was a smidge too large! Aaack!

I just cut open the inner waistband, ran some wide elastic through it, and stitched the elastic in place (and closed the cut opening with a closely-spaced, wide zig zag. This does show on the front, but only if you are looking for it. And really, what seven-year-old sits still long enough for you to find flaws in her home-made clothes?

What's more exciting is that I am thinking that I could extend the leg length on this pattern and make jeans! Lucy has never had a pair of jeans that fit! Hooray!

I have Been Sewing! Vogue 1240

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Boy, do I have a lot of projects to report! It may seem like I have simply crawled into my bed and refused to come out, but NO, this is not the case. Although I would like a couple of days to simply stay in my bed and refuse to get out... just sayin'.

Anyway, one of my dear friends was married back in April and this was such a celebration that it demanded a new dress. And not only a new dress, but a fancy dress. I looked at many dress patterns, my own and those available to purchase. I settled on Vogue 1240. Wow! What a change from my usual dress style! My husband was skeptical, but I was certain. This fun special occasion dress was calling to me.

And not only was the dress calling me, but there was a fabric calling me as well! I managed to purchase the exact same polyester satin that Tanit-Isis used for a Ruby Slip! Let me tell you, this is a lovely fabric! It is not static-prone (compared to other polyesters I have used), and it holds a crease quite nicely.

Luckily, the day I purchased the pattern and fabric, Fabricland was having quite a sale, so I picked up some inexpensive teal/peacock georgette to make a muslin. I am glad I did! The dress goes together easily, though you do have to match a lot of dots to make all the odd little pleats and there is quite a bit of narrow hemming. I did check the pattern tissue against my body and thought it should fit just fine with a little added length (go back and look at how much thigh is showing on the model - seriously), but I forgot that in a fluid fabric, gravity can make a lot of difference in fit. Here are the pictures of the muslin (pardon the specks of yuck all over the mirror):


This is where I wish the muslin had worked out. That colour looks nice on me. Even in bad lighting!



The back looks pretty good!


Hmmm. I can see a bit of my bra peeking out there.


Holy! That's way too low!
I think this side was worse due to the weight of the zipper. (And because the collar is only pinned shut, so it is gaping a bit at the bottom.) I also checked the bust darts on the underlayer. They were easily two inches lower than they should have been.

I decided to take an inch or so out of each pattern piece between the neck and the bust point. I also decided to make the armholes a bit higher, though that may have been overkill.  I didn't have to worry about exposing my bra in the finished dress, but the alterations did significantly change the angle from the neck to the underarm, and my final fabric wasn't quite as fluid as the georgette, so gravity wasn't able to distort it as much.

What I forgot to do was add more length near the hem. **Note to self: when removing length in one area, consider adding back that length in another area.**

With those changes, I felt confident to go ahead and cut out my final fabric. I didn't have many photos taken of me the night of the wedding, but, as luck would have it, we attended another wedding just a couple of days ago and I wore the dress again!


This is the photo taken of David and I for the guest book. I do not even want to talk about the number of wrinkles around my eyes. Not at all.

 The dress in all its glory! And Clara - yes, this is what she chose to wear to the wedding this past weekend. She wore a proper party dress to the previous wedding.

From the back...

And the side - can't see my bra now!

Detail shot of the zipper...

Now let me say that this is a fun dress to wear. It's a great dress to wear if you might have to be doing anything with your arms. You can reach and lift and carry and all manner of thing without ever having to readjust your dress. You can also eat happily, and still look svelte because of all those fluid layers.

It's not a great dress for sitting in, however! I should have tried sitting in the muslin. The lining and underlayer are tight and SHORT when sitting. I would have added width to the hips/thighs had I tested it out sitting. Luckily there are the outer layers that can be draped gracefully over my thighs, but I do have to think about it every.single.time. I sit down.

All in all a successful dress! Three Cheers!