Tuesday, March 12, 2013

McCalls 6520 -- Jungle Shirtdress

I originally purchased this blue zebra knit fabric (from Joann Fabric) for another dress, and I originally purchased McCalls 6520  because my daughter was looking for a shirtdress pattern, however when I saw view D and that it was for a knit, something clicked in my head and I changed course.  But because I had originally bought the fabric for something else, I barely had enough.  The sleeves had to be cut on the crosswise, and I ended up with only about 8 square inches of zebra fabric left.  I cut a size 14, adding an inch to the sides starting under the arm, and adding two inches to the length (I'm glad I did because I ended up with a tiny hem).

This pattern was labeled 'Easy.'  I'm going to have to disagree with that because I had loads of trouble making it.  There was nothing wrong with the pattern, though; the problems were with me.  First of all, this knit is very beefy; it feels good and substantial.  These good qualities made it more difficult to work with, however. I used fusible tricot interfacing, an 80/12 universal needle from Schmetz, and a short narrow zigzag stitch setting on my machine.  Usually this is enough.  But the button plackets down the front were impossible to sew because the plackets, being interfaced, had no stretch and yet the dress front, which was not interfaced, had plenty.  I was ending up with a several inch differential! After trying a few times and being unhappy with the uneven results, I unpicked the placket stitches and put my walking foot attachment on my machine.  That worked soooo much better.  (By the way, that's the first time I have successfully used my walking foot:) In addition, I  also used my knit stay tape down the front of the dress to stabilize where the plackets were attached.  Finally everything went on evenly, without stretching out.

Next, I misunderstood the collar directions.  You are only supposed to interface one of the pieces of the collar band; I interfaced both.  I thought it wouldn't make any difference, but it did.  When it came time to sew the band to the neckline of the dress, I could NOT get it to fit because there needed to be some stretch in the band and there wasn't any (again due to the interfacing).  I had to painstakingly unpick the collar, recut that one piece of the collar band, resew the collar band, THEN sew it to the neckline.  Thankfully, the collar went on just right that time.

Tissue-fitting made me fearful the sleeves would be too tight in the biceps, so I did a full bicep adjustment (as per here on The Slapdash Sewist) on the sleeves before I cut them out.  I also added two inches to the sleeve length, which turned out to be unnecessary.  I tried to make it work, but the too-long sleeves just did not look right.  However, shortening the sleeves was not straightforward because they were designed for cuffs.  I actually had to cut the cuffs off (with great trepidation) and resew them further up the sleeve -- and they are still a little bit long!  (Moral:  despite the pattern instructions, do not finish the bottoms of sleeves until they are sewn into the bodice and you can try them on.  This includes attaching cuffs.)

Then, tragedy almost struck.  Right in the front, I found a place where I had inadvertently snipped a hole in the fabric with my scissors!!!  AARRGGHH!!   Let me just say I'm thankful this was a busy print.  After taking a deep calming breath, I sewed the hole closed, reinforcing it from behind with a tiny scrap of fabric.  See?  Barely noticeable (I hope).  Another crisis averted.

A view of the patch on the underside
The repair is on your right, but I don't think you will be able to see it
All that work, and the worst most challenging part was yet to come:  many, many buttonholes (13 altogether).  I have a Singer Professional Buttonholer attachment for my machine, but I had never used it before, so I knew there was a learning curve ahead of me.  Finally I figured it out, my samples and even the cuffs turned out acceptably.  But the seam allowance on the placket was too bulky for the buttonholer to work right.  I tried and tried (much broken threads, two or three broken needles) and yet the buttonholes were terrible.  Despite this, I kept on making them because I didn't know what else to do.  Let me just say, they were a disaster and came close to ruining the whole dress.  What was I going to do now?  Finally I got out my manual and refreshed my memory about making four-step buttonholes.  I remade the buttonholes on top of the bad ones.  They are not the greatest, but again, thanks to the busy print, they are not too noticeable.  I sewed the buttons on by hand using heavy-duty thread (thank goodness Downton Abbey was two hours long that night:).  The buttons were purchased from Etsy, and I do think they are perfect for this dress.  (One other plus about sewing for yourself:  you can place the buttons where you want on your dress or shirt, which avoids a lot of wardrobe problems;)

Despite all the setbacks, I do love this dress and am glad I persevered.  It is super comfortable and I've already worn it bunches.  All the problems were good learning experiences.  I had never sewn a collar with a collar stand before, never done a bicep adjustment, never used my walking foot or buttonholer attachment.  The next time all these things "should" be easier.

The pattern for the next dress I want to make also has the designation of 'Easy.'  That's making me a little nervous.....

Friday, March 8, 2013

Travel Tips for Large Families

The red Globus bag is the toiletry bag

Because this past year involved so much traveling (I estimate I traversed at least 10,000 miles) I thought I would post a few travel tips.  These are especially for those of you with large families.  A smaller group may have different ways of doing it.

I, however, have a family of seven, none of whom are small (only one is still shorter than 5'8", and I expect that in the next couple of years he will have surpassed that height as well).  Because of our large number and size and small budget, most of the time we are driving, although we have had one occasion that involved us all flying and then renting a car.  I did make one flying trip alone last year when I stayed with my mom.

These tips are in no particular order and are not hard-and-fast rules, but things that over the years I have found (oftentimes the hard way) to be helpful.

TIP #1:  Each person should have his/her own suitcase.  It is also much better if those suitcases are carry-on size and have wheels.  That way EVERYONE, no matter their age (or lack of it), can be responsible for their own luggage, they actually can transport their luggage without personal strain, it will all fit in the back of the car (if you are driving an SUV, which you probably are if you are hauling around seven adult-sized people), and if you do fly you will pay no extra fees for checked baggage.  It is SO much easier to keep organized if everyone has their own bag.  When traveling by car, I do pack one extra bag just for toiletries.  When flying, you will not have that luxury.

TIP #2:  This applies to car travel:  Everyone needs to have their own filled water bottle.  Desperate situations can be avoided by having water available to drink.  It does need to be water; anything else can leave a sticky mess in the car and doesn't truly quench thirst.  The water bottles can be refilled for free at rest stops, restaurants, and hotels, so make sure everyone has one.

TIP #3:  Keep some extra blankets in the car so that people who are cold can wrap up while people who are hot can still have the air conditioning on (you WILL have both types of people at the same time and they WILL complain simultaneously).  Also bring a few pillows.

TIP #4:  Pack lightly, but pack at least one thing you can wear to something dressy (think:  church clothes).  My kids also always pack a bathing suit just in case we get to stay at a hotel with an indoor pool.

TIP #5:  Choosing a hotel:  if possible, choose one with an indoor pool and free breakfast.  If you are a large family, that free breakfast will save you a lot of money (and time).

TIP #6:  After eating your free breakfast, only stop for snacks at one of your gas station breaks.  Eat only one big meal a day when you are on the road.  This way you will save time, money and calories.

TIP #7:  Audiobooks are great for long car trips, provided you can find something your whole family will enjoy.  We listened to almost all the Harry Potter books that way.  Otherwise, expect people to be listening to their iPods, etc. with occasional group listening going on.

TIP #8:  Bring the following medicines:  ibuprofen(for headaches or fever), benadryl (just in case for allergies), dramamine (for motion sickness), TUMS (for stomach upset), a few bandaids (for cuts).    Also, keep a canister of wet wipes in the car, along with a couple of plastic bags for trash or wet clothing.  At some point you will need all of these things.

TIP #9:  Don't forget chargers for your electronics, money, keys, sunglasses, prescriptions, eyeglasses, etc.  Think about what your family needs for this particular trip.

TIP #10:  This is not necessarily a travel tip, but make sure everyone in your house has something in their closets they can wear to a wedding or a funeral.  When my mother-in-law died, we actually had to go shopping for clothes for my four sons.  They don't normally have to wear anything dressy, and because they are all different sizes and are always growing, they had hardly anything appropriate to wear.  As the seasons change, check your family's wardrobe and take care of this BEFORE you have to.

TIP #11:  That many related people in that close quarters for that many hours (in our case, usually 18+) will NOT get along that whole time, so expect there to be some bumpy times and a few meltdowns.  This is why I do not want people other than my immediate family in the car with us -- every once in a while we need to be free to yell at each other.

TIP #12: This may only apply to my family, but before you leave the house, check to make sure everyone has shoes (see here for what can happen if you neglect this tip).

Traveling is a lot of work, but my whole married life I have had to do it because we've always lived far away from our families, and we do the traveling at least 95% of the time.  I will say it gets a little easier as your kids get older (we no longer have to make sure we stop at a playground, for instance), but it's still hard.  To be honest, getting ready for a trip actually makes me feel sick because there is so much to do.  But once we are finally on the road, I relax. In fact, I am usually happy because my family is all together under one (car) roof.  We've certainly made a lot of memories over the years.

I hope you find this list helpful.  And if you would like to add some tips of your own, please do so.